Touchstone and Beyond: A History of Disney’s “Tin Men”

Danny DeVito, Richard Dreyfuss, and director Barry Levinson bring to life 1960’s Baltimore following the highs and lows of aluminum siding salesmen in Tin Men. What follows is a soul-searching examination of the art of salesmanship and what really matters in life.

The Plot

It’s 1963 and in Baltimore, business is booming for the aluminum siding salesmen. BB, fresh from picking up a brand-new Cadillac backs his new car into an oncoming car driven by Tilley and his world will never be the same. Each blames the other for the accident, and thanks to an intervention from the crowd both men are pulled off from each other and go about their day.

Both Tilley and BB are still angry about the accident. Each man sets out for revenge on the other with BB upping the game by dating Tilley’s wife Nora. As the days and weeks pass by, BB and Tilley hold on to their grudge against each other, even as their world crumbles around them.

Nora having left Tilley for BB has had a profound influence on the forever bachelor. BB doesn’t want to be out all night, and scamming customers. Tilley is cut loose by his boss Wing, and he is also at a crossroads.

When BB and Tilley are called to testify at the home improvement commission about scams in their industry, the chance for redemption, reconciliation, and a new beginning are waiting for the two enemies.

The Good

Nobody can match the intensity of character development and story like Barry Levinson. He simply cannot be beaten, and Tin Men is one of his masterpieces. Not only does Levinson evoke an emotional response just by the background of the story but his lead characters make the audience compelled to see the resolution.

DeVito and Dreyfuss as antagonists are a brilliant choice. Not only do they feed off each other so well, but they exude their characters with such skill and wit, that it’s hard to pick a side to root for. Dreyfuss gets to be the suave romantic lead, while DeVito gets to play the everyman role. These two actors don’t get this opportunity much, and they eat up the scenery in Tin Men.

Barbara Hershey in the role of Nora could be easily forgotten or cast to the side. Levinson gave this character the ability to stand out from the typical portrayal that might have been done in other similar films.

The supporting cast is incredible. From Seymour Cassel, Matt Craven, Bruno Kirby, Richard Portnow, and Michael Tucker, Tin Men is stacked with talent.

The Bad and the Ugly

It’s a period piece with little physical action and more emotional drama. If this isn’t your thing, then I suggest you skip the film.

Beyond the Film Facts

  • Tin Men is the second of four films in Levinson’s Baltimore quartet.
  • In the scene where the Life magazine scam was being played out, the house used for this shot is the childhood home of director Barry Levinson.
  • Michael Tucker’s character Bagel is the same character that he played in Levinson’s first film Diner.
  • Tin Men was the second film that Dreyfuss started in for Touchstone Pictures in 1987. The other one was Stakeout.
  • Barry Levinson provides the voice of the baseball stadium announcer.
  • When the film opened on March 6 in nine theatres, it landed in 13th place with a gross of just over $187 thousand dollars.
  • The following week, the film expanded to six hundred eighty-four theatres and grossed over $4 million dollars. The film landed in fourth place.
  • The film stayed in the top five for the next month of its release.
  • The group Fine Young Cannibals is the house band in the film.

The Streamy Award

The following four categories are based on a Film Reel scale.

1 Reel-Watch on your Smartphone, 2 Reels-Tablet Time, 3 Reels-Travel Entertainment, 4 Reels-Big Screen Event

Tin Men is a great film filled with characters and the conflict of normal life that people face in the real world. Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito shine in this gem from the past. Written with incredible skill and executed with precision, Tin Men is a must-see film.

Tin Men is overflowing with talent that gets the film a 4 Reels rating.

Cast and Crew

  • Richard Dreyfuss as BB
  • Danny DeVito as Tilley
  • Barbara Hershey as Nora
  • John Mahoney as Moe
  • J.T. Walsh as Wing

Directed by Barry Levinson

Produced by Touchstone Pictures / Silver Screen Partners II / Bandai Films

Release Date: March 13, 1987

Budget: $11 million

Box Office Gross

Domestic: $25,411,386

Coming Soon

With Top Gun: Maverick coming soon to cinemas, a look back at Touchstone Pictures’ attempt to capitalize on the same formula with Nicolas Cage and Tommy Lee Jones in Fire Birds.