THIS FILM IS FREE ON YOUTUBE!
Directed by Norman Jewison, Other People’s Money centers around a corporate battle for ownership of a family-owned factory that’s said to be supporting a small town’s employment needs.
Gregory Peck (what a treat that a 1940s screen icon gets such a meaty role in 1991!) plays supposed blue-collar champion Andrew Jorgensen.
His opponent, Larry the Liquidator, is Danny DeVito gleefully playing the same notes of depravity that you see as Frank in It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia. Only he doesn’t live in filth and squalor but in a shamefully extravagant hotel suite with a staff that includes 17 lawyers. While the film is an attempt to live up to the corporate-damning messaging of the 1987 film Wall Street, this film is as much about the singular oddity of Larry that Devito establishes with such a grandiose sense of hedonism. He’s a ruthless ball of lust and greed with no filter.
I’d like to pause to talk about how I first came across this film:
In elementary school, my parents were restrictive about my TV and I used to sneak into my nanny/housekeeper’s bedroom when she went away on the weekends. But she had a broken TV and I only got one or two channels that came in clear. One was a syndicated Paramount channel that had either become or was in the process of becoming rebranded as UPN.
My ideal watching would have been TGIF-type fare or cartoons but by the time I got there after Sunday School, so my only option Paramount at the Movies. I vaguely remember Raising the Titanic, Love Potion Number 9, Arthur, Fitzwilly, The Ref, and Cyrano (the Steve Martin version. Because it was the 90s and I had no streaming options, it was all uninteresting, but I just enjoyed because being in front of the screen for an extra couple hours.
But Other People’s Money got my attention. In an early scene, Danny Devito’s character Larry the Liquidator, invites the opposing side’s corporate attorney (Andrew Jorgensen’s step-daughter, Kate, played by Penelope Ann Miller) for a business dinner and is simultaneously excited about burying her as he is about romancing her. As she gives up and leaves, the following dialogue takes place:
Lawrence: Wait, wait, wait! I got a proposition for you. You come up. We have a nice dinner. We make passionate love the rest of the night loses. The first one who comes first loses.
Kate: Loses what?
Lawrence: The deal.
Kate: [Disgusted] I think you’re serious… How do you propose we write this up?
Lawrence: Delicately. Under the heading of, “Easy Come, Easy Go.”…come on what have you got to lose your virginity. I could lose millions?
Kate: So what happens if we come together?
Lawrence: (pauses) I never thought about that.
Kate: Well, think about it honey.
Lawrence: Don’t go! I haven’t played my violin yet.
I first heard this dialogue when I was around 10 years old and I had little to no idea what sex was. I found these words highly confusing, and a little disturbing.
I wasn’t in full-fledged puberty yet, but I was in the process of realizing that girls weren’t icky and the beautiful Penelope Anne Miller was certainly helping me get there at the time. But it was something to the stylized dialogue that hooked me.
Watching it through adult eyes the other day, I can attest that the film’s uniquely charged dialogue between the two is like nothing I’ve ever seen before.
When Larry offers to play the violin for her in the last exchange, for example, he means it. He wakes her up the middle of the night (inapprops!) and serenades her with his (extremely) amateur violin playing.
This is a man who spends the first 20 seconds of the meeting having locker room talk with himself, about how hot the woman in his presence is. At the same time, there’s a romantic side that exists side-by-side with his baseline female objectification. He buys her flowers and makes gestures to the point that it’s believable that underneath all the dirtiness, his heart isn’t set on a one-night stand but on a longer partner.
The only reason that his treatment of Kate isn’t appalling, is that she finds his advances amusing. Although a woman in this era shouldn’t have to endure all this sexism, there’s a very clear indication that she knows how to set boundaries for herself and hit back. In one of the strangest moments of the movie, she reacts to one of his catcalls by ordering him to look down at his penis and lecture it on being respectful to women. Yes, this is a thing that actually happens, and yes I had no idea what it meant as a 10-year-old.
