Tin Men: Barry Levinson’s Second Panel in Trilogy that Began with the Superb Diner

Touchstone (Silver Screen Partners II)

Director Barry Levinson returns to his hometown of Baltimore-and the location of his first film Diner-to tell another personal story, this time about the battle between two aluminum siding salesmen circa 1963.

It all begins with a small car accident, when Bill “BB” Babowsky (Richard Dreyfus) backs his new Cadillac into the car of Ernest Tilley (Danny De Vito), while the latter is arguing with his wife Nora (Barbara Hershey). Soon the two insecure men engage in a fierce (and comical) battle for revenge.

As before, Levinson is stronger with gritty, realistic dialogue and lived-in ambience than with plot perse. The acting of the leads is good, but the movie as a whole is not as good or compelling as “Diner.” Too episodic, “Tin Men” lacks dramatic shape.

Even so, Levinson captures in minute detail a bygone era and distinctive subculture seldom depicted with such love and precision on screen.

Among the film’s small pleasure are the funny observations offered by comedian Jack Gayle as Sam, Tilley’s partner.

Blessed with a sharp eye for casting, Levinson has assembled a first-rate troupe that includes John Mahoney, Seymour Cassel, Bruno Kirby, J.T. Walsh, and Richard Portnow.

End Note

The city of Baltimore is now reflected in American films by two native sons who have cultivated decidedly different sensibilities and careers: the straight Barry Levinson and the gay John Waters.