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Film / Other People's Money

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"I love money. I love money more than the things it can buy. There's only one thing I love more than money. You know what that is? OTHER PEOPLE'S MONEY."
Larry the Liquidator

A 1991 romantic comedy-drama film adapted from Jerry Sterner's 1989 off-Broadway play of the same name, directed by Norman Jewison and starring Danny DeVito, Gregory Peck (in his last major film role), and Penelope Ann Miller.

Lawrence Garfield, otherwise known as "Larry the Liqudator" (DeVito), is an apparently heartless—but secretly lonely—corporate raider launching a hostile takeover of a small Rhode Island company that makes wire and cable. The son of the founder of the company, Andrew "Jorgy" Jorgenson (Peck), reaches out to his stepdaughter Kate (Miller), an attorney, to stop him. Larry soon becomes smitten with Kate, leading him to try and beat her and woo her at the same time.

Tropes used in the film:

  • Ambiguously Jewish: In the original play, Larry's last name is the very Jewish-sounding Garfinkle.
  • And Then What?: Kate asks Larry this. He responds, astounded:
    "And then what?" Whoever has the most when he dies wins!
    • Of course, by the end of the film, Larry is no longer happy just making more money (if he ever was), because he is in love with Kate.
  • Anti-Hero: Larry the Liquidator (type 1). Yes, he's greedy, materialistic, lecherous, and ruthless in his pursuit of money. However, unlike similar characters he pursues wealth in entirely legal ways, refuses to take bribes from those he targets, and — since he's played by Danny Devito — if you're not in one of the companies he's trying to liquidate he actually seems like a fun guy to know.
  • Anti-Villain: Andrew "Jorgy" Jorgenson. If Larry is a reconstruction of the Corrupt Corporate Executive, then Jorgy is a deconstruction of the Honest Corporate Executive; effectively making Jorgy the George Bailey to Larry's Mr. Potter.
  • Artistic License Economics:
    • Both Jorgy and Larry in their big speeches. Jorgy talks about how the wire and cable industry will recover when the dollar is a little stronger and the yen is a little weaker; actually, that would just mean that an American company like his would get priced out of the market by its Japanese competitors. On the other hand, Larry says that the fastest way to go broke is to have an increasing share of a shrinking market; that's true if and only if the market shrinks away to nothing, which is unlikely to happen for products like wire and cable. Otherwise, having an increasing share of a shrinking market is a way to become spectacularly profitable, since it eliminates all your competitors.
    • It's rare for a corporation's stock to trade below the sale value of its assets. In 1949 Benjamin Graham wrote about the advantages of "net-nets", and they were promptly hunted to extinction. In real life, such a company would likely be taken over long before the stock value dropped so low. This is ultimately justified by the fact that the company is run more like a family business than a corporation, with the president, the board and the employees collectively holding 30% of the stock, and president aggressively opposed to selling.
  • Belligerent Sexual Tension: Lots of it between Larry and Kate.
  • Both Sides Have a Point: Larry and Jorgy have fundamentally opposed views of what a business is for and how it ought to be run, but neither is wrong. One of the great things about the film is that it avoids the easy moralizing of portraying Jorgy as right and Larry as wrong. They are both right.
  • Corrupt Corporate Executive: A reconstruction. Sure Larry's actions might seem ruthless but there's no malice behind them. He just wants to make money, which he does in an entirely legitimate and legal fashion. Neither does he have the overwhelming disdain for those beneath him that is a hallmark of the character type.
  • Detrimental Determination: By sticking to an archaic and ineffective set of values, Jorgy makes it nearly impossible for his step-daughter and attorney to do her job, and loses control of his company.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: When Jorgy's wife attempts to bribe Larry with her life's savings to leave them alone. Larry not only rejects it but seems genuinely offended that she expected him to take it, comparing it to stealing from orphans and widows.
    • He's also notable in that he is completely honest with his intentions and actions, and much like Jorgy doesn't compromise his integrity to get what he wants. He's a corporate raider, but he's an honest corporate raider. Of course, part of that may be due to the fact that the wire and cable company's situation is so bad that he doesn't need to lie to get what he wants.
  • Good is Not Nice: When Larry asks Kate why she does not like him, she tells him that he is not nice. He all but quotes this trope in his reply:
    Since when do you have to be nice to be right?
  • Good Versus Good: See Both Sides Have a Point, supra.
  • Hello, Attorney!: Kate. See also Male Gaze below.
