Once Upon a Time in the 80s: Kidco (Part 16 of 17)
Note: This article features in-depth plot analysis that may contain spoilers, read on at your own peril.
Kidco is another one of those fantastical films although it has a very grounded theme. It was written by a man, well let’s just say this was his best work, because Bennett Tramer went on to create probably the most famous television show that’s “So Bad It’s Good,” called Saved by the Bell. This film tells the story of Dickie Cessna, played aptly by Scott Schwartz. I happened to have obtained a copy of the film’s script and I think Tramer describes the protagonist best: “Dickie possesses the all-American good looks of a Norman Rockwell cover: sandy hair hanging over his forehead, healthy tanned complexion, a big toothy grin…Combined with the shrewd eyes and alert demeanor of a junior executive who yearns to be running the company himself. Dickie’s only twelve years old — but he’s been looking for an angle since he was in the womb.”
We start off watching his Keno scheme at school which is busted by the principal. He also tricks some Japanese tourists to go on a moose trail when touring his father’s ranch and dangles a moose head from out of the bushes. He’s the quintessential 80s hero; anything for a buck, but he’s the little guy so who’s gonna come after him? The crummy feds, of course. We first meet with these agents when they come to inspect his father’s ranch because the Board of Taxation needs to appraise his assets. First, Dickie gives them bad directions and then when they arrive his sisters lead them to the barn where they supposedly live and put on an act of misery.
Dickie’s father tells him he has to stop running scams in school so he takes him up on the loophole. Yet then he stumbles on to a legitimate business opportunity when he sees they throw away piles and piles of manure everyday and all the local companies are complaining that Orville Peterjohn, the town tycoon, is charging them an arm and a leg for fertilizer.
Their first client is the owner of a local driving range and they go on from there. Peterjohn starts to lose business so he gets in contact with the feds. He wants them investigated after he sees them on a talk show where they claimed to have made $30,000 in profits over the summer. They are then charged with not paying sales tax, not having a seller’s permit and not listing the contents of the product. Not only are they brought to trial, but Dickie and Bette Cessna (Tristine Skyler) decide to defend themselves. This provides for some of the most hysterical moments in this film.
At one point, Dickie decides he needs to deliver a speech to state his case and says closing with “The United States could’ve been the greatest country in the world but they had to go and bust Kidco.” This is also a film that deals heavily with the fundamental differences between children and adults and Dickie says “Youth is wasted on the young. Children should be seen and not heard. Your honor, if we believed in cruddy old sayings like that Kidco wouldn’t have made a cent.” While Dickie’s vocabulary is lacking he is always brutally honest and has no problems insulting a lawyer which is always fun to watch and what this film has which I think is great is a triumphant defeat.
They get out of the sales tax because their father has already paid sales tax on the hay and oats the horses ate that became the manure. It’s a great moment because you see it coming and Dickie says “Your honor we’re getting taxed at both ends!” The judge under heavy media and political scrutiny to be easy on the kids quickly dismisses the charges. Then the prosecutor reminds him the other charges still stand before the court. There is a plea bargain struck because there’s really no way they’ll be completely absolved. They’ll be given a special seller’s permit and must pay practically all their profit’s worth in fines. The triumph comes when they walk outside.
There is a gathering of thousands of kids and Dickie gets up before them and starts talking, riling them up. Neil (Tom Mackie), a cub reporter who’s been helping them out, gives Dickie a box full of orders for Kidco T-Shirts then Dickie grabs a bullhorn and says: “And we wanna tell you, you just made us enough dough to pay our fine…and buy supper for every kid in San Diego! Maybe now those bozos will pick on someone their own size” then he announces plans for a new shirt with his picture on it. And the kids chant “Kid-co, Kid-co, Kid-co.” Some of the details in this film are really what make it work. For example, instead of baseball pennants over his bed Dickie has pennants of Ford, Standard Oil and General Motors. And at the very end there are protest signs that read: “In Kids We Trust,” “Peter Pan Lives,” “Children’s Coalition,” “Kids Liberation,” “Suffrage for Kids” and “Equal Rights for Kids.”
These signs are fantastic. The whole tone of the movie is perfect. In many films made in the United States children are given little or no respect as people they are portrayed as stupid, whiny, troublemakers. Few and far between are the films that treat them with any respect. This film screeches for and demands that respect. Not only that but it’s a great portrayal of big business in the 80s where kids were also looking for money and identifying themselves with corporations. Kidco might be a strange and unusual little film but it is most definitely funny and it is definitely a film of the 80s.
Work Cited: Tramer, Bennet. Kidco. Screenplay. September 1982, Frank Yablans Productions. Ibid.