Other Summer Movies of the 80s: Ruthless People
Released: June 27th, 1986
Bette Midler: Barbara Stone
Danny DeVito: Sam Stone
Judge Reinhold: Ken Kessler
Helen Slater: Sandy Kessler
Anita Morris: Carol
Bill Pullman: Earl
Screenplay by Dale Launer
Directed by Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker
God, this is a funny movie. So many comedies from the 80s have endured and rightfully so. Airplane!, Beverly Hills Cop, Ghostbusters, Stripes, Caddyshack, Ferris Bueller's Day Off, A Fish Called Wanda. These are all quoted and etched a spot into pop culture. I love those movies, too. I just wish the misanthropic black comedy Ruthless People got more love when it came to talking about the great comedies of the 80s. Usually I shy away from using the terms 'underrated' and 'overrated,' but Ruthless People is simply an underrated that should be talked about more often.
The first time I saw it I wasn't very familiar with Bette Midler's work. I knew she did The Rose, but I never saw that movie. When Ruthless People came out, she was riding the wave of a comeback after Down and Out in Beverly Hills, which I liked quite a bit. Her performance as Barbara Stone turned me into a big fan. Everyone is so good in this movie, but Midler is a force of nature. Barbara has been kidnapped by a young couple, Ken and Sandy (Judge Reinhold & Helen Slater), seeking revenge on Barbara's husband Sam (Danny DeVito) who has stolen all of Sandy's designs and made a fortune. The twist is that Sam doesn't want to pay the ransom. He'd rather the kidnappers kill Barbara so he can marry the woman with whom he is having an affair. This is a pitch black farce.
The best scene in the movie features Bette Midler and Helen Slater. The two have bonded over Sandy's designs when Barbara asks what the hold up is with paying the ransom. Her facial expressions as Sandy gently explains the situation are a master class leading to one of my absolute favorite punch lines ever. As someone who was intently studying comic technique at the time, I soaked up every moment of that scene.
Ruthless People is a damn funny movie.