The Greatest Conservative Films: Other People’s Money (1991)
“I’m the only friend you’ve got: I’m making you money. Take the money—invest it somewhere else. Maybe…maybe you’ll get lucky—and it’ll be used productively! And if it is, you’ll create new jobs and provide a service for the economy—and God forbid, even make a few bucks for yourselves. And if anybody asks: tell ‘em you gave at the plant.”
In so many ways, I owe the existence of this series to John Nolte of Breitbart (recently returned there from the Daily Wire, because he misses the “attack” mindset—for better or worse…). As I said way back in the beginning, his “25 Greatest Left-Wing Films” directly inspired the template for this.
In this case, Nolte invoked Other People’s Money in a list of the top five Conservative MOMENTS in film—and far be it from me to paraphrase. Mind you, I knew about the Conservatism of this film long before reading that article. Nonetheless, out of respect to a Culture Warrior who at his best is one of my heroes, I’ll have a quote from him kick off…
WHY IT’S A CONSERVATIVE FILM:
One of the reasons Leftist films have been bombing at the box office (even with Leftists) is due to a one-sidedness that insults the intelligence. In just a couple years, between narratives and documentaries, there have been over a dozen anti-war films that have all flopped, and one of the reasons is that at no time was a single character allowed to stand up and point to the elephant in the room:
“But wait a minute… What about the Iraqi people? There are twenty-five million innocent people there and we’re the only thing between them and annihilation. You just want to abandon them? You’re arguing we feed millions of women and children into a terrorist meat grinder? Haven’t you seen Three Kings? Once upon a time, even George Clooney thought that was wrong.”*
As a general rule, for over a decade now, no conservative has been allowed to make an intelligent case for their beliefs in a high profile studio film – whether it’s gun control, abortion, the environment, taxes, or the war in Iraq. And the reasons are obvious. When presented intelligently, conservative ideas appeal to those possessing both common sense and compassion. In other words, these arguments are persuasive and Hollywood knows it.
In 1991, a number of things had started to awaken me from my liberal slumber. Maturity, a job… and watching Danny DeVito’s Larry the Liquidator turn “Other People’s Money” completely on its ear with his brilliant speech about the realities of how an effective, and yes, compassionate, economy should work.
That alone about settles it. Other People’s Money helped “red-pill” a California Lefty. A Culture Warrior’s dream.
Greed Is Good, After All!
The very first film I covered in this series, Rio Bravo, was the Conservative Alternative to High Noon. And when you really get down to it…Other People’s Money is the Conservative Alternative to that other legendary flick about wealthy tycoons of the stock market: Oliver Stone’s Wall Street.
My colleague Ronald Rowe remembers the 1980s well. And as he remembers and told me, Wall Street was “the thing”—inspiring countless yuppies to get in the game.
Much to the constant chagrin of Oliver Stone. See, he made the film to condemn “corporate raiders” like Gordon Gekko. He wanted to tear down the glamor of the “players”, by showing the appeal of The Life and then pulling the rug out by tugging at our heartstrings via what Gordon plans to do to that airline, and Martin Sheen’s noble union.
And of course a rambling, nonsensical speech about mythical Zero-Sum Games and The Richest One Percent—which, seriously, Gekko has no reason to give Bud Fox, except Stone felt he absolutely had to lecture the audience about the Disturbing Power of the Evil Rich.
At any rate, like High Noon, the film seems to have backfired. We remember Gekko as cool—and honestly, his “Greed is good” speech is memorable to the point of quotable, precisely because it’s right.
Further, those yuppies could eagerly point to the characters played by Hal Holbrook (a former tycoon who’s slowly working his way back to the top through honest trading) and Terrance Stamp (a former raider once allegedly worse than Gekko who’s apparently turned to the side of the angels) as proof that, for all Stone’s bang-on-the-head Leftist sermonizing, the truth still shined through: “Not all ‘raiders’ are like that.”
Regardless…the film was what it was. And Other People’s Money served as the perfect rebuttal.
A Little Bait-&-Switch:
Meet Larry the Liquidator. Arrogant. Greedy. Self-centered. Ruthless.
