Door To Door

Director: Patrick Bailey    
Ron Leibman, Arliss Howard, Jane Kaczmarek

Several weeks ago, in my review of Paper Mask, I mentioned several jobs that I was glad that I never had in my career. Space limitations prevented me from mentioning all the undesirable jobs I have fortunately missed, but the subject matter in the movie I am reviewing here gives me a chance to mention one other job I am glad I have never had, and that is being a salesman. As far back as I can remember, I have never seen this job in a positive light. When I was little, I recall seeing comic strips and animated cartoons with salesmen in them. The salesmen always seemed to be depicted in a sleazy way (Daffy Duck was especially obnoxious as a salesman.) I also remember the time a bonafide salesman came to my family's house, hawking the Christian-themed Uncle Arthur's Bedtime Stories series to my mother, who was amazingly patient with the man as he talked and talked, though she was smart enough to not fork over a dime to this pushy fellow. A few years later, I started to hear jokes about salesmen, especially traveling salesmen. The salesmen in these jokes may have gotten some sex occasionally in these jokes, but things always seemed to backfire for them in the end, even in the jokes when things started positively for them. It was also around this time that my neighborhood got a new kind of "salesman" hawking a "product" - the Jehovah's Witnesses had arrived. I remember vividly, whenever my mother saw them walking down our driveway, getting instructions from her to turn off the TV, be quiet, and to let them think they were knocking the door of an empty house.

I am especially glad I never became a salesman, not only because of those above examples that suggested salesmanship was a dirty business, but because while growing up I had personal experience with being a salesman myself, and had the opportunity to go door to door and find out what it was like. There was Halloween, for example; I not only had to sell myself to my audience to get candy, but also had to convince them to spend money by putting it in my UNICEF box, which had been handed out to me and the other children at school. There was also the time when I was in Cub Scouts and we had a bottle drive, where we had to go to houses in the neighborhood and plead with them to give us bottles. We didn't get a pleasant reaction from a number of the houses we visited, especially the house we accidentally visited twice. Then there was the time my grade six class made me go door to door to get people to donate to the Red Cross; the less said about that experience, the better. I was relieved once I got into junior high school, and I didn't have to do any more salesmanship from that point on. I knew what a dirty game it was, so when years later when I was job hunting and one business I submitted my resume to invited me to come in - and the job turned out to consist of going door to door selling vacuum cleaners - I wisely turned my back and got the hell out of there. Unemployment was more appealing that getting stuck with a job like that. (Fortunately for me, things soon got better for my employment situation.)

When I saw Door To Door in the used video store I often frequent to find offbeat and unusual movies even I haven't heard of before, I thought it would give me some insight in the world of salesmanship after reading the plot description at the back of the box. Possibly the movie would assure me that I had made the right decision to not become a salesman. But there were some other reasons why this movie caught my eye and made me want to watch it. One of those reasons was that the star of the movie was Ron Leibman. Years earlier I had seen him in another movie, Your Three Minutes Are Up, and I thought his performance in that movie was so good that he should have got an Oscar nomination. (He was also in Seven Hours To Judgment, though let's not mention that movie, okay?) Another thing that the packaging to Door To Door that appealed to me was that the plot description on the back of the box promised that this movie would be a road movie, just like Your Three Minutes Are Up - and that was something that appealed to me, possibly reliving that older movie with this new movie. The final thing that was appealing with Door To Door was, before buying the used copy I found at the video store, what I discovered about the movie when I went home to research the movie. Usually when I look in my collection of reference books and surf the Internet for a movie I could potentially review, I can find something about it. But with Door To Door, I couldn't find practically anything about it in my books and on the web. Could this movie be a lost gem? That possibility appealed to me.

