I spent the weekend creating and updating enough financial spreadsheets to make my eyes cross. It's tax time, and this week, my favorite person is the accountant who will make sense of all these numbers and hopefully do magical yet legal things with them that will prevent me from having to write too ginormous a check to the IRS. I know I'm not the only one who's thinking happy thoughts about tax accountants and the nobility of their profession right now. As Max Bialystock says in The Producers (1968), the word "count" is in their title.
I remember watching The Producers as a teenager and thinking that I wanted to be anything in a life rather than an accountant. One of my favorite scenes in movies ever is that scene at the Lincoln Center fountain: "You think you're not in prison now? Living in a gray little room, going to a gray little job, leading a gray little life?" "I spend my life counting other people's money. People I'm smarter than. Better than." Some of that rubbed off at the time. Decades later, however, sitting here in my gray little house (actually it's yellow and green), I have nothing but respect for people whose genius with numbers makes my life easier.
Hollywood has shown us a variety of accountants, tax men and number-crunchers through the years. Some are mousy creatures whose lives will change drastically. Some are bad guys, determined to drive our heroes into bankruptcy. A few are just plain nice folks. Most tend to be men -- I'm a little sorry I can't find more female accountant characters, and researching this has made me determined to see the Japanese film A Taxing Woman. Here are seven of the most memorable -- if not always likeable -- bookkeepers, accountants and IRS officials in film.
Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder), The Producers
The first and best accountant I ever saw on film, as I mentioned earlier, was Wilder's character in The Producers. He's a caricature at first, but slowly breaks out of his shell with help from failed Broadway producer Max Bialystock. Bialystock lures him into a fraudulent scheme after learning that a producer could theoretically make more money with a flop than with a hit. The movie is practically an extended duet between Gene Wilder and Zero Mostel, which is untoppable. I know, because the remake didn't even come close, although it did contain a nice little musical number about accountants.
Louis Tully (Rick Moranis), Ghostbusters
Tully isn't as meek as Leo Bloom, but he's just as socially awkward. He throws parties during which he explains how various aspects of his hosting are saving him money on his taxes. He can't take a hint, no matter how unsubtle, from Dana (Sigourney Weaver). And he's always locking himself out of his apartment. It's a nice apartment so I assume he must be pretty good at his job, but I can't imagine having this guy do my books.
The Pirates of the "The Crimson Permanent Assurance," Monty Python's Meaning of Life
This is more of a sight gag than actual characters who are accountants, but it's such a great gag that I feel I must include it here. The Terry Gilliam sketch about an accounting firm that suddenly takes on pirate-ish characteristics is presented as a "short feature" before the main action of the movie starts, although it does creep back in briefly later in the film. I do love the green-visored clerks "rowing" back and forth with their adding machines at the beginning. And they sing a wonderful "Accountancy Shanty" too -- I've embedded the video below.
Wilbur G. Henderson (Charles Lane), You Can't Take It With You
When I picture the stereotype of a tax assessor or IRS agent, he looks and sounds a lot like Charles Lane. The actor had a very long career of playing often-unpleasant accountants, tax collectors, lawyers and various bureaucratic busybodies. In You Can't Take It With You, he plays the IRS agent who discovers that the patriarch of the family, played by Lionel Barrymore, has never bothered to pay any taxes. Lane had a wonderful talent for going ballistic during such scenes, which is evident in this movie.
Loretta Castorini (Cher), Moonstruck
Loretta is more of a bookkeeper than a tax accountant, but I love the scenes where she goes from client to client, organizing their paperwork and enjoying their company. Around the time this movie came out, my mom worked in a similar way as a bookkeeper, except she went from doctor's office to doctor's office, which is not really as colorful. Still, there's a soft spot in my heart for women who get your finances and your life in order. I actually prefer the way Loretta looks and dresses before her big makeover, but isn't that true for so many Cinderella stories?
Murray Blum (Charles Grodin), Dave
Here we are with a second Ivan Reitman film -- the filmmaker must like accountant characters. Unlike Tully, though, I'd absolutely hire Murray Blum for my taxes. He isn't in the movie for long, but the scene in which Dave (posing as the President) brings in Murray to help him balance the federal budget is absolutely wonderful. If only life were like this. Grodin also plays an accountant in Midnight Run, who is a little more nervous -- he should be, he stole Mob money -- but just as resourceful.
Henry Sherman (Danny Glover), The Royal Tenenbaums
I saved this last slot for a "nice" accountant, someone sympathetic and not too much of a stereotype, and it was a three-way battle that also included Will Ferrell in Stranger Than Fiction and Michael Caine in Hannah and Her Sisters. But Danny Glover won out. Perhaps it's because he's the sanest, most conventional character in a movie full of very odd people. Perhaps it's because I love his natty, slightly nerdy outfits. My parents have done a fair amount of bookkeeping and accounting in their lives and they're not spindly social freaks, or cowards who resort to childhood blankets for comfort, or hatchet-faced meanies. I like accountant characters like that, and Henry Sherman is one of the best.