“And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure.”
I’m a big fan of directors who have a strong voice. Directors whose movies you can tell are their movies. Quentin Tarantino, Wes Anderson, Martin Scorsese, Paul Thomas Anderson… Even when I don’t love their movies, I admire that they made their movie, their way. But I’m starting to have a growing respect for the journeyman, chameleon director. The film maker who can cross genres, cross decades, cross fads, and make great movies all along the way that service the specific movie, more than the director’s quirks.
Norman Jewison made screwball comedy with The Russians Are Coming, The Russians are Coming. Norman Jewison made street level grit with The Cincinnati Kid. Norman Jewison made musical grandeur with Fiddler on the Roof. Norman Jewison made sharp social commentary with In the Heat of the Night. Norman Jewison made melodrama with Moonstruck. He did all these things in a way that means I have seen all of these movies, and never noticed that were made by the same dude. And in the early 90s, he made a quintessential early 90s movie about corporate greed, with Other People’s Money.
Leo Garfield (Danny DeVito) is a legendary corporate raider. He’s made a fortune buying companies, ripping them apart and selling the scrap. The latest business to catch his eye is New England Wire and Cable. A once small, family company that has risen to be worth over $100milllion, while still being run like a small, family company. When Leo goes to see the business in person, he meets its current patriarch, the folksy Andrey “Jorgy” Jorgenson (Gregory Peck). Jorgy recognises Leo’s Wall Street bullshit immediately, and is determined to keep Leo’s hands off the business Jorgy’s father started 80 years ago.
As they batten down the hatches, Jorgy and his wife (Piper Laurie as Bea), enlist their daughter and lawyer, Kate (Penelope Ann Miller) to secure their business against Leo’s corporate attacks. While Leo is immediately smitten with Kate, it does nothing to curb is ruthless pursuit of her family’s business. If anything, the flirting only makes the business chicanery even more exciting for both Leo and Kate.
Other People’s Money is by no means a great movie. But it’s a way better than average one. My plot rundown above probably makes you think you know exactly what to expect and how it will end. But you’re wrong. While the characters and their motivations might seem clichéd and lazy, where this movie takes them is not. Leo isn’t an out and out villain, and Jorgy’s simple, down home attitudes don’t always lead to selfless decisions. There’s good and bad in every person and in every motivation. Which is something you don’t see in movies often enough.