Although the play from which this film was adapted charted a romance between the two, the casting of Danny DeVito — a balding man at least fifteen years Miller’s senior — had the creators wisely leaving the two somewhere between platonic and up-in-the-air.
Still, this is very much in the mold of a screwball comedy, and there’s definitely flirtatious energy in the air. In their constant battle of one-upmanship, Kate gets downright salacious when she’s got the edge. When she’s calling to deliver the news to him after she’s successfully filed an injunction against him, she looks like she’s on a phone sex line.
And then there’s the battle over the steel mill.
Norman Jewison has a history of socially conscious films like The Hurricane and In the Heat of the Night. He is clearly trying to say something important.
Larry’s characterization borrows from the film’s spiritual cousins Wall Street and Glengarry Glen Ross which all require a great corporate villain to slap us out of our entrenched love affair with capitalism.
The problem here is that Andrew Jorgensen is a dinosaur of an executive whose sense of integrity has little basis in the economic reality of the situation. His narrative arc is one of tragedy, and the eventual survival of his company has nothing to do with him.
In other words, he’s up against an amoral monster, but he’s not the hero of this story either. There’s definitely some thematic muddling going on here if it’s framed as a David v Goliath story considering David is such an idiot. Then again, one might call Kate the David but what’s the point of trying to lionize Jorgensen or even include him?
Perhaps, it’s the big speech at the end, which is one of the few things the film is remembered for.
Check this out:
Lawrence Garfield: Amen. And amen. And amen. You have to forgive me. I’m not familiar with the local custom. Where I come from, you always say “Amen” after you hear a prayer. Because that’s what you just heard — a prayer. Where I come from, that particular prayer is called “The Prayer for the Dead.” You just heard The Prayer for the Dead, my fellow stockholders, and you didn’t say, “Amen.” This company is dead. I didn’t kill it. Don’t blame me. It was dead when I got here. It’s too late for prayers. For even if the prayers were answered, and a miracle occurred, and the yen did this, and the dollar did that, and the infrastructure did the other thing, we would still be dead. You know why? Fiber optics. New technologies. Obsolescence. We’re dead alright. We’re just not broke. And you know the surest way to go broke? Keep getting an increasing share of a shrinking market. Down the tubes. Slow but sure. You know, at one time there must’ve been dozens of companies making buggy whips. And I’ll bet the last company around was the one that made the best goddamn buggy whip you ever saw. Now how would you have liked to have been a stockholder in that company? You invested in a business and this business is dead. Let’s have the intelligence, let’s have the decency to sign the death certificate, collect the insurance, and invest in something with a future. “Ah, but we can’t,” goes the prayer. “We can’t because we have responsibility, a responsibility to our employees, to our community. What will happen to them?” I got two words for that: Who cares? Care about them? Why? They didn’t care about you. They sucked you dry. You have no responsibility to them. For the last ten years this company bled your money. Did this community ever say, “We know times are tough. We’ll lower taxes, reduce water and sewer.” Check it out: You’re paying twice what you did ten years ago. And our devoted employees, who have taken no increases for the past three years, are still making twice what they made ten years ago; and our stock — one-sixth what it was ten years ago. Who cares? I’ll tell you. Me. I’m not your best friend. I’m your only friend. I don’t make anything? I’m making you money. And lest we forget, that’s the only reason any of you became stockholders in the first place. You want to make money! You don’t care if they manufacture wire and cable, fried chicken, or grow tangerines! You want to make money! I’m the only friend you’ve got. I’m making you money. Take the money. Invest it somewhere else. Maybe, maybe you’ll get lucky and it’ll be used productively. And if it is, you’ll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy and, God forbid, even make a few bucks for yourselves. And if anybody asks, tell ’em ya gave at the plant. And by the way, it pleases me that I am called “Larry the Liquidator.” You know why, fellow stockholders? Because at my funeral, you’ll leave with a smile on your face and a few bucks in your pocket. Now that’s a funeral worth having!