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Tin MenTin Men on DVD

Danny Devito and Richard Dreyfuss are at each other's throats in Barry Levinson's period piece.

Set in Baltimore in the early 1960's, both protagonists are "tin men," commission aluminum siding salesmen for competing companies. They have a lot in common, from the sleazy scams they use to sell their siding to the Cadillacs they drive to ensure they impart the proper image.

Neither of them knows the other until 'BB' Babowsky (Dreyfuss) backs his brand new Caddy out of the dealership right into the path of the oncoming Caddy of Ernest Tilley (DeVito). The resulting collision puts them at odds with each other and sets off a war of one upmanship between them that threatens to escalate into something ridiculous.

To get the ultimate payback, BB seduces Tilley's wife (Barbara Hershey) - but much to his chagrin this lifelong bachelor discovers he's fallen for her. Perhaps worse still, Tilley doesn't care; he's just as happy getting rid of Nora anyway - and it also means he gets the last laugh on BB because losing his wife isn't the mortal blow to his psyche his nemesis had expected.

It's a bittersweet comedy, more of an affectionate look at life in the era portrayed, with remarkable dialogue that comes from writer-director Barry Levinson's ear for people and the way they talk. For example, though it has nothing really to do with the story, there's a running discussion between one of the tin men gangs about why four men live together with no women in the old TV series Bonanza. It's just the kind of conversational stuff a bunch of work buddies might talk about.

That doesn't mean there are no laughs; there are, but rather than this being a real yukfest it balances and blends humor with real human emotions, and it does it very well.

Dreyfuss and Devito give their usual good and believable performances, as does Hershey. They're joined by a great supporting group of character actors including Jackie Gayle, Bruno Kirby, John Mahoney, and J.T. Walsh.

The DVD isn't spectacular, but there's nothing really wrong with it. It's presented in anamorphic widescreen (16x9 TV compatible), and the picture quality is very good. It's a bit soft, but that actually helps make it look more like a piece shot during the period of the story, rather than a modern movie set in the past.

The audio, which is Dolby Digital surround, is good, though there isn't a lot of surround in evidence.

Unlike other recent Buena Vista DVD's, like Dick Tracy for example, Tin Men includes some good extras. First, there's a running commentary given by writer/director Levinson, stars Dreyfuss, DeVito, Hershey as well as other cast and crew members. You also get a deleted scene, introduced by Levinson himself.

Don't look for Tin Man to be a screwball laugh a minute comedy - but if you're into a film that recreates believably a bygone era, and populates it with believable characters you can like and humorous and interesting situations, Tin Man might be worth a view in your home theater.

Tin Men, from Buena Vista Home Entertainment
108 min. anamorphic widescreen (1.85:1), 16x9 TV compatible, Dolby Digital surround
Starring Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito, Barbara Hershey
Produced by Mark Johnson,
Written and Directed by Barry Levinson


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Updated May 5, 2010