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The Sunshine Boys is one of my favorite feel good movies. I first saw it
when it as the Christmas attraction at Radio City Music Hall when it first
came out and loved it ever since. I ended up seeing it 6 times in the
theaters, and if it was playing today I'd go out to see it again.
Now a lot of the reviews here mentioned the wonderful performances of the leads. Matthau was brilliant, but had the misfortune of being nominated against Jack Nicholson's Oscar winning performance of Randall P. MacMurphy in "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's nest. Burns did win, though Richard Benjiman deserved at least to be nominated as well. Even the smallest roles were played to perfection, like Fritz Feld auditioning for the potato chips commercial.
Which brings me to my reason for reviewing this film, the direction of the greatly underrated Herbert Ross. Ross who previously brought a two person play, "The Owl And The Pussycat" to the screen and made a full movie out of it, does it again. He opens the plays out without making them look like a photographic stage play. He fleashens out the story and the characters.
Here we're 20 minutes into the film before we get to the scene that opens the play, where Ben Clark comes to see his uncle and tell him about the comedy special. Though there are dialogue from the play during the first twenty minutes, the sequence itself is totally new. A few years ago I did see at the broadway revival of the play with Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, which was wonderful. But I think that Ross and screenwriter, playwright Simon improved on it. It's just a wonderful film.
THE SUNSHINE BOYS (1975) ***1/2 Walter Matthau, George Burns, Richard
Benjamin. (Cameos: Steve Allen and Phyllis Diller). Extremely funny and
warm-hearted adaptation of Neil Simon's play about two stubborn
vaudevillians teaming up one last time for a tv special despite the
fact they haven't spoken to one another in years. Matthau is a riot
("Ehnntaaaahhh!") but Burns, who won an Oscar for Best Supporting
Actor, resurrected his career and became an icon in entertainment.
Incidentally, Burns took this role when his best friend, Jack Benny
(who was initially cast), died. Look for small roles by Howard Hesseman
in one of Neil Simon's best plays. Creaky, cranky ex-Vaudeville stars played by Walter Matthau and George Burns are teaming up for a TV comedy special. The problem is they haven't even SEEN each other in over a decade. Full of zippy one liners and inside showbiz jokes, this story flies along with a steady stream of humor. Good work also by Richard Benjamin as the harried nephew, Rosetta LeNoire as the nurse, and Howard Hesseman as the TV commercial director. Steve Allen and Phyllis Diller appear as themselves. Trivia note: The opening montage contains footage from Hollywood Revue of 1929 and shows Marie Dressler, Bessie Love, Polly Moran, Cliff Edwards, Charles King, Gus Edwards, and the singing Brox Sisters.
I remember originally seeing this film at Radio City Music Hall when it
came out. I didn't really understand the humor back then, but this
movie can make me laugh out loud.
With all due respect to George Burns (RIP), Walter Matthau really deserved the Oscar for this film. His performance is amazing--given the fact that he was 20 years younger than his character, Willie Clark. His mannerisms are first-rate. ("You know what kind of songs he wrote? Sh*t!" and when speaking to the Spanish-speaking guy at the front desk: "No! No! No enchilada!!") Absolutely hilarious!
Kudos to Richard Benjamin, who played straight man to Matthau.
I just wish this was on DVD, because my VHS recording is getting a bit old.
I had no interest in seeing the remake with Woody Allen, because in no way can it match the original.
Neil Simon's THE ODD COUPLE set up a model for many of his later plays.
Felix Unger and Oscar Madison were the unsuitably paired roommates in
the original, the former being picky and neat, the latter being
slovenly and loose. Simon would rewrite (less successfully) the play in
the 1990s as THE NEW ODD COUPLE, with female roommates. He made it a
mixed couple (a woman with her daughter, and a man) in THE GOODBYE
GIRLS. He also gave it an additional twist in 1973 with THE SUNSHINE
BOYS, a Broadway hit starring Jack Alberson and Sam Levine as Al Lewis
and Willie Clark, the aged, semi-retired Vaudevillians. Here the
"apartment" problem is reduced to a teaming of two men who can't stand
each other. The 1976 film starred Walter Matthau as Willie, and George
Burns as Al.
In actuality, Al probably does not think totally badly of Willie - Willie is pathological on the subject of Al. First Al had little habits, such as accidentally spitting slightly when pronouncing words beginning with the letter "t", and slightly jabbing Willie with his index finger, on stage. Secondly, Al retired when his wife died. Willie was not ready to retire (and has been forcing his nephew and agent, Ben (Richard Benjamin) to try to get him jobs in commercials. But Willie can't remember lines unless they are funny, and keeps flubbing them. So he rarely is able to stay to the end of a rehearsal for a commercial.
Ben is asked to get the two back together for a live scene of their most famous sketch on a television show about American Comedy. He does bring Al to see Willie, and the sparks begin flying, as neither can figure out what the other is doing (and this is just in rehearsal. On top of that, Willie is insisting on changes (minor ones, but they throw off Al) such as saying "ENTER!!!" when Al knocks on the door. The initial rehearsal is a failure, but Ben manages to get them to the taping of the show. The question is if they will complete the scene in the finished program or will Willie wring Al's neck?
The three leads, Matthau, Burns, and Benjamin, do very well with the one-liners, frequently reminiscent of vaudeville patter (example: "Chest pains...I'm getting chest pains Uncle Willie. Every Thursday I come here and get chest pains!" "So, come on Fridays!"). Benjamin strives to prove his deep affection for his uncle, although Matthau's rough outer shell makes it difficult (he only smooths down when he discusses the glory days of vaudeville). Matthau has a little better grasp on reality (at first) than Burns, who seems senile by his repeating himself - but in actuality Matthau's sense of rejection by the world that once applauded him make him less willing to behave properly. Burns is not senile - he takes things slowly. But he seems far happier in accepting his retirement.
