Character Witness: John Candy: Buck Russell vs. Del Griffith

John Candy

This is Character Witness: One actor, two film roles. You’re the judge andjury, telling us which portrayal was the best. The most memorable. Or iconic. Or simply your favorite.

But before you pass judgment, here’s a few words defending the “character” of each…

The case for Del Griffith

John Candy could have portrayed Del Griffith as just another piece of baggage that Neal Page (Steve Martin) has to lug around while desperately trying to get home for Thanksgiving in John Hughes’ comedy Planes, Trains and Automobiles. But instead of playing an annoying fat slob sidekick Candy breathes life into his character, giving him depth & dimension as opposed to simple girth. The travelling salesman is resourceful, witty and overbearing. He is irritating yet loveable; naive yet street smart. Del also harbors a dark secret that Candy hints at ever-so-subtly. Back in 1987 Gene Siskel praised his performance as his best to date; now, some 30 years later, one can definitely make a case of leaving off the “to date” part.

The case for Buck Russell

Directionless, disheveled, carefree bachelor Uncle Buck is the last resort of his brother & sister-in-law to take care of their three children while away. In a movie jam-packed with hilarious scenes, it is in Buck’s reflective ruminations on his own shortcomings and tension-filled interactions with his rebellious niece Tia that Candy truly excels. When a spiteful Tia reminds Buck of his own hypocrisy regarding being told what to do he knows he’s been busted. This is his turning point as de facto parent: overcoming his fear of responsibility. He does not handle the transition gracefully. That’s the point. Within the framework of a classic ‘80s teen comedy, it’s in these moments of uncertainty and trepidation that we see Candy’s best dramatic work.


Now that you’ve heard the arguments for both it’s time to render your verdict!

  • Jennifer

    In one episode of “Northern Exposure,” a shaman says that movies are to white people what Native American myths that intend to pass on some sort of wisdom are to his own people.

    Planes, Trains and Automobiles is a spiritual movie to me. I am forever fond of “Uncle Buck,” however it faces some really unfair competition.

    • Jason Marcewicz

      Thanks for sharing. Bon hiver, Jennifer!

  • Dean

    I’m for PLANES TRAINS AND AUTOMOBILES. He should have been nominated for the Supporting Actor Oscar for that one.