John Hughes made plenty of perfect films in his time. There was the irrepressible charm of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, led by Matthew Broderick, and the soulful rebellion of The Breakfast Club, Pretty in Pink and Sixteen Candles, all led by Molly Ringwald. Astonishingly, the prolific Hughes wrote (and directed three out of four of) these films in just two years between 1984 and 1986. It was without question a golden period for him, and it was nearly made even better with one more genius idea that could have united his two most iconic actors, Ringwald and Broderick, on screen for the first time.
The project was titled Oil and Vinegar and its synopsis alone is enough to get your mouth watering. According to the film’s potential director Howard Deutch (also the director for Pretty in Pink and Some Kind of Wonderful) the film would have been essentially a two-hander starring Ringwald, as a hitchhiking “rock-and-roll girl”, and Broderick, as a travelling salesman, spending the entire film in a car together. It’s a formally audacious idea – especially for a teen film, a genre that’s normally so commercially driven – but if you have any doubts just remember how brilliantly Hughes executed the equally confined story of The Breakfast Club.
Another potential director, Alan Metter, remembers a slightly different plot involving “a guy (Broderick) driving across the country on the way to his wedding. He picks up a girl hitchhiking (Ringwald) and they wind up in a moral dilemma, stranded in a motel room in the middle of nowhere, talking all night about every single thing that’s important to anyone coming of age.” If you’re a John Hughes fan the idea doesn’t require any more selling. It’s a dream project.
Everyone who has read the script says it bears the most similarity to The Breakfast Club, arguably Hughes’ greatest film. In a 2009 interview Alan Metter said “like Breakfast Club it was a magnificent dialogue piece – a cinematic play”. Likewise, Susannah Gora, author of You Couldn’t Ignore Me If You Tried, a book about John Hughes and the Brat Pack, reports that Matthew Broderick was “fascinated with it because it was an even smaller experiment than The Breakfast Club”. The most tantalising description though, comes from Jon Cryer (Duckie in Pretty in Pink), who in his memoir, So That Happened, claims that Howard Deutch called it “the best script of John’s he ever read.”
Oil and Vinegar had the potential to be another John Hughes classic, if these reports are anything to go by. So what happened to one of the most fascinating films that never got made? It seems that in 1986 the director’s seat was first offered to Alan Metter (director of Rodney Dangerfield’s Back to School and Police Academy: Mission to Moscow), who shared an agent with Hughes, but pride got in the way. The previous year, Back to School had beaten Ferris Bueller at the box office, and Metter “didn’t want to take a back seat to John Hughes now.” He passed on the film and the opportunity swung the way of Howard Deutch.
At this point, the film’s troubled history grows very complicated. According to Deutch, Oil and Vinegar was “John’s favourite script and he was saving it for himself, and I convinced him to let me do it”, but Jon Cryer remembers Deutch telling quite a different story.
Apparently in 1986, while Deutch was working on Some Kind of Wonderful with Hughes he asked if he could also direct Oil and Vinegar. The next day, Deutch turned up to work to find a lock on his door. Soon after, he was fired. Cryer says that, “John had wanted to direct Oil and Vinegar himself, and interpreted Howie’s vocalised interest as a huge betrayal.” In Cryer’s words, Hughes’ “paranoid malfeasance” seemed to kill any chance Deutch had of directing.
As with many projects, this led to a whole host of cast and crew changes on Some Kind of Wonderful until, bizarrely, Deutch was back on the film, and apparently back in Hughes’ good books. It seems Hughes was no longer so keen to direct Oil and Vinegar and the ball was back in Deutch’s court. At this point, he was dating his future wife Lea Thompson (who was only on the film thanks to Deutch briefly getting fired; there’s serendipity for you) who told her exhausted boyfriend, “You’re going to die. You can’t do this. I’m not going to stick around and watch that.” Her ultimatum, and Deutch’s desire to strike his own directorial path, led him to turn down the opportunity of a lifetime.
From there the project fizzled out, like so many great ideas seem to do. Hughes moved fast and played by his own rules, so when the studio requested rewrites, he wasn’t interested. Ringwald also ran into scheduling conflicts with other roles and, before you knew it, the film had hit a dead end. Oil and Vinegar was no more.
John Hughes retreated from public life in the ‘90s and directed his final film Curly Sue in 1991, though he continued to write, often under the pseudonym Edmond Dantès, until as recently as 2008. He passed away the following year, leaving behind a brilliant body of work and unmade gems like Oil and Vinegar. Alan Metter’s final words on the project show us just what we missed out on: “I was never offered a script this good again. I never even got to meet the man. As career moves go, this was the greatest mistake of my life. Maybe someone will dig it up and be smart enough to make one last John Hughes film.”
Maybe; but maybe it’s best to leave this one where it is. Although Oil and Vinegar sounds like it could have been Hughes’ greatest film, his work has always had a very specific sense of time and place. Making the film now, without Hughes’ presence or consent, just feels wrong, no matter how brilliant the script. In this case, it seems best if Oil and Vinegar remains one of the best films never made.