1986 in Film – The Money Pit

Release Date: March 26th
Box Office:  $37,499,651

Being a nice aw shucks guy seemed to be a good way of getting a lead role in the 80s. Look at people like Guttenberg, all smiley and inoffensive and bland.

Tom Hanks was firmly in that role at the start of his career. After a bit of TV work he made his name with Splash (1984) which for the time was a big hit for a romantic comedy. This did of course tar him with that brush which took him a fair old while to get out of. Three films followed Splash, each with Hanks as the affable lead with the highlight probably being The Man With One Red Shoe (1985) which wasn’t that great anyway and failed at the box office. That should say a lot for the quality of his films at that time.

The Money Pit (1986) doesn’t exactly buck this trend, being that it is firmly in the romantic comedy genre that Hanks was drowning in at the time.

A loose remake of a Cary Grant film, Mr Blandings Builds His Dream House (1948), it stars Hanks as a musician lawyer who’s father embezzles from his clients and moves to South America. At the same time he has to vacate the apartment he and his girlfriend, played by Shelley Long of Cheers fame, are sub letting from her ex-husband. Thanks to a friend in real estate they end up buying a mansion dirt cheap however it turns out there’s a reason why it’s so cheap.

It’s a decent setup, though the scenes about the embezzling feel like they’re setting the scene for something that never really pays off. It’s a lot of work for a movie plot that doesn’t need that much setting up.

The film lives or dies on the chemistry between the leads which is where things fall down a little; Hanks isn’t going much beyond the usual schtick he was employing at the time, being the charming yet slightly bumbling lead. Shelley Long as his slightly ditzy posh girlfriend is again not far out of her comfort zone being hat it wasn’t a million miles away from the character she was playing on TV. By 1986 Cheers had grown into a giant ratings monster however Long would leave the show the next year to move into movies and to spend time with her new daughter.

The Money Pit would be a template as to how they would spend the next few movies of their career: a decent romantic comedy that struggles to be any more than that. You could argue that there’s some subtext in there about the baby boomer generation (Tom Hanks’ dad in the film) taking all the money and leaving the next generation to pick up the pieces but you’re really grasping at straws there. It’s just about two people buying a house that needs an awful lot of repairs and that’s about it.

As the house collapses around them you get some physical comedy that raises the odd laugh but feels a bit out of place. Neither lead is that great at this kind of comedy so some of the jokes fall a bit flat. The supporting characters are where you get the most out of his one: the builders working on the premises, including Joe Mantegna as a borderline rapist, work well as does Alexander Godunov as Long’s ex husband. He’s a great caricature of a self obsessed conductor insulting everyone near him because no one is as superb as he is. If you don’t recognise the name, that’s fine as it wouldn’t be until his next film that he would become immortalised as Karl in Die Hard (1988).

The director of the film, Richard Benjamin, was no stranger to comedy. A few years earlier he turned up in Love At First Bite (1979) and also the movie version of Catch-22 (1970). He’d also been the lead in Waterworld (1973)before turning to directing with My Favourite Year (1982), a film produced by Mel Brooks which garnered Peter O’Toole an Academy award nomination. Not that he won, of course.

That film was followed up with City Heat (1984), a film that disappeared at the box office despite teaming up Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds. The Money Pit feels like a safe choice after that; the plot, the casting, everything feels like the easy and safe bet. The goal clearly wasn’t to re-make the wheel, but to put together a film that wouldn’t be hated and would make a decent amount told money.

On that basis the film is a success. Of course the only one who would go on to true success would be Hanks, after a rough few years including notable flop The Bonfire of The Vanities (1990) he would properly move into dramatic films with a series of roles that won him Oscar after Oscar. Long would continue in froth like The Money Pit that would do alright at best, Benjamin’s biggest successes would probably be the Cher vehicle Mermaids (1990), which would be remembered for giving the world that Shoop Shoop song, and Whoopi Goldberg/Ted Danson vehicle Made in America (1993).

The Money Pit ends up being not exactly being a blemish on the CV of its various stars, just one of those early films that no one really talks about. It was decently made, told a decent story and earned a bit of money. It just about works as a time capsule for its era but that’s about it.

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