Overlooked 1980s Comedy Is A Laugh Out Loud Look At Unhappy People

By Brian Myers | Published

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If the film Tin Men was able to accomplish anything, it was its ability to craft a tale about two awful characters and have you root for both of them. The 1987 comedy stars Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito as two crooked aluminum siding salesmen that aim to make each other’s lives absolutely miserable. They both play roles that are as despicable as they are sympathetic, combining to help make a great comedy that you’ll thank me for watching.

The Story

Tin Men begins when siding salesman Ernest Tilley (DeVito) is driving his Cadillac on a Baltimore street, only to have it driven into by rival salesman Bill “BB” Babowsky (Dreyfuss). A fight erupts between the two men that leads to a rivalry that goes well beyond their competing door-to-door businesses. They exchange barbs by alternately trashing each other’s vehicles, trade punches at a local club, and indulge in other juvenile behavior that builds to a tipping point.

Both Tilley and BB are as crooked in their businesses as the day is long, and their sociopathic tendencies provide a lot of fuel for laughs throughout the film. Tin Men is a loud echo of the crooked salespersons of the mid-20th century, who made fortunes duping unsuspecting homeowners into buying shoddy products or by making profits under false pretenses. But while you know these two shysters deserve a comeuppance, you still can’t help but cheer for them.


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Director Barry Levinson used his hometown of Baltimore as the setting for Tin Men and placed the characters in an era the filmmaker is known to be nostalgic for. Like several of his other works (Avalon, Diner, and Liberty Heights), Levinson uses the Maryland city from his childhood and creates a period piece set in the early 1960s. And like the aforementioned films, Levinson is able to successfully recreate the look, style, and feeling of a byegone era, albeit one from his own memories.

A Fine Young Cameo

An added bonus in Tin Men is the appearance of Fine Young Cannibals, who are on stage in one scene as the house band in a club visited by the characters. Among the songs the British pop band performs is “Good Thing,” which later climbed the #1 spot on the U. S. Billboard charts.

A Money Maker

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Tin Men managed to more than double its small budget of $11 million and generate more than $25 million in box office receipts. Critics at the time were largely positive about the film, notably pointing out Levinson’s ability to tell a great story and the hilarity of how DeVito and Dreyfuss interact with each other on screen.

The Rest Of The Cast

The film’s other players are also part of what makes Tin Men a great cinematic experience. Barbara Hershey is in her prime, playing Nora Tilley to perfection. Audiences also got an early look at a pre-Frazier John Mahoney, who plays one of B.B.’s cronies.

Check It Out Now

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Tin Men makes you feel like you’re in 1963 Baltimore, a testament to Levinson’s wonderful filmmaking. DeVito and Dreyfuss are in early stages of their respective primes and help drive the film to a rating of 4.0/5.0 stars.

You can rent Tin Men from AppleTV, GooglePlay, Vudu, and Prime.