© 2024. Randolph Hub. All Rights Reserved.


Mr. Movie: Baltimore

At a little under 600,000, it’s only the 18th largest U.S. city. But Baltimore is the birthplace of Poe, home of the Orioles and the Inner Harbor, and one of the best microcosms of America. It is fortunate to be the beloved home of director Barry Levinson, who has turned out several good movies about his town.


Levinson’s quartet of cinematic love letters to his city starts with Diner (1982), a coming-of-age story that is not only a delight, but the launching pad for lots of acting careers. Steve Guttenberg, Daniel Stern, Ellen Barkin, Mickey Rourke, Kevin Bacon and Paul Reiser are part of the then-unknown repertory company. The director’s affection for the time and the place are evident.


Richard Dreyfuss and Danny DeVito literally run into each other on the streets of 1963 Baltimore in Tin Men (1987), a dark comedy about aluminum siding salesmen who could be trying to sell anything. A little uneven, and the least successful of the four, it still has moments of humor well worth getting on board for.


There really isn’t a better immigrant film than the wonderful Avalon (1990), the third of Levinson’s filmic missives to his city. The immigrants happen to be Jews, but their story of making it in America applies across the board to all of us immigrants. At 126 minutes, it takes its time on small, interlocked and telling stories.


The last (so far) Levinson-Baltimore film is Liberty Heights (1999), a story of a Baltimore neighborhood’s reaction to the influx of African-Americans (and gentiles) into an historically Jewish enclave. Adrien Brody, Joe Mantegna, Bebe Neuwirth and Orlando Jones are part of a fine cast. 


John Waters’ hilarious Hairspray (1988) is a distinctly different take on the integration of Baltimore, this time through a teenage dance show. This film became a hugely successful Broadway musical, and then a movie musical in 2007. The score is outstanding, kicking it off with “Good Morning, Baltimore.”


Finally, I will mention The Wire (2002-2008), an HBO series that ran for five years and is one of the best TV series ever made. Brit Dominic West is spot on as detective Jimmy McNulty, American as apple pie. He went on to star in The Crown. A lot of the rest of the cast has gone on to get juicy parts. Wendell Pierce, Idris Elba, Amy Ryan, Michael B. Jordan and Lance Reddick can be seen in lots of places. As the gist of the story involves technology, I wonder if it might be a little dated now. But I would like to watch it for a third time!


All of the movies in this column are available somewhere. All are suitable for 10 and over, except The Wire, which is strictly mature fare.