You gotta love the guy.
That tag from the advertising (Look no further than the video box!) sums up just how the movie does it. Larry Garfield’s set up as your typical “corporate raider”—living the glamorous life up at the top, Mr. One Percent…and he’s “heartless”, only out to make a buck, viewing all those companies and their employees as part of a game—a game of money. In other words, Gordon Gekko. Only shorter and wider.
He’s fat—and he’s a cool cat. He is, in other words…a Fat Cat.
And yet…there’s something about him we can’t help but like.
Mind you, we liked Gekko, too. Danny DeVito’s charming?—well…so is Michael Douglass. And so…as Larry sets out to break up a profitless wire and cable company, in the hopes of selling off the pieces—while its chairman, Andrew Jorgenson, and his sexy lawyer, Kate Sullivan, set out to stop him—we’re all bracing ourselves for the “message” that Larry’s the villain and his antagonists are the noble heroes defending the little guy against this quintessential Fat Cat.
And then the rug’s pulled out from under the feet…and we come to realize, some of us sooner than others, that Larry’s the hero here—in his own sort of way.
Just To Be Fair…
The Left’s message movies haven’t been doing pretty well, lately. And as Nolte pointed out above, a major reason for that’s just how one-sided they’ve all become. Gone are the days of Dead Man Walking, where all the pro-death-penalty arguments are presented and treated with respect, despite the film’s ultimate position against capital punishment. Nope…nowadays, every message film from the Hollywood Left follows the example of Oliver Stone at his worst—constant proselytizing, all opponents reduced to straw-men, either laughable or evil or both.
(I know, sometimes we’re not much better…when we do make “open” message films. Still, those are few and far between—especially when you don’t count Christian-studio movies.)
They all bomb, of course. Even Stone’s career has faded to a shadow of his former glory. And Aaron Sorkin’s only good, nowadays, when he doesn’t get political.
The point is, message movies from either side are at their best when they try their hardest to give the other side a fair hearing. I suppose, as Conservatism is meant to be grounded in cold, hard facts…we just may be better at doing that then the Left. After all, what do we have to be afraid of?
Sure enough, Other People’s Money isn’t afraid to emphasize the sympathetic nature of the folks at New England Wire & Cable. They’re all decent people, out to do the best they can—even if Jorgenson’s a bit head-in-the-clouds stubborn about it.
Larry’s just the “cruel” voice of truth—pointing out that Wire & Cable isn’t making any profit. The companies under its banner are propping it up. To quote Ben Shapiro (“Thug Life™!”), “Fact’s don’t care about your feelings.”
Still, the story does. It has to. And as an honest story, it gives them their say.
Larry The Liquidator, Honest Broker:
Once we realize Other People’s Money’s a Conservative film—that Larry’s actually a Capitalist hero—we can see what goes on throughout as quite Ayn-Rand-esque. Heck, Larry’s “fourth-wall” speech at the very beginning, about how he loves money (and ain’t ashamed to admit it), calls to mind Rand’s axiom about men who’re honest and unapologetic about being out to make money: when you get down to it, they’re the men you can trust. It’s the self-righteous types claiming they don’t “care about money” you need to watch out for.
Sure enough, unlike Gekko, Larry hates BS—making it absolutely clear to Jorgenson’s number-two, when the latter asks if he can “speak frankly”:
“No, lie to me! Tell me how thrilled you are to know me. I always speak frankly—I hate people who say, ‘Can we speak frankly?’ It means they’re bulls—ting me, the rest of the time!”
He doesn’t lie, if he can help it. Upon arriving at the Wire & Cable company, he makes absolutely clear to Jorgenson what he intends to do, and why. “Cutthroat” as he is, he’s an honest broker—and he’d like everyone else to see things the way he does.
Everyone wins, that way.
Virtue-signaling takes it on the chin from him, constantly. When Kate complains about Larry’s behind-the-scenes maneuverings and manipulations, he calls her out on her own.
