The Money Pit (1986)
April 20, 2020 2:33 PM - Subscribe

Attorney Walter Fielding (Tom Hanks) and his musician lover Anna Crowley (Shelley Long) are forced out of their home of two years by its owner, Mr. Crowley (who has been on a tour of Europe). With few alternatives, they decide to buy an incredibly cheap fixer-upper on Long Island and do the work themselves. Unfortunately, the couple soon learns that the house is a lemon, intent on eating up all their time and money.

Young lovers Walter (Tom Hanks) and Anna (Shelley Long) are house-sitting the New York City apartment owned by Max (Alexander Godunov), Anna's ex-husband, who suddenly decides to toss them out. Needing a new home, they settle on buying a country estate outside the city, which is available for a suspiciously low price. It soon becomes apparent why, as doors fall off their hinges, staircases come tumbling down and a bathtub falls through the floor. The couple's relationship suffers similarly.

Rob Dean: The Money Pit fell at an interesting time in Tom Hanks’ career, two years after the hit Splash but two years before his even bigger hit Big. At the time, the actor was known for mainly doing comedic roles (and would be for quite some time), and he’s on fire in The Money Pit as the beleaguered Walter who is slowly dwindling in debt thanks to this horrible moneysuck of a house and all its repairs. Add into that his insecurity about Long and Godunov’s relationship, which culminates with Long (possibly—it’s a long story) hooking up with Godunov and then confessing her affair to Hanks. This confession scene was later remade by the folks at Splot Studios as part of their TomHanksgiving Leftovers project: link

But while Hank and Long play up their neuroses, the film has had staying power mainly thanks to its impressive visual stunts and gags. For example, there’s this perfectly executed Rube Goldberg-esque series of unfortunate events which all starts with one missed step and one unplugged saw that ends up turning into a giant debacle and bringing downing the entire scaffolding around the house.

There are many well-timed, perfectly executed sequences in the film (the stairs collapsing, Hanks falling into a hole in the floor) that helped make it a stand out to those young enough to be raised on the film. Additionally, The Money Pit is full of quotable lines (“Ah, home crap home”) and terrific performances (including early cameos by Joe Mantegna and Yakov Smirnoff). It’s not high art or sophisticated humor, but there are just enough clever turns in its physical comedy and insight into relationships to give it a bit of cult status for the past 30 years.

Roger Ebert: Instead, we get one monotonous sight gag after another. The most irritating is the one where Hanks falls through the floor and is pinned, halfway down, by a rug. He can't move. All he can do is scream for help, but when Long finally arrives at the house, he screams all the wrong things, until we aren't laughing, we're groaning. Didn't it occur to anybody that the smarter the characters were, the funnier their troubles would be? Make them into idiots, and who cares if their house falls down? There is just the beginning of a comic idea with the Godunov character. He exhibits a certain wry charm as a conceited symphony conductor who thinks himself to be altogether the most brilliant person in the world. His scenes with Shelley Long are among the movie's few pleasant interludes, if only because he's so cheerful about his absolute cynicism.

But the house is a disaster in more ways than one. Sure, it's a triumph of art direction. The Hollywood artisans who designed it deserve some sort of medal for the neat stunts they think up and the great tricks they're able to pull. There is even one sustained Rube Goldberg-type gag that is really funny, as an incredible chain of events unfolds with meticulous precision. But one gag does not a comedy make, and if they had spent the time on the characters that they spent on building the house, they might have really had something in "The Money Pit."

Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat: the lovers purchase a spacious but dilapidated suburban mansion on Long Island. The house starts falling apart as soon as they move in: the front door collapses, the curved staircase caves in, the water faucets spew black sludge, and the electricity goes kaput. Director Richard Benjamin makes the most of the slapstick nature of the situation — especially the madness which ensues when contractors arrive to put the place back together again.

posted by Carillon (7 comments total)
I hadn't seen this before, falls into broad slapstick. I will say I actually found it really interesting to see Alexander Godunov in a role outside of Die Hard, I hadn't realized how much I associate him with that film! Fell down the wiki rabbit hole on him too, definitely a sad story.
posted by Carillon at 2:34 PM on April 20, 2020

This movie is well-known to me, having caught it quite a few times back in the 80s on cable. I watched it last week on Netflix. Great timing! I remembered it very well. Unfortunately, it didn't really hold up. There are parts that work and parts that definitely drag.

Everything between Anna and Max works. Alexander Godunov definitely had chops as an actor. Carillon, I take it if you had only seen him in Die Hard, you've never seen Witness, the Amish movie with Harrison Ford? Do so. Alexander is excellent in that as well.

It is the supporting players who really work. It's kind of a who's who of 80s actors who play rock star clients of Walter and the various members of the Shirk Brothers construction crew who are rebuilding the house. Everyone from Joe Mantegna as mentioned above to Philip Bosco to Jake Steinfeld.

As for the sinking into the floor, why didn't Walter drop the cash and stick his arms out? Oh well! It's an interesting thought experiment to wonder how Tom Hanks' career would have gone if he had kept doing comedies like this and not had the big hits like Big.

And as for Shelley Long, it is a shame she never got traction in Hollywood.
posted by Fukiyama at 5:45 PM on April 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Little problem in the kitchen, nothing trivial.
posted by Chrysostom at 6:46 PM on April 20, 2020

Apparently Yakov Smirnoff is in the crew as well.

Fukiyama, I haven't seen witness, sounds interesting though and I'll definitely check it out.
posted by Carillon at 7:24 PM on April 20, 2020

Witness is great. Rewatched The Money Pit the other day and it did not hold up to my memory of it but ah well.
posted by iamkimiam at 10:47 PM on April 20, 2020

I came across this recently and thought "Oh right, Tom Hanks used to be funny!"
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 8:28 AM on April 22, 2020

Anna: Sometimes it amazes me you ever passed the bar.
Walter: I'm sure it does. You've never passed a bar in your life.
Anna: You are so much less attractive when I'm sober!
Walter: Thank goodness it's not that often.

Good stuff! In 1986 I should have seen this, moreso that it came out three weeks after my 18th birthday, a time when I was seeing a lot of movies. But somehow I never did. I think it probably seemed like a "parent's movie," but over the years it's been recommended more and more, perhaps as I've passed through parenting age. Anyway, good cast (Brian Backer, Wendell Pierce's first credit), pretty good script, and hey, Richard Benjamin is nothing if not reliable.
posted by rhizome at 2:41 AM on April 24, 2020

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