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Planes, Trains and Mayflower Ships: Films for Thanksgiving

Sometime in the next few days, TV listings and internet sites will begin to burst with Christmas-film suggestions.

But before we get swept away in a flood of Scrooges, wonderful lives and Red Ryder BB guns, how about a few films for Thanksgiving?

Here’s a six-course movie-meal for the upcoming holiday:

Planes, Trains and Automobiles (1987) – Most folks’ favorite Thanksgiving title is one to make you wish John Candy had lived longer. With equal parts oafishness and good cheer, Candy plays a traveling salesman (shower-curtain rings — ha!) who is thrown together with a stressed-out businessman (Steve Martin) on a road trip from hell. Written and directed by the peerless John Hughes (who handled Breakfast Club, Uncle Buck and the script for Home Alone), PTA is super funny, yet ultimately heartwarming. Watch for Kevin Bacon’s early cameo, plus the one-of-a-kind Edie McClurg as a car-rental clerk.

The Mouse on the Mayflower (1968) – Always on my standard list of Turkey Day movies, this made-for-TV cartoon from Rankin & Bass (Frosty, Rudolph, Little Drummer Boy) has been unavailable for decades; but only last week did I discover that it’s finally available to watch online! (Type in the title, plus “full movie.”) Running just 48 minutes, Mouse features music by Tennessee Ernie Ford, who also does voicing — along with Eddie Albert, plus cartoon specialists June Foray and Paul Frees. For Boomer-age viewers like me, this admittedly dated piece on the Pilgrims will, like so many other holiday items, induce a feel-good flood of nostalgia.

Pieces of April (2005) – In this moving dramedy from writer-director Peter Hedges (Dan in Real Life, Gilbert Grape, About a Boy), Katie Holmes shines as a misfit daughter who, in a cramped Manhattan apartment, struggles to ready a turkey dinner for her suburban family — including an abusive mother, who is dying of cancer. Co-starring Oliver Platt and Allison Pill, with an Oscar-nominated performance from Patricia Clarkson as Mom. Named for the lovely Three Dog Night song, this April is a neglected gem.

By the Light of the Silvery Moon (1953) – Good-not-great sequel to the 1951 hit musical On Moonlight Bay, starring Doris Day and Gordon MacRae. Both return in this story of a boy who wants to save the family’s pet turkey from its Thanksgiving-Day fate. The two films were based on Booth Tarkington’s beloved “Penrod” stories — and they both likewise co-star the inimitable Mary Wickes.

Broadway Danny Rose (1983) – Probably my favorite for the November holidays, this lesser-known Woody Allen charmer focuses on a no-luck talent scout who labors tirelessly for his likable but decidedly low-rent acts. Filmed in lovely black-and-white by the legendary Gordon Willis (Manhattan, The Godfather), Danny doesn’t connect with Thanksgiving till the end, with a hilarious, helium-filled shootout around the Macy’s parade floats, plus a cramped but chummy frozen-turkey dinner thrown by Danny for his band of rag-tag clients.

What’s Cooking? (2000) – Four ethnic families — black, Hispanic, Jewish, and Vietnamese — struggle with family quarrels and modern culture as they gather in various homes on Thanksgiving. Wide-ranging cast includes Mercedes Ruehl, Lainie Kazan, Dennis Haysbert, Alfre Woodard and Kyra Sedgwick. Politically, the movie leans too far left for my tastes, but it’s well acted, with mouth-watering chow scenes; plus, it’s a favorite of my mother’s — and we all know, you don’t argue with Mom on Thanksgiving.