“Slimy” as he may appear…Larry Garfield’s a man of integrity. And that honesty allows him to see clearly through the entire film. He hates greenmail—something Gekko, by contrast, would jump at. And when Kate’s mother (a high-ranking executive at the company) desperately tried buying him off with her trust fund, he’s quite hurt by it: “I don’t take money from widows and orphans. I make them money.”
Well…maybe it shouldn’t be.
The Empowered Kate Sullivan:
There was a time—however brief—when feminism was sane: when even at its militant worst, it didn’t give the sense that “women’s empowerment” means relying on Sugar Daddy Uncle Sam for protection from the world. Rather—as the films of the 1980s and 1990s, particularly comedies, made clear—“empowerment” meant facing the world, taking it as it is…and taking advantage of the tools one has, to conquer it. Brains, willpower, motivation, drive—and yes, when necessary, beauty and charm.
It’s not as if there isn’t a male counterpart to that. See any salesman.
At any rate…there’s something admittedly refreshing, looking back and seeing how well Kate handles Larry’s attitude, from their first meeting. Yes, he leers, and verbally comes on to her (though to his credit, he gets right to business as she does). Still, rather than bristle and go on about “sexual harassment”…Kate turns his interest to her advantage—in a variety of ways.
Larry knows what she’s doing, of course—and loves it. (Warning: language!)
Like any great businessman, he enjoys a challenge. Financially, and romantically.
It’s something pseudo-feminists keep denying, for some reason: Guys, especially “alpha-males”, aren’t “afraid of a strong, confident, aggressive woman.” Just the opposite. After all, if we were…then why are such women the go-to heroines in movies, comedy or otherwise? Why do men en masse go out to see those movies?
Guys don’t see truly empowered women as a “threat”, ladies. We see it as a challenge.
Of course, the challenge gets tough for Larry—as Kate turns out to be even tougher than he thought, getting down and dirty with legal technicalities. All the while, she’s embracing her womanhood, full-force—the whole “spun around my little finger” sort of thing.
And Larry still loves it.
Camille Paglia’s “pro-sex” feminism. Vive la difference.
Jorgenson stubbornly refuses any compromise Larry and Kate manage to reach, firmly set in his belief that his duty to the community demands he keep the Wire & Cable company alive—even if it’s dragging along without a profit, only the other companies keeping it afloat. Even Kate finally huffs, “He deserves to lose this company.”
“Jorgy” gets our sympathy, of course—his mindset’s all rooted in compassion for the workers, and so forth. But while our hearts goes out to him, our minds know he’s just making things worse for everyone.
Of course, there are the employees. There is “the human element”. What about that?
It’s perhaps the one point that keeps us from fully committing to Larry’s side. And incidentally, it’s the one reason the Left ever wins at anything in this country—even amid everyone acknowledging that the Right has all the logic and all the facts on its side. Remember the 2012 election. Voters all agreed: Romney had the objectively better ideas…but Obama “cared” more. Cue his reelection.
Here, Jorgenson finally relents to one thing: putting the final decision of whether or not to sell to Larry to the stockholders, at the annual meeting. And so, at the climax of the film, he gives his final appeal—laden with emotion-tinged rhetoric, appeals to compassion, and pleas for patience for X and Y to possibly happen:
It’s the “lesson” of Wall Street, acknowledged and laid out. And it seems pretty convincing, doesn’t it?
Cue Larry’s rebuttal.
The climax begins with picket lines (including a sign saying “NO ON GREED—YES ON NEED”) and kids lashing out at Garfield—leading to boos and hisses from the stockholders as he takes the microphone.
But then, he launches into that speech—the one that helped change John Nolte’s life—where Larry turns the audience around: both the stockholders…and the viewers. For here, he makes it absolutely clear that his efforts aren’t just for his profit…but, in the long run, for the benefit of everyone involved, even the employees of this “dead” company.
Easy as it is to lash out at “cruel vulture capitalists” for breaking up companies…the truth is, all they’re doing is ensuring everything’s as smooth as possible. Without these “raiders”, those companies that can’t change with the times would die slow, painful deaths—and the employees would suffer even more.
Larry the Liquidator is our friend, after all.
