Image copyright © by Marcus Trahan

Ruthless People


This has to go on my list of best comedies of all time. I had forgotten just how good it is. It was written and directed by the team of Jim Abrahams and the Zucker Brothers, David and Jerry, who were responsible for another of the funniest movies of all time, Airplane!, and some that were in the same broad lampooning style but not as funny, like The Naked Gun and Hot Shots! movies. (Also some that are said to be hardly funny at all, like the Scary Movie franchise, but I haven’t seen those.) This movie was a departure for them. Instead of being just a collection of gags, this one has an actual plot. And what a plot. Danny DeVito wants to murder his wife (Bette Midler). The first scene is him telling his mistress all the ways he hates her: “I hate the way she breathes at night. I hate her little dog. I hate her furniture. I hate the way she licks stamps!” (Remember stamps you had to lick? Mostly gone now.) But before he can act, she is kidnapped. When the abductors call and demand $500,000, “And no police, or we’ll kill her!” he can’t believe his luck. It’s wonderful to watch his face as he takes it all in, his eyes getting wider and a smile forming. Next thing you know, the place is crawling with cops. And he has no intention of paying a nickel. As things go along, he actually bargains the kidnappers down to $10,000. When his wife hears about it, she is livid. “I’ve been kidnapped by K-Mart!” She is a real piece of work, too. Chained in the basement, she starts exercising to the TV shows, and soon she’s dropped 20 pounds! The hostage diet! It works, where a dozen fat farms failed! The plot gets very complicated and very funny, with all sorts of misunderstandings, people talking to each other and both parties totally misunderstanding each other, in the best traditions of the comedy of errors.

What makes it special is how nasty—in a funny way, of course—all these people are. I love movies about scoundrels, and about mean people. The only people in this movie who aren’t mean are the kidnappers, who never quite realize just how far out of the nastiness league they are here.

And about that furniture Danny hates? Wait until you see it. Like Lee said, some of it you gotta love, and some of it … what the hell ….?