We’re going to deviate from the star of the film and focus on the rich people in this film for just a minute (after all that’s what this series of blog is about).
This movie is a little odd in that it actually shows two rich people (arguably three if you count Morse’s grandson, but he doesn’t really play that much of a part aside from being likable) who are decent human beings.
Let’s deal with the minor characters first. James Morse, played by lifetime character actor Ralph Bellamy, is the owner of the shipyard which brings our main rich character, Edward Lewis, to L.A. His shipyard which he has clearly built from scratch through his own genius, effort, blood and sweat, is on the financial ropes (the movie was made shortly after the crash of the late ‘80’s when a lot of industries were on the chopping block for creative destruction…which is actually one of the fundamental principles of a functioning capitalist system.) However, Morse’s company is not so flawed that it is as easy a kill as it first looked. And this is where we see the character of Morse. He is not the kind of man who whines about it being unfair—his first reaction to Lewis’ statement that he intends to dismantle his company is “I’ll buy your stock back.” He deals with Lewis fairly and offers to make him a fair deal that says ‘I’m sorry that you didn’t feel your investment in my company has not paid off. I believe in my company, I won’t bother you with emotional outbursts, I’ll deal with you as an adult and offer you a fair exchange.” His next inclination is to fight for his company and put his own money where his mouth is, like any man of character would. And finally when he sees that he facing insurmountable odds he seeks to cut a deal that will leave those who have been loyal to him in a safe position.
“Mr. Lewis and I are going to build ships together, great big ships.”
Seldom do you see Hollywood portray any of these traits. Often they are depicted as whining, willing to use other’s money and in the end really only caring for themselves. (And sometimes that first trait is viewed as a virtue).
Now onto the movie’s other rich guy, Edward Lewis.* Our first impression of Lewis is that he has problems with his personal relationships, but given the brief but very happy reunion with an ex-girlfriend, who seems to remember him fondly, it is clear that while not a master of personal relationships, he is a very well liked human being. Further at all points when he is honest and blunt with people (except when bluffing about stopping Morse’s defense contracts, but as in all games bluffing is expected).
Now some would claim that being the kind of businessman who engages in hostile takeovers to break up the pieces and sell them off is heartless and evil…of course this ignores the basic fact that by doing so, by engaging in what economists call creative destruction—weak companies die or are taken over before death, their products sold cheap their workers tend to find jobs in the same industries which have been revitalized with new supplies and workers. (Or you can go with the despair of “too big to fail”…yeah tell me how that brings prosperity). But even this claim is far fetched with Edward Lewis. The contrast comes in with two statements he makes, the first is in reference to Morse saying he would destroy Lewis, “I look forward to it sir.” And the second is in critiquing of his slimy lawyer (do lawyers come in any other form?) when, after giving him the beating he so richly deserves, he points out “It’s the kill you love” as an insult of Stucky’s character. Lewis’ character is shown by these two points (as well of a lot of smaller moves) that what he loves is not the destruction of another’s business, as those who obsessively hate the rich might suggest, but rather the challenge his job presents. Like most people who are very good at what they do, Lewis is constantly seeking a challenge, something to push himself even further. And it just so happens that he finds an even greater challenge worthy of his skill in rebuilding a business rather than simply taking it over, which is why he cuts a deal with Morse at the end of the film to help revitalize the business.
But, I will admit it is clearly Vivian Ward who helps him get out of the rut of just taking over characters. Lewis was not able to do it completely on his own. He was getting lost in his habits, and overly influenced by his sleazy lawyer, and it was Robert’s character that broke him out of his trance. But this does bring up a tangential point I would like to bring up. Several people I know hate this film because they think it’s derogatory to women because Ward states “I want the fairy tale.” As if that somehow is sexist and degrading to women. They apparently missed both the nature of the movie where Lewis needs Ward to survive and be happy and be not just a good person, but a great one. The character of Vivian Ward needed 3 grand, a week’s worth of nice clothes (yeah they show her trying on a lot, but she leaves with only a couple of garment bags that she can carry by herself…granted the Rodeo Drive stores probably knock the price tag up to $20,000-$30,000, but really she walked out with a week’s worth of clothes and that’s it). So it took at most $33,000* for her to get her life together, it is clear that while she might not have been as happy, she would have been just fine and done quite well for herself on her own. Edward Lewis needed her. She didn’t need him; it was just an added perk. Everyone forgets, that’s how her fairy tale (and I think the one all sane people have) goes:
“What happens after he climbs the tower and rescues her?”
“She rescues him right back.”
*I’m really going to ignore the ethics of picking up a prostitute. Sexual mores are extremely personal and seldom based on unbiased reasoning (and that goes for people on all sides of these arguments). In the end everything that occurs is between consenting adults and we’re going to leave it at that.
*And before you try to make that out to be a huge sum, keep in mind the clothes have limited value beyond opening more doors than her previous attire. I could give lots of people I’ve known 33 grand in cash and they wouldn’t be able to significantly improve their life. The character of Vivian Ward is the kind who can use whatever she has to make the most of her life, which is why she was never overly impressed or awed by Lewis’ money.
Everybody comes here; this is Hollywood, land of dreams. Some dreams come true, some don’t; but keep on dreamin’ – this is Hollywood. Always time to dream, so keep on dreamin’.