Skip to content

Other People’s Money (1991)

by on 2014/01/07

Other People's Money (1991)

“All they can do is change the rules. They can never stop the game. I don’t go away. I adapt.”

* * * *

There’s something that makes me cringe, whether by intention or not, even when I enjoy a movie overall: the title reference. I had this experience in the earliest scene of Other People’s Money, in which Danny DeVito speaks the first of two or three such references throughout the film. Fortunately, the remainder is strong enough to offset such moments.

Having just seen Rollerball, an earlier effort also by Norman Jewison, I found some similarities. The competitive arenas are different, but the star players seem incapable of failure, no matter how many obstacles appear in their way.

Of course, one could say such things about most plots and their attendant players. Instead I expect most people will see this piece as a light-hearted Wall Street. It is, after all, very Eighties indeed, with lots of smoking, Japanese references, New York hot shots, and their giant cordless phones.

DeVito plays a financial shark looking to savage a modest wire and cable factory in the New England area. Panicked by his attentions, the rural company leaders (The Guns of Navarone’s Gregory Peck, Twin Peaks’ Piper Laurie, and the Herbie series’ Dean Jones) enlist their daughter (Kindergarten Cop’s Penelope Ann Miller), an up-and-coming lawyer in the big city.

Despite being a practical caricature, DeVito’s “Larry the Liquidator” develops romantic feelings for his nemesis. He’s stubborn, decadent, a glutton, and sexist in this feature-length promotion for Dunkin’ Donuts. His oddest trait is violin-playing, perhaps to conjure Nero, though he remains largely unchanged from beginning to end. For her part, Miller reminded me of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels’ Glenne Headly.

The story’s roots in theatre sound clear from the stagey dialogue, with third-wall breaking, addressing the audience, and some too-clever dialogue. (For that matter, many of Miller’s early lines appear awkwardly dubbed in.) Nonetheless, the actors do well, and their surroundings never feel confined.

Perhaps the greatest coup was casting Gregory Peck as the patriarch. His history portraying Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird establishes a strong context for his grand finale speech. And it’s no small feat that DeVito manages to hold his own against the thespian. His spin on the typical “greed is good” approach may not best Peck necessarily, but sets up a challenge which got me thinking long after.

Frankly, what I know about stocks and shares couldn’t even fill a VIC-20’s RAM; still I’ve always enjoyed Other People’s Money, in its own time, and to this day. Its decorations may date it but, having grown up in that era, it’s comfortable, familiar, while thought-provoking and good fun.

* * * *

Rated 14A (Canada) / R (United States)

101 minutes

Leave a Comment

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: