One of director Barry Levinson's "Baltimore Trilogy", "Tin Men" is also the most lively and comedic of the director's early work. Taking place in Baltimore in the 60's, the film covers the rise of aluminium siding and the men who sell it, dubbed by themselves as "Tin Men". Richard Dreyfuss stars as "BB" Babowsky, who finds himself running into his competition one day when his new car crashes into that of Ernest Tilley (Danny Devito). The two aren't able to simply exchange information - instead, they start an all-out feud, trying to see who can get the best revenge on the other, taking their battle to new heights when the joy of small wins subdues.
The battle between the two men - with their fellow salesmen acting as an amused audiience - is funny and clever, as are some of the ways that the salesmen con the gullible customers into believing the benefits of alumnimum siding. Meanwhile, the law is starting to get suspicious of the business practices of both. What I liked about "Tin Men" was not only the acting, which is terrific, but the pace. Levinson is at his most lively here and, with the performances, the realistic-sounding dialogue crackles. As a result, the film moves along nicely (some of Levinson's other films seem to be lacking forward momentum) and the characters are involving.
The performances by Dreyfuss and Devito lead the film quite wonderfully, although Levinson has smartly added an expert supporting cast, including John Mahoney, Bruno Kirby and Seymour Cassel, all of whom create great characters of their own. While it's unfortunate that the film doesn't end as strongly as I'd have liked, the rest of the picture achieves a great balance of comedy, heart and a few touches of sadness. It's not Levinson's best work (in my opinion, that still remains as "Wag The Dog"), but it's a very entertaining effort.
VIDEO: Buena Vista presents "Tin Men" in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As with the other Buena Vista/Touchstone catalog titles that have been released, the transfer of "Tin Men" is not excellent work and there are flaws apparent. Yet, "Tin Men" does look a bit less worn than the other titles that the studio is releasing this week, most of which are about as old as this picture is. Some considerable marks and a scratch or two are seen frequently in the opening credits, but they appear less often during the majority of the film.
Sharpness and detail are decent throughout; some interiors seem a bit softer by comparison, but Levinson and cinematographer Peter Sova may have intended for a few moments in this period piece to look slightly soft. Aside from the wear on the print used that is seen, there thankfully weren't too many other problems to contend with. A couple of instances of light edge enhancement were barely seen, but no pixelation or other flaws were noticed.
Colors looked superb throughout the picture, as the natural, warm color palette of the area came through quite wonderfully. This certainly isn't a great presentation, but it's a pretty nice one.
SOUND: The 2.0 soundtrack is almost completely dialogue-driven, with the exception of a nice background score that occasionally drops in.
MENUS: Some minor animation livens otherwise rather ordinary backgrounds.
Commentary: A pleasant and unexpected surprise, "Tin Men" includes a commentary track from director Barry Levinson, Producer Mark Johnson, Costume Designer Gloria Gresham and actors Richard Dreyfuss, Barbara Hershey, Burno Kirby, Seymour Cassel and John Mahoney. These people have been recorded separately and some of the participants have more to say than others. Still, their comments are terrifically interesting - Dreyfuss provides extremely enjoyable insight into defining characters and discusses his thoughts about what drew him to the screenplay. Mahoney also talks about the critical success of the picture as well as how it effected his career afterwards, as well as his viewpoint on the film's characters and situations. Producer Johnson and director Levinson chat about the inspirations for the situations in the picture as well as what it was like shooting on a low budget during the hottest days of the Baltimore Summer. Although there are a few quiet moments now and then throughout the commentary, this is still a very enjoyable track worth a listen.
Also: A fairly worn theatrical trailer and a deleted scene with Levinson commentary.
Final Thoughts: "Tin Men" is a well-written and well-acted comedy with realistic characters and enough touches of warmth and sadness to make things even more involving.