Set in the year 1963, Ernest Tilley (Danny DeVito) and Bill “BB” Babowsky (Richard Dreyfuss) are two very different door-to-door aluminum siding salesmen in Baltimore, Maryland. Working for different companies, the “tin men” are prepared to do almost anything—legal or illegal—to close a sale.
Their first meeting is in the opening scene when BB buys a new Cadillac and almost immediately crashes into another Cadillac driven by Tilley. The accident is caused by BB, as he reverses into the street from the dealer’s forecourt. Tilley, though distracted, clearly has the right of way. Both BB and Tilley blame each other for the car accident and declare war.
After they smash glass on each other’s cars (BB smashes Tilly’s headlights, and Tilly smashes BB’s car windows in return), BB takes it a step further. He sets out to seduce Tilley’s wife Nora (Barbara Hershey) as an act of revenge. When he calls Tilley immediately after having sex with her to hear his reaction, Tilley tells BB to keep Nora; he wants to be rid of her.
In between their personal war, the two tin men’s personal lives are shown over the course of the film; BB is a smooth-talking con-artist who scams naive and comely young women with his sales pitches. BB soon does some soul searching for himself when his boss and elderly mentor Moe Adamson (John Mahoney) is hospitalized with a terminal heart condition. In contrast to BB, Tilley is a hapless loser who can’t make a sale no matter how hard he honestly (or dishonestly) tries.
Tilley also has a serious gambling problem and squanders what little money he makes on horse race bets which creates a rift between him and his long-suffering wife Nora. Because of Tilley’s addiction to gambling, he is heavily in debt to various creditors and the IRS. Nora, who works as a local secretary, is frustrated by Tilley’s indifference to his gambling addiction as well as his irresponsibility to pay house bills and indifference to life in general. Also, Tilley finds his life falling apart when the IRS begins confiscating his possessions for unpaid property taxes which include his house and, at the end of the film, his own car.
Tin Men (1987)
Directed by: Barry Levinson
Starring: Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito, Barbara Hershey, John Mahoney, Jackie Gayle, Stanley Brock, Seymour Cassel, Bruno Kirby, Richard Portnow, Deirdre O’Connell
Screenplay by: Barry Levinson
Production Design by: Peter Jamison
Cinematography by: Peter Sova
Film Editing by: Stu Linder
Costume Design by: Gloria Gresham
Set Decoration by: Phil Abramson
Distributed by: Buena Vista Distribution
Release Date: March 6, 1987