Innovation Wins Every Time:
After making his speech, Larry wins the vote. And as for Kate…well, she’s inspired by the speech to find that golden, all-evasive solution—a way to upgrade the company for the times, revamping it for the future…and Larry makes even more than he’d planned to make from the breakup. Needless to say, he’s all too happy to accept—and not just because of the money. It’s a way to restore their relationship—without either side giving up anything.
There’s no mythical “zero-sum game”, here. A new pie’s baked, and everyone profits—in more ways than one.
For Bonus Points:
Early on, Larry’s subordinates report that a company’s getting in trouble environmentally—with medical effects on townspeople. Larry, being Larry, anticipates it won’t end well for those guys—and orders preparations to buy it out once that happens. Capitalism cleans things up. “Invisible hand,” dear readers.
Jorgenson notes that Harry Truman was about the only Democrat he ever voted for. It seems, then, the clash is among those on the Right. Seeing as how both sides are ultimately sympathetic, that’s icing on the cake.
At one point, Kate remarks that eventually, they’ll pass laws to curb Wall Street. Larry points out, “They can pass all the laws they want. All they can do is change the rules. They can never stop the game.” Sure enough, Lefty crusaders have no one to blame but themselves for the corruption of crony-Capitalism.
Oh, and for good measure, Larry eerily seems to predict the 2008 crisis, and the Lefties who didn’t want to let it go to waste. Well…sort of (WARNING: language!):
General principle, I suppose. And he’s right-on, of course.
Late in the film, over dinner, Kate reflects to Larry on how the old days of corporate takeovers are passing away. Among other things, she notes, “Trump’s waiting tables.” It’s a reference to the financial trouble The Don went through in the early ‘90s. Alas…it wasn’t long before Trump would get back on top, and write The Art Of The Comeback.
In the same scene, Larry mulls over how Japan recovered from WWII to become a Capitalist powerhouse…while America let itself slack off, particularly in education.
The game goes on. Take nothing for granted.
WHY IT’S A GREAT FILM:
To put it simply, much as I personally love Wall Street (Lefty politics or no), it’s sadly marred by that characteristic self-righteousness so typical of Oliver Stone’s style. Mind you, I don’t like that nonsense on our side, either. I can’t afford to.
Thank heaven, Other People’s Money is just a good fun flick—a classic comedy, back when even R-rated comedies didn’t rely on being as gross and as dirty as humanly possible. It’s even a romantic comedy, in its own way—or perhaps, a comical spin on an erotic thriller, with Kate being a sort of femme fatale…albeit, one with a noble end to protect the company.
And like any good comedy, it’s all in the writing—the dialogue crisp and crackling, particularly in the banter between Larry and Kate. If there’s anything “forced”, it’s in the lines of Jorgenson—perhaps intentionally, highlighting how he’s a bit behind the times and head-in-the-clouds….
Danny DeVito as Larry Garfield:
There’s something about DeVito, where we want him to be a bit “slimy”. It’s part of his charm, in a far different way than Jack Nicholson or Willem Dafoe. He’s likably slimy—like a used car salesman you can’t help laughing with.
Maybe “slimy” isn’t the word. Maybe it’s slick. And amid all that, there’s just a hint of vulnerability, coming out in just the right moments—like when Larry rushes out to watch Kate walking out of his offices, after their first meeting. It’s almost…sweet.
There’s a drive to him we can’t help but admire—and though our heart goes out to Jorgenson, we really want Larry to get ahead. His enthusiasm charms us enough to ensure that.
(One frankly wishes Tim Burton hadn’t had put DeVito in all that makeup and prosthetics, for Batman Returns. Personally, I like my Penguin as a mobster—not a monster.)
And of course, his warm side comes out more and more, for Kate—and DeVito’s earnestness powers that, too…along with a sudden gnawing in Larry’s gut, over whether following through on this takeover just might mean losing her.
Penelope Ann Miller as Kate Sullivan:
Sweetly, bewitchingly feminine. A high, innocent voice—with a sultry undertone, conveying her awareness of and confidence in her appeal as a woman. The way she carries herself—using all that as part of her power. And she’s not about to hide from Larry that that’s what she’s doing, let alone her reasons why.
