Spoilers might file for bankruptcy.
There are truly bizarre features out there. These are not it. This new feature shines a light (or casts a shadow) in those slightly odd, just a bit peculiar films that appeared in mainstream but are too little of everything (or too much) to be easily labelled. And yet there’s something that makes them stand out when you look at them a certain way. Which is also odd because in some ways they are quite indefensible. Imagine then, my dear readers, what a predicament I find myself in when trying to justify why they might be worth watching.
Other People’s Money is a 1991 film directed by Norman Jewison and written by Alvin Sargent based upon the play of the same name by Jerry Sterner. It stars Danny DeVito as Lawrence Garfield, a corporate raider that buys and sells undervalued companies. This is a 90s movie, true and true. Truth is, DeVito sells it as Garfield. He’s unforgivably harsh but refreshingly honest about the way the system that allows him to thrive. He’s the antagonist and the protagonist. The film introduces us to him first by breaking the fourth wall. We’re starting on his corner.
On the other corner is New England Wire and Cable, an idyllic pop-and-mom run company that has no debts, rising stock but underperforming. It is run by Andrew “Jorgy” Jorgenson (Gregory Peck – yes that Gregory Peck) who is the embodiment of a morally upstanding and benevolent employer and his wife Bea Sullivan (Piper Laurie). After Garfield becomes a stockholder and makes them a visit, they realize their precious little company is in danger. In comes Bea’s daughter, big time lawyer Kate Sullivan (Penelope Ann Miller). There’s obviously a rift between Jorgy and Kate, but they never quite clear the air.
The movie then changes to a duel between Kate’s use of corporate law to block Garfield’s hostile takeover and Garfield’s advances towards Kate. The lawyer isn’t above acting sultry but surprisingly Garfield’s moves are all words. Lawrence Garfield is not conventionally attractive. He is not classic leading man material. He goes along with what Kate says just so he can play the seduction game a bit longer. As much creepy as he might seem, he never goes for the inappropriate touch nor blocks the door. He wants Kate’s acceptance, and he knows she’s somewhat intrigued. It’s still quite inappropriate but she never directly turns him down, just changes the subject.
As the typical antagonist, one would expect Lawrence at some point would try to exchange his interest in the company for sexual favors, but the movie never goes that route. Garfield does have some sort of crooked moral compass. When company president Bill Coles (Dean Jones) goes behind Jorgy’s back to sell his shares for a million dollars, Garfield agrees only if they result in giving him the victory – otherwise he’ll pay half. Instead, when Bea Sullivan offers to buy him out for a similar amount, she turns her down. It’s immoral to give up the game for money even if money is the objective. He cares about the way he wins, and he won’t lose on purpose, even if it means he loses Kate.
There’s one scene in particular in which I believe we see a little more of the Garfield’s character. In one of their business lunches, Kate takes Lawrence to a sushi restaurant. Lawrence is uncomfortable with the sitting arrangements and the chopsticks, requesting a knife, a fork and even bread. Sullivan has to leave in the middle of the lunch. As soon as she’s gone, Garfield makes himself comfortable, starts eating with chopsticks and even orders something else in Japanese.
The movie culminates in a memorable showdown, somewhat unrealistic but cinematically enthralling. Both parties agreed to settle their disputes at the annual shareholders meeting where vote ballots will be issued and tallied. That’s not the enthralling part. In a bit of movie flair, Jorgy and Garfield (he’s only directly addressed as Larry the Liquidator in this bit) square off as they address the crowd with a speech trying to garner votes for their side. Jorgy does his best in an passionate speech about people, tradition and family values that would have given him the victory in any other movie. In this one, Garfield brings it all back to the cold hard truth: greed. He gets considerably less boos and some applause when he’s done.
Recommended for one of those lazy weekends in January where it’s too cold and the crop of good movies is thin, or a long plane ride back after a holiday trip. It might not be your thing but the performances are solid and DeVito owns the screen when he’s on. The ending is a bit too nice, a little extra development trying to stalemate both parties for the sake of giving us a sappy ending that we don’t need. It would’ve been better to just show Garfield choosing his next target. It’s not a complete loss, and still worth your investment.
That will do for now.