  • Hollywood Law: In the film, Kate never suggests to Jorgy some of the most common anti-takeover defenses, notably the poison pill or the crown jewel defense, which would have stopped Larry in his tracks. In the play, she recommends these methods, but Jorgy rejects them because they'd compromise the integrity of his company. In the film, Jorgy rejects the idea of reincorporating in a more favorable state, for much the same reasons.
    KATE: I'm sorry you feel that way. I'm only telling you how corporations under attack defend themselves. Don't blame the messenger for the message.
  • Honest Corporate Executive: As with Corrupt Corporate Executive, this trope is fully deconstructed. Gregory Peck perfectly fits the role of an old-fashioned, honest and sincere CEO who cares deeply about the business his grandfather started, and cares more about the business and its employees than about making money for himself. But this very commitment blinds him to the decline of the company. He remains stuck in magical thinking that things are about to turn around, and his traditionalist mindset keeps him from innovating or seeking out new markets to keep the business relevant. It even makes him helpless against Larry's hostile takeover, because he refuses to pursue any tactic that feels underhanded.
    JORGENSON: The messenger, as I hear it, is saying 'pay him off or self-destruct. Either way, pay me my fee.'
  • Japan Takes Over the World: This is what Larry claimed to be worried about when he said he encouraged his employees to learn Japanese.
  • Jerkass Has a Point: A rare in-universe example. Larry is seen as the villain by most of the characters in the film, because he's ruthless and rich and trying to make money by breaking up a small, old-fashioned business. But when we actually listen to him, he makes the very good point that the company, though well-intentioned, has been losing its stockholders' money for years, it will eventually go bankrupt anyway due to technological obsolescence, and this is the only way for the stockholders to get some of their money back.
  • Know When to Fold 'Em: This is essentially Larry's argument to the stockholders in the climax; the company's dead, it's going to be dead with or without him, so they might as well get out with a bit of money by going with him rather than the nothing they'll get when it eventually does fold for good.
    "This business is dead! I didn't kill it. Don't blame me, it was dead when I got here."
  • Male Gaze: Used in Larry and Kate's first meeting (literally, a Hello, Attorney!).
  • Ms. Fanservice: Kate is dressed professionally but in very tightly fitting wardrobe. More overt during Kate's first date with Lawrence, and later when she is on her way to an opera.
  • Pet the Dog: Larry tells Kate over dinner how a cheerleader broke his heart in high school.
  • Rewarded as a Traitor Deserves: Downplayed. Bill Coles only gets half of the million dollars he was promised for his company shares. On the other hand, he at least has a bit of cold comfort for his conscience in the knowledge his vote wouldn't have made a difference in the end anyway.
  • Title Drop:
    • Larry claims the only thing he loves more than money is other people's money.
    • Larry uses a shell corporation in his takeover schemes called OPM. Which stands for...
    • Andrew Jorgenson also gets one in when he derisively accuses Larry of "playing God with other's people's money."
  • Ugly Guy, Hot Wife: Or at least Ugly Guy, Hot Love Interest, as we're supposed to think that Penelope Ann Miller might fall for Danny DeVito.
    • In the original play, the characters do wind up getting married.
  • Villains Never Lie: As much as Larry Garfield can be considered a villain, at least, but he is notable for being completely honest and forthright with his intentions and his actions, and avoiding any truly ruthless or underhanded methods when it comes to getting what he wants.
  • Villain Protagonist: For all intents and purposes, Larry Garfield is a hilarious and less malicious version of old Mr. Potter from It's A Wonderful Life, a greedy corporate executive driven by the accumulation of personal wealth even at the expense of destroying the economy of an entire town. However, unlike Potter or even Gordon Gekko, Larry avoids being typecast as an irredeemable villain by being a Reconstruction rather than a straight line example of the classical Corrupt Corporate Executive.
    • YMMV on whether he is a villain at all. He is certainly not at all corrupt.
  • Underdogs Never Lose: Notably subverted. The film pits a wealthy corporate raider played by Danny Devito against a hard-working, old-fashioned, New England factory owner who genuinely cares about his employees and his family business and is played by Gregory Peck. At the climax of the film, Gregory Peck makes an impassioned speech about industry and America, about honor and old-fashioned values. His opponent counters with a speech about how he can make the stockholders more money... and wins easily.
    • Although after he wins, it's heavily implied that he'll let Kate talk him into selling the company back to its employees so they can make airbags.
      • But even that actually enforces his whole argument. The company, under Jorgy wasn't adapting and moving forward. He was sitting back and waiting/hoping for outside forces to change and improve the situation.