I call this a final "Voyage of Discovery" for our modern Lewis and Clark. Al and Willie transcend their old skits, as they gradually end up realizing that they have more in common in their old age than they thought. Even the irascible Willie admits that Al may be (to him) a pain in the ass, but he was a funny man.
Burns was not the original choice for the part of "Al Lewis" (supposedly Dale of the team Smith and Dale). Jack Benny was. Benny probably would have done a good job, but ill-health forced him out (he died in 1975). Burns (whose last involvement in any film was in THE SOLID GOLD CADILLAC in 1956 as the narrator) turned in such a fine performance that he got the "Oscar" for best supporting actor, and was to have a career in movies in the next decade in such films as OH GOD!; OH GOD, YOU DEVIL; and GOING IN STYLE. He died in 1996 age 100, having proved that he was more than just a brilliant straight man for his wife Gracie Allan.
Taking over roles that Jack Albertson and Sam Levene played on
Broadway, Walter Matthau and George Burns play a couple of old time
vaudeville comics, a team in the tradition of Joe Smith and Charles
Dale who seem to have a differing outlook on life.
Walter Matthau can't stop working, the man has never learned to relax, take some time and smell the roses. He's a crotchety old cuss whose best days are behind him and his nephew and agent Richard Benjamin is finding less and less work for him.
What hurt him badly was that some 15 years earlier his partner George Burns decided to retire and spend some time with his family. A workaholic like Matthau can't comprehend it and take Burns's decision personally.
Benjamin hits on a brain storm, reunite the guys and do it on a national television special. What happens here is pretty hilarious.
The Sunshine Boys is also a sad, bittersweet story as well about old age. Matthau is on screen for most of the film, but it's Burns who got the kudos in the form of an Oscar at the ripe old age of 79.
Burns brought a bit of the personal into this film as well. As we all know he was the straight man of the wonderful comedy team of Burns&Allen who the Monty Python troop borrowed a lot from. In 1958 due to health reasons, Gracie Allen retired and George kept going right up to the age of 100. Or at least pretty close to as an active performer.
The Sunshine Boys is based on the team of Smith&Dale however and if you like The Sunshine Boys I strongly recommend you see Two Tickets to Broadway for a look at a pair of guys who were entertaining the American public at the turn of the last century. The doctor sketch that Matthau and Burns do is directly from their material.
And I do think you will like The Sunshine Boys.
This is an amazing accomplishment for George Burns. He had not made a film for almost 40 years and had never really acted before, and yet he gave one of the most moving performances I have ever seen in a motion picture. He was the oldest performer to ever win an Academy Award for best supporting actor and I think it would behoove acting students to study his wonderful performance. Neil Simon is one of my favorite writers and I think this is his best work. Burns and Matthau make movie magic and it is a delight from start to finish to see these two old pros at work.
Simon's carefully written dialogues are truly electrified by Matthau and Burns. You can literally hear the script crackle. There are few movies out there that can develop such a relationship between the actors and the script. For example, the famed reunion scene could have been a lot duller with less-quality actors involved. Matthau seems to had been born to play Willie Clark (of course, Oscar moreso in the Odd Couple), and with all of the little idiosyncracies and mannerisms that Matthau crams into the character (the line where he is arguing that he is with it since he lives in the city whereas Lewis lives in the country that Lewis is "out of touch" is the quintessential example of this) make this one of the best performances I've ever seen of any actor in any role, be it comedic or drama or whatever else. Period. Matthau and Burns work excellently together; the contrast they portray accentuates Simon's superb knack at creating comedic conflict. This movie is simply one of the ultimate "must-sees" and does demand a rightful prestigious place in the pages of film history.
Superb version of the early 1970's comedy by Neil Simon about two aging comics, who hate each other, who try to patch up their relationship for a comedy tribute. Matthau is right on, but it's Burns who steals scene after scene. Just watching all that talent makes the picture! Richard Benjamin is also very good as Matthau's agent and nephew. Keep an eye out for F. Murray Abraham and Howard Hessemen.
A hilarious Neil Simon comedy that evokes laughs from beginning to end.
The late Walter Matthau is the grouchy ex-comedian who is persuaded to
join together with his ex-partner (the late Oscar-winner George Burns)
for a final reunion show on stage.
Benjamin Martin is Matthau's agent and nephew, and the two have just as much chemistry as Matthau and Burns. I love Matthau's grumpy character--he's just the same as he always is, and yet also very different.
Burns, as the absent-minded old man, is just as funny as Matthau.
Matthau: Want some crackers? I've got coconut, pineapple and graham.
Burns: How about a plain cracker?
Matthau: I don't got plain. I got coconut, pineapple and graham.
Matthau: They're in the cupboard in the kitchen.
Burns: Maybe later.
Or how about this:
Matthau: When I did black, the whites knew what I was saying!
You've got to see it in the movie to understand it!
All in all, a refreshingly hilarious, sweet, heartfelt, warm, believable character comedy with a heart and some of the most memorable quotes of all time.
They just don't make them like this anymore! In a time when all the newest comedies are crude, juvenile and stupid, this leans back towards the tender core of what comedy really is--funny characters, smart and funny dialogue, and grand entertainment.
One of the best buddy comedies of all time, right up there with "Planes, Trains and Automobiles," "Lethal Weapon," and "The Hard Way."
You may have a hard time finding this for rent or on TV, but trust me, it will be worth your time!
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