One step short of larceny, the aluminum siding salesmen in this movie sell their wares, compete with each other, and engage in a lot of great dialog. Tin Men focuses on the rivalry between BB Babowsky and Ernest Tilley. At the same time, the end of small world of which they are kings looms near as a government probe investigates their industry.Written by
I have never quite understood why this flick has not achieved more critical and popular acclaim. I rate it a 9, which is very high for me (10s are reserved for a handful of all time classics). Beyond the great acting, super dialogue, and tremendous comedy -- which everyone seems to recognize -- there is also a very serious movie inside. Of course, as everyone says, it's an interesting slice of Americana: Baltimore in the early 1960s (before the flood). And on that basis alone, Tin Men is a great film. Few movies have ever given such an accurate portrayal of a particular time and place in America as well as this one.
But the movie is more than that. Tin Men is a story in which the historical tension between America's atavistic entrepreneurial spirit (as exemplified by the "tin men") and the regulatory forces of the state (as exemplified by the "investigating commission") are at an important crossroads. From the start it's obvious that the tin men have no chance and will lose this fight. It's a passing of a way of life. Much in the tradition of other great American works of art that examine the trade of salesman (Death of a Salesman, etc.), Tin Men is an indepth (and very funny) portrait of their psychological and social world. Their world outlook is now dying and there is a touch of wistfulness about that passage in the film. Are we as viewers supposed to be sad about it too? Or should we be happy? After all, the life of a tin man was hard and brutal (as well as free): witness the death of one of them to a heart attack.
On the other hand, is this way of life genuinely dying or just metamorphisizing? The ending was excellent because it brought ambiguity to that question. When DeVito and Dreyfus spot a new business opportunity: Volkswagens, we realize these "tin men" are irrepressible! They won't be stopped despite the new regulatory environment of the modern world. For my money, this movie is Barry Levinson's best by far. (Excellent soundtrack by Fine Young Cannibals, as well.)
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