Buried Credits, a column that deep dives into the IMDB pages of favorite actors, directors, and writers to find their lost, forgotten or unknown film and TV credits, continues this week with works featuring Barbara Hershey.
Tin Men (1987)
Written and Directed by Barry Levinson
Aluminium siding sales may not sound like the flashiest of professions but Barry Levinson sells it in Tin Men. His script is taut with the gold standard of dialogue, usually reserved for films like James L. Brooks’ Broadcast News, and under an all-star cast you get to appreciate each word.
Starring Danny DeVito, Richard Dreyfuss, and Barbara Hershey, every co-worker in this collaboration, from John Mahoney (Frasier) to Michael Tucker (L.A. Law), is a slam dunk, as a group of guys that will be easy to recognize. Rambling conversations during lunch and at the office ring with truth. Tilley (DeVito) talks about his problems with the IRS and Sam (Jackie Gayle) responds with his observations on Bonanza. They hang out all the time but don’t listen to each other. Everyone has their own topics they want to discuss and tries to steer the conversation accordingly, and it’s never purely about catering to the troubles of the main character.
But the problem that irks Tilley the most isn’t the IRS. It’s BB (Dreyfus) and his new Cadillac backing into Tilley’s old one (Cadillacs are the tin man’s ride of choice). Neither can ever collect themselves long enough to conclude who’s at fault for the accident (my vote is BB) but it’s the minor fender bender that gets their rivalry rolling.
Tin Men initially falls into a classic, escalating revenge plot, but what would typically be the climax move—BB crossing the line with Tilley’s wife, Nora (Hershey)—occurs before the film’s halfway point. Nothing goes according to book. BB comes across as the biggest jerk but grows, while Tilley is taken down by wallowing self-pity. When rumblings start to rise of a commission going after the false schemes that are a tin man’s bread and butter, there’s no attempts at sabotage. Assuming how people will react in this movie is always a mistake.
Meanwhile, cheating doesn’t usually bring about the best characterizations. Returning home to find most of her possessions out on the front yard, Nora’s calm acknowledgement of her affair is a dynamic turn for Hershey. She has civil conversations with Tilley. She takes the blame she deserves in their marriage but not the blame she doesn’t. She ends up liking BB a lot but doesn’t project or have elevated expectations of who he is. When he tries to break up with her, it’s he who backs out on his own accord. That kind of maturity, weighted with history, is magnificent to watch and sad in its feeling of novelty.
Verdict: Buried Treasure
A movie that’s not about action but character dynamics, Tin Men‘s ending feels a smidge condensed but is nothing an eye brow raise can’t let slide.
Check back tomorrow for Barbara Hershey’s performance as a mother raising two sons in Nazi Germany.