Also, there was the fact that Door To Door was the only movie credited director Patrick Bailey directed. Could this be another case like A Savage Hunger where someone new made a masterpiece and then disappeared? I was really excited by my find. But enough of that, let's get on with reviewing the movie. Somewhere in the American Midwest, Leon Spencer (Howard, Full Metal Jacket) has just graduated from salesman training. He is fully prepared to sell the company's kitchen knives door to door - or is he? When he actually starts going door to door, it's one disastrous situation after another; we see one customer snatch the free gift he offers and slam the door on his face, while another customer's small boy squirts water in his crotch. To top it off, his car breaks down, and while he's walking home, someone steals his car. He is ready to quit. Continuing home, Leon is confronted by the driving-by Larry Price (Leibman), a fellow salesman who recognizes a fellow salesman when he sees one. After the two of them have a short conversation, Larry gives Leon an offer: Join him on the road to help him sell Lektra-King vacuum cleaners. Larry is at first hesitant, but when afterwards he weighs in the only other option he has - working at his future father-in-law's office supply store - he quickly tracks down Leon and joins him on the road. However, it doesn't take long for Leon to realize that he is going to learn from Larry a lot more that how to be a salesman.

As one will see upon watching Door To Door, there are several similarities to the movie Your Three Minutes Are Up here, not just the facts being that this movie is a road movie and that there is the casting of Leibman in both movies. For example, Howard's character, like Beau Bridges' character in that other movie, also has an overbearing fiancÚ that he is glad to get away from, and during his journey also gets involved with other women, in this case being attracted on first sight to a woman (Kaczmarek, Malcolm In The Middle) he meets along the way. And there is the fact that Leibman's character in this movie is pretty similar to the character he played in Your Three Minutes Are Up, a slick dude who knows how to talk his way in and out of any situation, and always come out on top. I'm willing to bet that the people behind this movie saw Leibman in that earlier movie, and cast him here feeling he'd be a perfect fit. This was a wise decision, because Leibman gives another great performance here. He's hilarious, and not just because of the gawd-awful clothes his character keeps wearing. His character is a fast-talking and wise conman who knows just what to say in every situation, and Leibman fits this role like a glove. He talks and talks and talks, and even though you see plenty of times when he doesn't tell the truth, Leibman delivers his dialogue in a way so you still have some doubt as the movie goes on - could he possibly be telling the truth this time?

Leibman's expert delivery makes some of the situations his character gets into even funnier than what the script dictates. There's one hysterical scene when the two salesman, being chased by a mysterious figure in the countryside, must go into hiding, and Leibman chooses a hiding location that he is firmly confident that is appropriate, even when his partner starts having serious misgivings when things suddenly start turning bad in a way that makes the chase they were in look safe. Though Leibman is the main focus of the movie and gets most of the laughs, the movie doesn't give every sparkling moment to him, instead giving the rest of the cast the occasional bright moment. Howard (who is also good) has a couple of funny scenes where his character finds his "groove" as a slick salesman and uses these moments to really put on the sale, such as the sequence when, at the office supply store, he unbelievably pushes his former grade school teacher to buy the most expensive pencil sharpener in the store. As the woman that Howard's character encounters and falls for on the road, Kaczmarek is equally good. Her role isn't humorous (she plays it straight), but she is an attractive presence and it isn't surprising she went on to bigger things. Though the fact that Howard's character falls for her and forgets about his fiancÚ (the movie eventually forgets about the fiancÚ as well) is a little off-putting. Also, the movie gets somewhat serious towards the end, forgetting that it's supposed to be a comedy. But overall, this movie is a little gem. A gem with some rough edges, perhaps, but sometimes a little roughness can have its own kind of charm.

UPDATE: I received this e-mail from director Patrick Bailey:

"I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed your review of Door To Door!  It was the very first movie I ever directed. Thank you for taking the time to review it. It means a lot. After Door To Door, I got lucky enough to write and produce the feature film, Space Camp. After that, I spent 30 years as a trial lawyer."

Check for availability on Amazon (VHS)

See also: Crime Busters, Real Men, Your Three Minutes Are Up