It’s testament to Kate’s self-confidence, in her talent as a lawyer and her charms as a woman. She’s seducing Larry to get what she wants, and doesn’t care that he knows it. It’s a game they’re playing, and they both acknowledge it.
“I’m gonna nail you, Lawrence. And everybody on Wall Street’s gonna know some broad did you in.”
“Oh…. You’re so perfect for me.”
And with all of that greatness, Penelope Ann Miller also brings a legitimate warmth that blossoms along with that of DeVito’s Larry. The sequence where he calls her up late at night to play her “I’m In The Mood For Love” on his violin, over-the-phone, charms us all—Kate laughing with delight…and eventually singing along.
Meanwhile, her emotional arc is, effectively, our own—torn between our feelings for Jorgenson’s company (“the little guy”), and the knowledge that Larry’s got a point. She struggles with where her heart really lies—and strives to find a solution that both fits reality and clears her conscience.
Gregory Peck as Andrew Jorgenson:
A veteran of Hollywood, from all the way back—way back—to the Golden Age. And still going strong in 1991, never a false moment amid the stubbornness of Jorgenson in his refusal to let his company leave his hands for Larry’s. Peck bring all the nobility and charisma of his prime…and perhaps that heritage is part of the point, powering the sense of the character’s own history, representing an old order that the world’s passing by. He presses on, refusing to give in—and somehow, we can’t help but admire him for that.
It’s Gregory Peck, after all.
David Newman isn’t one of the big-names of film music—but you probably know his score for the first Ice Age, if anything. Here, we hear some delightful blends of heroic adventure music and cool, smooth jazz. Dramatically, both sides of the film’s clash have “their side”—and both are sympathized with, even by the music.
And when it all ends, the score celebrates the triumph with a full blast of class and style.
“We’re back in business!!!”
By The Way…
Other People’s Money isn’t the only flick from the late ‘80s and early ‘90s with Wall Street “raiders” as the heroes. Another classic that comes to mind is Pretty Woman, with Richard Gere as a modern-era Prince Charming (and, I suppose, a “pirate”…).
Also, the film’s title may or may not come from a famous quote from the late, great UK PM Margaret Thatcher, on the problem with Socialism. Pure coincidence, I’m sure.
*(Side note: John Nolte made a try at being a screenwriter, way back when. And if that theoretical pro-Iraq speech is any indication…gotta say, he ain’t half bad. Certainly better than most of the bare-bones, just-further-the-plot dialogue hampering most of our “entertainment” movies today….)
Buy/rent the movie here. And stay film-friendly, my friends.
THE SERIES SO FAR:
Rio Bravo (1959)
Man of Steel (2013)
Inglourious Basterds (2009)
Fight Club (1999)
The Dark Knight (2008)
The Dark Knight Rises (2012)
Jackie Brown (1997)
Apocalypse Now (1979/2001)
The Magnificent Seven (1960)
Dirty Harry (1971)
Magnum Force (1973)
The Enforcer (1976)
Bridge Of Spies (2015)
Captain America: Civil War. (2016)
The Green Berets (1968)
Wonder Woman (2017)
Any recommendations for films to make this series? Read the rules, here, and let us know!
Eric was raised by Conservative Christian parents, but first became especially passionate about politics in high school, through reading up on economic theory. He also first read The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged around this time, for the ARI's essay contests. He now owns a great deal of Ayn Rand's work. Also included in his library are the collected works of Rush Limbaugh, Mark Levin, Ann Coulter, etc.
Eric is no stranger to writing commentary, as the writer of the Conservative Considerations column on CampCampaign.com, and as a film critic and commentator on FlickRev.com. He has also carried on the Conservative tradition of talk radio commentary, as the host of "Avengers of America" for the USF student radio station, Bulls Radio. In the meantime, he is practicing what he preaches: Striving to enter the professional realm of Hollywood, he has already written and directed short films for the Campus MovieFest, which can be found on his YouTube channel, Hard Boiled Entertainment.
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