The film opens with us meeting Texas oil man Henry Tyroone (James Garner). Henry’s wells haven’t been producing well lately, so, in need of some quick cash, he heads up to New York to make some green. Hot on his tail are three fellow Texans, Jay Ray (Chill Willis), Ray Jay (Phil Harris), and J.R. (Charles Watts). These guys figure that when it comes to Henry, where there’s smoke there’s fire…turns out they make many of their financial decisions based on Henry’s actions.
Meanwhile, Molly Thatcher (Lee Remick) is the lone female stockbroker at a struggling company run by Bullard Bear (Jim Backus). The company needs to “trim the fat,” and Molly seems the logical choice…but needing a reason to get rid of her, Bear assigns her the task of unloading shares of an obscure little company called Universal Widget. It’s a task designed to make her fail.
When Henry visits Bear’s company, he immediately takes and interest in the lovely Molly, and thus Universal Widget. The two start researching the company, which, as it turns out, has not produced a product since the time of the Civil War. It is a company on paper only, its only assets are shares in AT&T bought cheaply when the company was young. These shares pay huge dividends to the stock holders, so Henry starts to plot to get them for himself.
All the while we have the elements of a romantic farce going on, as Molly at times resists Henry’s charms, and at other times falls into his waiting arms. Plus, all the activity alerts the attention of an overzealous government regulator (John Astin), who plots to take the pair to court. I assure you the plot is much more complicated than all that, but, as I said before, too much Wall Street talk makes me want to introduce my skull to a table saw.
I suppose if you’re someone who plays the stock game, you’ll probably find “The Wheeler Dealers” very funny. If you’re like me, it’s mildly amusing. The story does get very complicated, and though some funny things are happening, it’s hard to go along for the ride when you’re this confused.
The two leads are very appealing, though. James Garner especially manages to create a fun character. Henry is a financial genius, but he’s not arrogant and doesn’t even seem to be that driven by the money. He wheels and deals but creates the impression that he somehow just falls into his good fortune. Gordon Gecko he ain’t. Lee Remick is also very good, her character is headstrong but not annoying. For me, though, the standouts in the cast are the supporting players. The three Texan businessmen are very funny, and John Astin’s performance is hilariously unhinged…if brief.
Ultimately, there is enough about “The Wheeler Dealers” for most viewers to enjoy, even if you’re not a Wall Street Journal reader…though it probably couldn’t hurt.