Tin Men

For the unrelated novel by Michael Frayn, see The Tin Men.
Tin Men

Theatrical release poster
Directed by Barry Levinson
Produced by Mark Johnson
Written by Barry Levinson
Music by Fine Young Cannibals
Cinematography Peter Sova
Edited by Stu Linder
Distributed by Buena Vista Distribution
Release dates
  • March 6, 1987 (1987-03-06)
Running time
110 min
Country United States
Language English
Budget $11 million
Box office $25,411,386

Tin Men is a 1987 American comedy film written and directed by Barry Levinson, produced by Mark Johnson, and starring Richard Dreyfuss, Danny DeVito, and Barbara Hershey.

It is the second of Levinson's four "Baltimore Films" set in his hometown during the 1940s, 1950s, and 1960s: Diner (1982), Tin Men (1987), Avalon (1990), and Liberty Heights (1999).


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 whom 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 puts a riff between him and his long-suffering wife Nora. Because of Tilley's addition 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 posessions for unpaid property taxes which include his house, and at the end of the film, his own car.

Exhausted by their rivalry, the two men decide to play a game of pool to decide who should get Nora in order to end to their personal war. BB loses, but he does not honor the bet. He has fallen in love for the first time, and Nora then moves in with BB to make a future with him.

The climax of the film is set at the newly formed Maryland Home Improvement Commission which is charged with uprooting corrupt sales practices in the home-improvement industry, which subpoenas both men. After Tilley, and then BB, give testimony about their sales practices, the commission takes away both of their sales licenses. In the final scene, BB, seeing that Tilley has lost everything including his car, takes pitty on him and gives him a ride in his. Having lost their jobs and reconciled to their fate of being unemployed, Tilley and BB begin sharing ideas for a new business they can create for themselves.

Main cast

See also

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