The Money Pit

Yes, it’s Richard Benjamin’s 1986 comedy, starring Tom Hanks and Shelley Long.

And look at this supporting cast: Josh Mostel, Joe Mantegna, Philip Bosco, Maureen Stapleton, Yakov Smirnoff, Mary Louise Wilson, Mike Starr (much younger and lighter), Jake Steinfeld (before he became known only as “Body By Jake”), Frankie Faison and, somewhere in there, invisible, Michael Jeter (that’s Mr. Noodles’ brother Mr. Noodles, for those of you who are preschoolers).

But most strikingly, Alexander Godunov as Tom Hanks’s romantic foil.

Yes, Tom Hanks and Alexander Godunov fight over Shelley Long. Now that’s ’80s.

Alexander Godunov: star of the Bolshoi, when he retired he came to Hollywood and, like his friend Barishnakov, decided, what the heck, to become a movie star. Why not?

He had a near-wordless part in Peter Weir’s Witness as, yes, Harrison Ford’s romantic foil. Alexander Godunov and Harrison Ford fight over Kelly McGillis. If only they knew.

For The Money Pit, Godunov decided “Well, I’ve proven that my image actually registers on film. Why not try comedy?” And you know, he really gets it. He really understands that comedy means bugging your eyes and exaggerating your line readings.

Or maybe he was directed to do those things. Because that’s what everyone in the movie does. Only problem is that Godunov does it while also trying to wrap fizzy lingo-centric comedy lines around his thick Russian accent.

What’s the problem? Russians are funny people. Why can’t they have him say things a Russian might say?

He made one more Hollywood movie, 1988’s classic Die Hard, where he menaces Bruce Willis, back to almost wordlessness.

By 1995, he was dead from acute alcohol syndrome.

A lot of things don’t work in this movie. There’s some over-produced physical comedy of the 1941 variety, which kind of comes out of nowhere. There’s some real comedy about the hazards that beset any couple trying to fix up an old house, which promises development but ends up toothless, and then, in act III, a romantic storm kind of whips up out of nowhere. Scene by scene the movie is perfectly enjoyable. Put all together, it doesn’t really add up.

The screenplay is from David Giler, who earlier wrote the searing, violent Walter Hill picture Southern Comfort and later wrote James Cameron’s Aliens.

Well, that’s the life of the screenwriter.

This souffle was shot by none other than Gordon Willis, certainly the greatest DP of his generation. That might explain the occasional artsiness of the compositions. Willis worked lighter than this (his work on Woody Allen’s Midsummer Night’s Sex Comedy is some of the best of his career), but it doesn’t come to much this time around.
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3 Responses to “The Money Pit”
  1. robolizard says:

    You saw Rocky IV. Those Russians will eat you alive.

  2. urbaniak says:

    The screenplay is from David Giler, who earlier wrote the searing, violent Walter Hill picture Southern Comfort and later wrote James Cameron’s Aliens.

    Well, that’s the life of the screenwriter.

    It certainly is. Those movies are a perfect autobiographical illustration of the career trajectory of a screenwriter. “Southern Comfort”–in which a bunch of National Guardsmen fight for their lives in the woods–is clearly an allegory for David Giler’s struggle to break into Hollywood. “The Money Pit”–about the tribulations of an eighties bourgeois–illustrates the pitfalls of David Giler’s newfound status and standard of living as a successful screenwriter. And with “Aliens” Giler suggests that the rarefied environment he now exists in (Hollywood, represented in the movie by outer space) contains monsters and theats heretofore unimagined.

  3. toliverchap says:

    A bug hunt man

    Jake Steinfeld is also known as Big Brother Jake from his sitcom days on the now defunct or assimilated Family Channel. I was wondering if you’ve seen Tango and Cash? I recently watched it for the first time since I was 12 or so and man that has to be one of the best 80’s action cop movies, with a self destructing badguy lair and monster trucks it stands out for sure. Kurt “Snake Plissken” Russel and Sylvester “Marion ‘Cobra’ Cobretti” Stallone together in one flick with 2 car chases in the first 10 minutes. I think this flick would yield some great stuff with some serious deconstruction.