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IRS on screen: Movie, TV characters who have tax problems

Jean Stapleton, left, and Carroll O'Connor had tax

Jean Stapleton, left, and Carroll O'Connor had tax problems on "All in the Family." Credit: CBS

Many Americans are deep in the heart of taxes. No matter how much you may owe, you still can’t have problems as taxing as the ones these characters from movies and TV encountered.


YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU (1938) In this best picture Oscar winner, Lionel Barrymore plays the lovable patriarch of an oddball family who owes the government decades’ worth of back taxes. When the IRS agent comes knocking, Grandpa’s reaction is, “Well, what do I get for my money?”

THE HONEYMOONERS (April 1956) Ralph Kramden (Jackie Gleason) fears the worst when he gets a letter from the IRS to report to their office. Pal Ed Norton (Art Carney) convinces him he has nothing to worry about, before adding, “The worst thing they could possibly do to you is send you to the federal pen.” (Turns out Ralph just forgot to sign his return.)

GREEN ACRES (February 1970) Thanks to a government snafu, the residents of Hooterville are sent huge refund checks, even though they’ve never filed tax returns. The error isn’t discovered until after the locals sink their money into Mr. Haney’s monkey-racing track. To avoid the press going bananas, the government invests in the enterprise, hoping to recoup its money.

THE MARY TYLER MOORE SHOW (November 1970) In this classic episode, super-organized Mary Richards, who has every tax receipt she’s ever gotten — including a Popsicle stick — is shocked when she’s audited. Less shocking is that the auditor (Paul Sand) falls for her.

ALL IN THE FAMILY (September 1972) When Archie Bunker (Carroll O’Connor) neglects to report the money he earned moonlighting as a cabdriver, he’s the one who gets taken for a ride by the IRS. Hilarious complications ensue, fueled by Archie’s bigoted comments and his feeble attempts at bribing a black auditor.

THE ODD COUPLE (January 1973) Felix (Tony Randall) is summoned by the IRS to thank him for filing the neatest return they’ve ever seen (“A cover and everything,” says the taxwoman). While there, however, he accidentally gets pal Oscar (Jack Klugman) audited after making comments on how disorganized he is about his taxes.

THE UNTOUCHABLES (1987) Brian DePalma’s big-screen version of the 1960s TV show featured Robert De Niro as gangster Al Capone, whose reign of terror in 1930s Chicago is about to come to an end if G-man Elliot Ness (Kevin Costner) can get him convicted on tax evasion charges. No happy returns for Capone.

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