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Film / Tin Men

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Looney: You and your lovely wife might have been asking yourself, "Exactly what are the benefits of aluminum siding?"
Cheese: It won't chip, peel, blister, crack, flake or rust in any way.
Gil: The only maintenance you'll ever have is to wash it down twice a year with a hose.
Mouse: It affords much greater insulation, which means it cuts down on your heating bills.
Gil: I'll tell you what; only on this sale, I'll throw in a garden hose on this sale.
Mouse: Let's do some business.
Montage of salesmen

Tin Men is a 1987 comedy-drama from writer/director Barry Levinson that stars Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito, and Barbara Hershey.

The title is a slang term for aluminum siding salesmen, which both Bill "BB" Babowsky (Dreyfuss) and Ernest Tilley (DeVito) are, for different firms in 1963 Baltimore. Early in the film, BB buys a new car, only to be immediately rear-ended by Tilley as he's backing out of the lot. The two immediately get into an argument, and it eventually leads to an Escalating War between the two, which includes BB seducing Tilley's wife Nora (Hershey). The film also shows the lengths salesmen go to get a sale, which leads to a government investigation.

This is the second in Levinson's Baltimore quadrilogy (following Diner), and like the previous film, was well received for its Seinfeldian Conversation and its performances.

This film contains examples of:

  • Anachronism Stew: The Fine Young Cannibals are the band playing at any of the bars the characters go to. To be fair, the songs they perform ("Good Thing", "Hard as it Is", "Social Security", and "Tell Me What") at least attempt to sound period, but still.
  • "Before" and "After" Pictures: One of the scams BB and Moe use is to pretend to be photographers from Life magazine who are taking pictures of a house before it installs aluminum siding. Naturally, the homeowner would rather be the house in the "after" picture...
  • Benevolent Boss: Wing. Even when he has Tilley fired, he still gives him money to tide him over.
  • The Casanova: BB is somewhere between this and a Lovable Rogue, especially when he turns his sights on Nora.
    Moe: (watching admiringly as BB charms Nora at their first meeting) He's got the gift.
  • Foreshadowing: BB taking notice on how well car salesmen do, and how well Volkswagen cars are selling.
  • Hollywood Heart Attack: Moe, though it's ultimately averted by the fact he doesn't die from it.
  • Hypocrite: When Tilley first testifies at the Home Improvement Commission hearings, he points out people who sell suits at department stores, and claim the suit looks good on the customer when it doesn't, deceived customers more than tin men do, yet the government doesn't seem to be up in arms about that.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: BB. He engages in some pretty unethical scams in his job, and what he does to Tilley is pretty harsh as well. However, he does genuinely care for Moe (even protecting him from the government's investigation), and grows to care for Nora.
  • Lovable Rogue: Most of the salesmen - especially BB - except for Tilley.
  • Married to the Job: Tilley. It's part of the reason why Nora so eagerly enters into an affair with BB, as she's starved for affection.
  • The Mole: Stanley
  • Only Known by Their Nickname: BB; also, probably Cheese and Mouse.
  • Overcomplicated Menu Order: Bagel and Sam try to get BB and Tilley to make peace with each other by taking them out to breakfast; however, BB becomes so frustrated at Tilley taking so long to order breakfast (specifically, in how the eggs are cooked) that they start up their feud again.
  • Pistol-Whipping: Tilley does this to BB when he catches BB sneaking into his house. Turns out BB was looking for Nora. Tilley then throws eggs and tomatoes at BB to humiliate him, and gets charged with assault as a result.
  • Platonic Life-Partners: BB and Moe; Tilley and Sam.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: BB gives one of these to Stanley when he finds out Stanley's The Mole.
    BB: You know what your big problem is, Stanley? You're lazy. You wanna find out some stuff? Did it ever occur to you to pick up a phone and develop a lead, huh? Canvas? That's what we do all the time. It doesn't occur to you, does it, Stanley? Because you're lazy. You think we did something wrong, why don't you collect you evidence in a legal manner? But you don't like that, do you? You wanna snoop around, you wanna steal some files. I mean, what is this, Elliot Ness or something?
  • Running Gag: Every time BB gets a new car, something happens to it.
  • Shout-Out:
    • Sam is obsessed with Bonanza, or rather, obsessed with pointing out how unrealistic it is.
    • Mouse is obsessed with the song "La Bamba".
    • Tilley and Mouse discuss The Ed Sullivan Show at one point, and Tilley says his favorite act on the show is Senor Wences.
  • Snake Oil Salesman: All of the characters are this, which is why they're under investigation.
  • Stopped Dead in Their Tracks: When BB goes to visit Nora after work to apologize for not telling her (a) he sells aluminum siding for a living just like Tilley, and (b) he was the one who collided with Tilley's car, Nora doesn't want to hear it and walks away until BB admits, "I never would have met you otherwise!", at which point she stops.
  • The Tell: Discussed. Moe tells Stanley the best way to tell if a customer will be an easy sell or a hard sell is to drop a book of matches when you're trying to light a cigarette for yourself; if the customer picks up the matches for you, they're an easy sell, but if they wait for you to pick up the matches, they're a tough sell.
  • Two Lines, No Waiting: Except for the feud, BB and Tilley's stories are shown separately.
  • Undying Loyalty: BB towards Moe - when he gives Stanley enough evidence to implicate himself in the government's investigation, he tells Stanley to leave Moe out of it because Moe has quit the business.
  • Wounded Gazelle Gambit: BB pretends to be a widower out food shopping to charm Nora when they first meet.