AFI Catalog of Feature Films
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Driving Miss Daisy
Director: Bruce Beresford (Dir)
Release Date:   13 Dec 1989
Duration (in mins):  99
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Cast: Morgan Freeman  (Hoke Colburn)
  Jessica Tandy  (Daisy Werthan)
  Dan Aykroyd  (Boolie Werthan)
 

Summary: In 1948 Atlanta, Georgia, septuagenarian Daisy Werthan loses control of her car as she backs it out of her garage. Coming to assess the damage, her son Boolie maintains that it was her fault, while Daisy argues the car malfunctioned. Later, Boolie, who runs the family business, Werthan Bag & Cotton Co., interviews Hoke Colburn to be his mother’s chauffeur. When he learns he will be driving Boolie’s mother, Hoke asks why Daisy is not doing her own hiring, and Boolie admits his mother is high-strung. Since Boolie will be paying his salary, he tells Hoke that Daisy can say whatever she wants but will never have the power to fire him. On his first day of work, Hoke meets Idella, Daisy’s African American maid, who says she does not envy his position. Meanwhile, Daisy tells Boolie she does not want a chauffeur hanging around the house, but Boolie instructs her to make the best of it. That afternoon, as Hoke talks to Idella in the kitchen, Daisy barges in and forbids him from conversing with the maid. She then reprimands him for overstepping his duties by dusting light bulbs and tending to her flowers. Hoke suggests he could plant a vegetable garden, but Daisy says she can plant her own garden if she wants. One day, Daisy announces plans to go grocery shopping. Hoke readies himself to drive her, but she insists on taking the streetcar. Hoke argues that a rich, Jewish lady like herself has no place carrying her own groceries on the streetcar, but she tells him that she grew up poor. Driving alongside her, Hoke follows Daisy down the street until she becomes embarrassed and gets in the car. From the backseat, she urges him to conserve gas by driving slowly and questions the route he is taking. Over time, Daisy accepts more rides from Hoke, although she does not like drawing attention to the arrangement and reprimands him for waiting for her in front of the Jewish temple after services. Daisy tells Hoke she does not want her friends to think she is pretending to be rich, but when the chauffeur reminds her that she is rich, she ignores him. Soon after, Daisy calls Boolie to her house, where she presents an opened can of salmon that Hoke stole and rants that she has no privacy anymore. Boolie loses his patience and tells her to leave him out of it just as Hoke interrupts, arriving for work with a replacement can of salmon. Chagrined, Daisy drops her complaint. At a cemetery, she tends to her late husband’s grave and asks Hoke to place flowers at the grave of a friend named Bauer. Hoke sheepishly reveals that he cannot read, and Daisy, a former teacher, tells him he can if he knows the alphabet and helps him sound out the letters of her friend’s name. On Christmas, Daisy goes to a party at Boolie’s house despite disapproving of her daughter-in-law Florine’s penchant for the Christian holiday. Before going inside, Daisy gives Hoke a wrapped gift but insists it is not a Christmas present. Hoke unwraps it to find a writing workbook and promises Daisy he will not tell anyone about the gift. When Daisy must travel to Mobile, Alabama, for her brother Walter’s birthday, she anxiously awaits Hoke’s arrival that morning. On the drive, they stop to eat lunch by the side of the road and Daisy recalls her first trip to Mobile in 1888, when she saw the ocean for the first time. Racist police officers stop and ask Hoke for his registration. Daisy states that the car belongs to her and, when they ask about her name, she says Werthan is “of German derivation.” As the police walk away, one of them jokes that an old Jew and an old African American are a sorry sight together. Nearing Mobile that evening, Hoke stops the car to urinate on the side of the road, but Daisy forbids it, saying he should have used the bathroom at a service station. Hoke points out that African Americans cannot use the bathrooms at service stations in this area and contends that he is a man of almost seventy years and should not be treated like a child. Hoke stands his ground, and Daisy panics when he leaves her alone in the car. Back in Atlanta, Hoke tells Boolie that his cousin’s wife, Jeanette, tried to hire Hoke in Alabama, telling him he could name his salary. Boolie agrees to give him a raise to seventy-five dollars per week, a sum that would appall Daisy, who believes anything over seven dollars per week is “highway robbery.” Sometime later, Idella dies on the job and Hoke attends her funeral with the Werthans. Afterward, Daisy and Hoke tend to Daisy’s vegetable garden together. On the morning of a winter storm, Hoke braves the icy roads to bring Daisy coffee. Although Boolie calls to check on his mother, she surprises him by reporting that Hoke is there to keep her company. Later, on the way to temple, Daisy and Hoke encounter a traffic jam, and Hoke learns from another driver that the temple has been bombed. Hoke recalls a time his friend’s father was lynched, but Daisy refuses to see the connection between racism and anti-Semitism. Sometime later, Daisy buys tickets to a dinner honoring Martin Luther King. Although she wants Boolie to go with her, he refuses to attend as it might hurt his business relationships. He tells Daisy to take Hoke as her date, but she does not mention the idea until they are on the way there, laughing it off as “silly.” Annoyed, Hoke tells Daisy she should not have tried to ask him at the last minute, then listens to Martin Luther King’s speech from inside the car while Daisy sits inside. Daisy grows older and more feeble, and one day, Hoke arrives at work to find her in a delusional state. She believes she is teaching school again and frantically searches for paperwork. Hoke calls Boolie to alert him, and, as he tries to calm her down, Daisy tells Hoke he is her best friend. After two years on the market, Daisy’s house is sold. On Thanksgiving, Hoke meets Boolie at the empty house, and they go together to visit Daisy at a nursing home. There, in the dining room, Daisy sends Boolie away at the mention of Florine, and Boolie jokes that Daisy wants Hoke to herself. She asks if Boolie is still paying Hoke, and when he confirms, she claims it is “highway robbery.” Hoke points out that Daisy has not eaten her pie, and helps feed her when she cannot use her fork. 

Distribution Company: Warner Bros. Pictures
Production Company: The Zanuck Company
Director: Bruce Beresford (Dir)
  Robert Doudell (Unit prod mgr)
  Katterli Frauenfelder (1st asst dir)
  Martha Elcan (2d asst dir)
Producer: Richard D. Zanuck (Prod)
  Lili Fini Zanuck (Prod)
  David Brown (Exec prod)
  Jake Eberts (Co-exec prod)
  Robert Doudell (Assoc prod)
  Alfred Uhry (Assoc prod)
Writer: Alfred Uhry (Scr)

Subject Major: Aged persons
  Atlanta (GA)
  Chauffeurs
  Friendship
  Race relations
 
Subject Minor: Aging
  Antisemitism
  Automobile accidents
  Bombings
  Class distinction
  Death and dying
  Funerals
  Housekeepers
  Jews
  Literacy
  Martin Luther King, Jr.
  Mobile (AL)
  Mothers and sons
  Nursing homes
  Police
  Racism
  Temples
  Wealth

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
 
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