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Other People's Money (1991)

Reviewed by Tom Ender

This movie places the decision about heroes and villains with the viewer. Many movies are in this class, but this one more obviously than most. The presentation of the story stays relatively neutral. In some respects Other People’s Money recalls Cash McCall (1960): a story from an earlier era about a “corporate raider” with a love interest. Although for many years Cash McCall was considered the "Best Libertarian Picture" (selected at the 1994 First International Libertarian Film Festival), I prefer Other People’s Money for several reasons which I hope to clarify in this review. However, I wouldn’t pick any movie as "Best Libertarian Picture".

Lawrence Garfield (Danny DeVito), also known as "Larry the Liquidator," is interested in New England Wire and Cable, an old family run company in a small northeastern community. Andrew Jorgenson (Gregory Peck), known to his friends as “Jorge” (Jor-gee) is the Chairman of the Board and “patriarch of the company.” Jorge, along with his company’s President: Bill Coles (Dean Jones) and his assistant and wife: Bea Sullivan (Piper Laurie) meet with Mr. Garfield. After that meeting, it is apparent to Jorge and his crew that Garfield is going to attempt a takeover of New England Wire and Cable. The “home team” of Jorge, Bea and Bill call upon Bea’s daughter Kate (Penelope Ann Miller) who is a high powered corporate lawyer. When Lawrence and Kate meet the sparks, as well as witty dialog, begin to fly.

Danny DeVito is superlative in his role of “cutthroat capitalist” with a romantic interest in his adversary the attractive lawyer, also played to the hilt by Penelope Ann Miller. They make the movie work. This is especially true of DeVito.

Here are a few quotes from their repartee to give you a small taste —

Kate Sullivan: Someday the laws will change to put you out of business.
Lawrence Garfield: Change the laws all you want, but you can't stop the game. I'll still be here. I adapt.

Kate Sullivan: It's not illegal.
Lawrence Garfield: It's immoral - a distinction lawyers ignore.

You might get the impression from those quotes that the movie is about lawyer bashing, but it really isn’t. Although the movie’s main storyline is the corporate raider vs. the “Mom and Pop” company, to make that entertaining and not formulaic, the relationship between "Larry the Liquidator" and daughter Kate is extensively developed. However, the overarching theme through the entire film is the concept of the market’s creative destruction. I expect that theme is what will be enjoyed most by those who read this review and then watch the movie.

Many reviewers have contrasted this film with It’s a Wonderful Life claiming it is sort of an anti-Capraesque movie showing a “Bedford Falls” style business beaten by a “Pottersville-ish” character. I interpret this film almost exactly opposite to that view. The market imposes a discipline on businesses that requires they adapt to changing conditions. George Bailey could appreciate that. In this movie Lawrence Garfield acts as an instrument of that discipline and DeVito does it in such a way that the “discipline” is very entertaining. The screenplay by Alvin Sergent based upon Jerry Sterner’s play of the same name is insightful.

Lawrence Garfield is a character who has “class.” He shows this in his dealings with everyone in the movie, but especially with Kate’s mother Bea and Kate too, after their initial encounter. This can be contrasted with the behavior of Bill Coles (Dean Jones) a member of the “home team.” In the final struggle both sides make soliloquies. Every viewer will have the opportunity to choose sides. You can probably guess where I would put my shares.

Gregory Peck, Dean Jones and especially Piper Laurie all give fine performances. Penelope Ann Miller does as well as anyone could attempting to keep up with DeVito. Comparing Cash McCall to Other People’s Money ought to be done based on the stories. Cash McCall “repents” of his specialty at the end of that movie. Lawrence Garfield does not and makes no apologies for what he is. Natalie Wood as Lory Austen may actually be at her most beautiful in Cash McCall as the love interest, but Kate Sullivan as played by Penelope Ann Miller seems more typical of today’s businesswoman and still an appealing character. Although James Garner (Cash McCall) is a great actor and has played many fine roles, Danny DeVito does an absolutely tremendous job in this film. It may be his best role so far in a career that is probably far from over. If you would like to see markets dealt with in an insightful way via a finely acted and well crafted movie, then Other People’s Money should more than satisfy.

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