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March 20, 1987 - Image 8

Resource type:
The Michigan Daily, 1987-03-20

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Page 8 - The Michigan Daily - Friday, March 20, 1987

'Tin Men' proves to be made of


By John Shea
Somewhere in Baltimore
there is a restaurant that Barry
Levinson patronized in the 1950s.
It was a place where he and his
friends would congregate to talk
about the Colts and women, in that
order. Levinson doesn't go there
anymore, but every once in a while
he reaches back into the corners of
his mind and recalls the days of his
youth; what he remembers, he
transfers onto film. Levinson has
made an entire career out of
It is a mistake, however, to
consider Levinson's body of work
(The Natural, Young Sherlock
Holmes) merely "nostalgia." His
very first film, 1982's Diner, is
often a light-hearted look at the
lives of a group of friends who are
faced with the coming of adulthood.
There are many opportunities for

wonderful comedy here, and Levin-
son explores most of them. But the
very last shot of the film - a
frozen picture of the group sitting
at a table at their friend's wedding
reception, staring at the bouquet
which the bride tossed to their table
- reveals a deeper, more serious
undercurrent which demands consid-
Levinson's latest film,Tin
Men, is made in very much the
same mold. Using the same Balti-
more setting and the same res-
taurant as a backdrop, Tin Men be -
comes a first cousin to Diner.
Here, it is1963, ten years
after Diner ; a time when a nickle
buys you a Coke, Wednesday night
is "Bonanza Night," and the Cadil-
lac reigns supreme. Also an ear-
mark of the time is "tin men,"
aluminum siding salesmen who con
middle-income home owners into
buying $4000 worth of siding.
Levinson focuses on the
lives of two rival tin men, Bill

"BB" Babowsky (Richard Dreyfuss)
and Ernest Tilley (Danny DeVito).
The two meet after an innocent
fender-bender, and both immediately
vow revenge on the other. "BB"
starts by bashing Tilley's head-
lights; Tilley retaliates by smash-
ing all of "BB's" windows.
The situation escalates to a
point where we believe it can go no
farther-"BB" seduces Tilley's wife,
Nora (Barbara Hershey). But in
bragging of the deed to his rival,
"BB" is stunned to hear Tilley
laugh at him; he is "glad to have
the old broad off (his) back." "BB"
has been one-upped again. He gets
madder. And it goes on.
Levinson really knows how
to play this brand of humor; the
temptation to resort to slapstick is
there, but he holds back. DeVito's
bugs-eyes don't jump off the screen
and Dryfuss doesn't wear the same
wry, knowing smile throughout the
film. Goofiness is allowed, but
only on a very controlled level;
Levinson's interest is in developing
the characters as well as making a
time piece. And interspersed be-

tween the revenge story, Levinson
gives us a facinating look at the
aluminum siding business and how
these con men used high-pressure
sales tactics and heavy (ses of
psychology to make a sale. It is a
lot of fun to watch.
But soon after Tilley
challenges "BB" to take his wife,
the laughter dissipates. A sort of
heavy-handedness sets in: Nora is
deeply hurt by the fact she was used
as a pawn in the two men's fight,
and files for a divorce from Tilley;
Tilley himself has the IRS and the
Home Improvement Commission,
an organization devoted to stopping
aluminum siding scams, breathing
down his neck; and "BB" is torn
between his love for the single's
life and his growing affection for
Nora. Although much of this is
handled with a light touch, the
serious implications are there.
Levinson refuses to let Tin
Men stand as a shallow, light-
hearted comedy. Unlike Diner,
which lacked a certain focus, and
The Natural, which made Robert
Redford something of a god-figure



Director Barry Levinson talks with Richard Dreyfus on the set of their

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new movie, 'Tin Men.'
at the expense of the story, Levin-
son grabs hold of his story here and
is attentive to it throughout. The
script leaves no holes, and the au-
thor's love of the time period and
the people in it shine through every
The casting of Dreyfuss and
DeVito in the title roles seems off-
beat, but the two have a quirky
chemistry, and it works. I am not a
big fan of DeVito, but I thought he
was good in this role. He, too, has
matured a little here, refraining
himself from mugging the camera
every scene. He is called on to do
some serious introspection in the
second half of the movie, and he is

at times convincing. Dreyfuss is
very appealing as "BB," and I liked
Hershey a lot too. I wish Levinson
had developed their relationship
even more.
Tin Men is a lot of fun, and
at the same time takes itself very
seriously. Perhaps the best way to
capture the essense of Tin Men is
to describe the last scene of the
film. Levinson closes by giving us
a slow pan of a street in Baltimore,
focusing on nothing in particular
yet freezing the shot in time before
fading to black. It is Levinson,
once again reaching in corners of
his mind, crying for the days that
have longed since past.


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Classical LP and cassette titles may vary by
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Sale ends
March 29,1987.

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