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Just Say No. Again.
by Jon Schuller

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Selling is a difficult profession. Today, in the era of instantaneous communications via computers and cell phones, people who are trying to sell us something can reach more people than ever before. Robo calls, text messages and emails help the sales people solicit 1000s of potential customers rapidly. In my Charlotte neighborhood, door-to-door solicitations are prohibited; but it still happens occasionally.

In March, 1987, a film by Barry Levinson premiers, starring Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito, Barbara Hershey and John Mahoney and a marvelous supporting cast. It takes place in Baltimore in 1963 and was a part of the quartet about Levinson's hometown. The "Baltimore films" included Diner (1982), Avalon (1990), and Liberty Heights (1999).

We meet Ernest Tilley (DeVito) and Bill "BB" Babowsky (Dreyfuss) who are
door-to-door aluminum siding salesmen. They are referred to as "tin men" and will do anything absolutely anything - to close a sale. Babowsky is handsome and the consummate conman who especially preys on lonely, attractive housewives and other women. Tilley is in the wrong job. When you're a hotdog tin man, you drive a Cadillac as a sure sign you're a success. One day the two meet after their cars bump; each man blames the other. The back-and-forth erupts as Tilley and Babowski intentionally damage the other man's car.

As we get insights into the lives of their fellow salesmen and the sneaky ways each tries to make a sale, the feud between the two men has escalated to the point where BB seduces Tilley's wife, Nora (Hershey) and then calls Tilley to tell him what's happened. Ernest tells him it's ok, keep her. BB has,
by now, fallen in love with Nora and she's moved in with him.
Tilley has enormous gambling debts and BB's mentor, Moe Adams (Mahoney), has had a heart attack. Tilley is losing his possessions and is being investigated by the IRS. Meanwhile, Baltimore has created the new Maryland Home Improvement Commission which is tasked with investigating the many complaints about corrupt selling methods in the home improvement industry. The sales group, Tilley and Babowsky belong to has been called to testify in front of the commission. The two men's testimonies about how they sell siding leads to both their licenses being revoked and losing their jobs. BB's ok with that as he has decided to go straight and get a "normal" job. Tilley is devastated and has lost everything. BB gives him a ride and as they stop for a traffic light they
both see a new Volkswagen drive by. They think that might be an interesting item to start selling.

All of the actors in Tin Men have created distinctive, memorable characters which are at once believable. But we feel sorry for them. They make the sales but at the expense of honesty, both on and off the job. We get a glimpse of a then-segregated Baltimore in the early 1960s. You'll recognize the supporting cast with marvelous actors like Bruno Kirby, J.T. Walsh and Michael Tucker. Even the music is memorable, with Fine Young Cannibals as a nightclub band and other incidental music throughout the film. I like the ways the two male stars play off each other, showing their vastly different characters, as they slowly, but with difficulty, become friends. It's a movie that runs for 110 minutes. I think you'll find it time well-spent.

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Cinema Savant
Every other Thursday

My views on an eclectic mix of films and personalties, past and present; emotional interpretations; some laughs, some cries.


Other Columns
Other columns by Jon Schuller:

A Penultimate Year For Movies

How Long Have We Been Scared?

From Sail to Steam to Sail Again

August Boasts Actor Birthdays

The War Changed Everything - and Everyone.

All Columns


Jon Schuller
I am a former New Jersey native, living in Charlotte, N.C. for almost 29 years. I am a lifelong movie lover with lots of movie trivia knowledge and soundtracks in my CD collection. I enjoy sharing my love of films with everyone and have so many fond memories growing up in darkened movie theaters. I have been married 50 years (as of December 22, 2018) and we both share a passion for film (and each other of course).



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