There were many off-the-wall comedies of the 1980s, such as the mighty Ghostbusters, but few captured the sinking feeling of the trapped property owner quite so perfectly as the 1986 movie The Money Pit, directed by Richard Benjamin.
Starring Shelly Long and Tom Hanks at the start of his soaring career, the film follows a young couple – Walter Fielding and Anna Crowley – who snap up what sounds like the property bargain of a lifetime, only for it to become a renovator’s nightmare!
Filmed in New York City and Long Island in New York State – plus Miami, Florida doubling for Rio De Janeiro at the end – The Money Pit is the ultimate expression of horror for anyone who has taken out a mortgage only to find that their new home is riddled with failing fittings and hidden costs.
Kicked out of their NYC apartment by Anna’s ex-husband, the couple need to find a new home fast. Salvation apparently is close at hand, when a dodgy realtor chum Carlos (John van Dreelen) tells them of a million dollar distress sale mansion, owned by a woman named only Estelle (Maureen Stapleton), they snap it up – especially since Estelle says she needs a quick sale because her husband has been arrested by Nazi-hunters!
Scraping together the cash, they move in, and their problems begin almost immediately, with the house virtually collapsing around their ears, the electrics catching fire, the bathtub falling through the ceiling and a raccoon taking up residency in the dumb-waiter.
Builders are called in to repair the damage and cowboy contractors Art (Joe Mantegna) and Brad Shirk (Carmine Caridi) declare that the work will take just two weeks. This swiftly becomes a running gag, as repair times increase exponentially and whenever Art and Brad are asked how long any repair will take, they reply “two weeks”.
Soon, a frustrated Walter dubs the house “the Money Pit”. He is right, as the repair work drags on for four months and soaks up all their funds. In the desperate scrabble for more, Anna ends up in what looks like a compromising position with her ex-husband Max and the couple nearly split up due to a toxic combination of misunderstandings and mutual stubbornness – plus the house’s looming and malign presence. There’s one thing they do agree on, that when the house is restored, they will sell it and split the cash.
Fortunately, the couple realise how much they love each other and decide to marry in front of their new house.
“The Money Pit” has finally been transformed into a home – no thanks to Estelle, and her partner-in-crime Carlos. That’s right – the pair are actually con artists, and the final scene of the movie is a cutaway to Rio de Janeiro, where we see Max’s father and his new bride handing over a briefcase full of money to Carlos and Estelle for another “bargain” property!
Although panned by critics at the time, The Money Pit was a great box office success, and has stood the test of time. For anyone thinking of buying a bargain house, it is a great lesson in the meaning of the phrase ‘Caveat Emptor’.