By Carrie Rickey, Yahoo Movies
“The U.S. tax code was written by ‘A’ students. Every April 15, we have to pay somebody who got an ‘A’ in accounting to keep ourselves from being sent to jail.” — P.J. O’Rourke
They nag you about receipts, question your charitable contributions, and give you that look when your expenses exceed your income. To laymen, they are accountants.
Excuse movie fans, however, for thinking of CPAs as wizards the equal of Hermione Granger, superheroes on par with Captain America. Sure, an on-screen accountant wields a No. 2 pencil rather than a wand. In place of a shield — or an invisibility cloak — he or she stands confidently behind a ledger book. But with these modest tools, the movie bookkeeper finds glory through the tiniest of loopholes, topples mobsters like Al Capone, rescues the world from ruinous monetary policy. Some on-screen accountants are the forensic kind, taking pay in comic books and Jackson Pollock paintings, like Ben Affleck in The Accountant. Others are reluctant romantics. Many are artists of a sort. Here are some of our favorites.
Leo Bloom (played by Gene Wilder) in The Producers, 1967
A creative accountant who, while cooking the books of producer Max Bialystock (Zero Mostel), rationalizes to himself that the IRS isn’t interested in a failed play, only a hit. Like Newton understanding gravity when the apple falls on his head, it hits Bloom that a failed play’s losses reasonably could end up in the profit column: “In the right circumstances,” Leo deduces while adding up Bloom’s losses, “a producer could make more money from a flop than with a hit.”
Naturally, the pair set out to make a fortune by producing the worst musical in the history of Broadway, “Springtime for Hitler.” It is a premise in such appalling taste it cannot possibly succeed. And yet it does, making the IRS very interested in Bialystock and Bloom. Even though they have committed fraud, you have to praise the penny-wise accountant for that million-dollar idea.
‘The Producers’: Watch the original film’s trailer:
Jonathan Mardukas (played by Charles Grodin) in Midnight Run, 1987
Soft-spoken Mardukas hardly seems the type who would work for Chicago drug kingpin Jimmy Serrano (Dennis Farina), much less take a rap for him and embezzle $15 million from him. Serrano doesn’t know about that last part when he posts bail for the accountant, who subsequently goes rogue.
When Serrano gets wise, the mob boss hires bounty hunter Jack Walsh (Robert De Niro) to find “the Duke” and deliver him to Los Angeles for prosecution. Turns out Mardukas steals that money from the scum of the earth in order to give back to those whom Serrano hooked on cocaine. Who would indict this Robin Hood of the ledger book?
‘Midnight Run’: Watch a trailer:
Loretta Castorini (played by Cher) in Moonstruck, 1987/Kenya McQueen (played by Sanaa Lathan) in Something New, 2006
Loretta, a bookkeeper, and Kenya, an account executive, are consummate professionals. Each is the kind of woman commonly described as having “a good head on her shoulders.” Trouble is, few men look below the neck. Maybe that’s because Loretta hounds clients for their receipts and Kenya advises hers against risky ventures. Caution may be a good thing in their professional lives, but in their personal lives, not so much.
Both defer to strong-willed mothers (Olympia Dukakis and Alfre Woodard, respectively) in matters of fashion and romance. Loretta favors baggy grey cardigans and an equally drab, shapeless suitor (Danny Aiello); Kenya sports nondescript navy blue and dates a generic attorney (Blair Underwood) of whom her mother approves. Trouble is, these boyfriends fail to make the hearts of these accountants skip a beat. Only when these intelligent women embrace colorful garb and equally colorful men (in the respective forms of Nicolas Cage and Simon Baker) do they fully realize themselves as women and as genius accountants.
Louis Tully (played by Rick Moranis) in Ghostbusters, 1984
The best one can say about Louis, a friendless dweeb, is that he is persistent. He pesters his neighbor, Dana (Sigourney Weaver) for dates. He invites clients to his parties and shares their personal information over cheese and crackers (that way he can deduct the party costs as a professional expense).
In the normal world Louis is a mega-geek. But in the paranormal world, which takes over his apartment building and whose denizens ultimately possess both him and Dana, he is a god. As Vinz Clotho — known as Keymaster — Louis is an irresistible hellhound who has his way with Zuul, the spirit that possesses Dana.
Murray Blum (played by Charles Grodin) in Dave, 1993
Nebbish accountants often are the butt of jokes in movies, but not in Dave, where Murray Blum, neighborhood CPA, should be designated a national hero. Murray is best pal of the title character (Kevin Kline), a dead ringer for the comatose leader of the free world and thus his perfect stand-in. Murray is a one-man Office of Management and Budget. He is modest about his ability to balance the national books in the time it takes to eat a corned beef sandwich. He calculates that by eliminating some pork, he can pay for the First Lady’s homeless initiative. Murray’s so deft with his pencil one imagines that he could balance the federal budget with little more than a bagel and a schmear.
‘Dave’: Cutting the Budget:
Oscar Wallace (played by Charles Martin Smith) in The Untouchables, 1987
Loosely inspired by Treasury agent Frank J. Wilson, Wallace is the pint-sized, bespectacled numbers guy who recognizes that when mobster Al Capone (Robert De Niro) pulls a gun, the best way to take him down is by pulling out a ledger book exposing his unreported income. By proving the mobster is guilty of tax evasion, Wallace helps convict Capone, thus loosening the gangster’s stranglehold on Chicago.
‘The Untouchables’: Deliver the Ledger:
The Crimson Permanent Assurance (numerous actors in the Terry Gilliam short of that name that opens Monty Python’s Meaning of Life, 1983)
The British greyhairs in eyeshades who toil for a Very Big American Corporation are slope-shouldered accountants squaring off against iron-jawed CEOs in this droll parody of The Crimson Pirate.
Brandishing receipt spindles as though they were cutlasses, these buccaneers of the ledger book stage a mutiny, forcing the Americans to walk the plank. They thus save the world — and the hallowed balance sheet.
All together now, sing along to their shanty. It confirms what we moviegoers already know: Inside every timid accountant a principled swashbuckler is trying to come out.
It’s fun to charter an accountant
And sail the wild accountancy
To find, explore, the funds offshore
And skirt the shoals of bankruptcy.
It can be mainly in insurance,
We’ll up your premium semi-annually.
It’s all tax deductible,
We’re fairly incorruptible.
We’re sailing on the wide accountancy.
Watch ‘The Crimson Permanent Assurance’:
Ben Affleck in ‘The Accountant’: Watch a trailer:
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