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Daniel J. Sullivan
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Neil Simon wrote this updated version of his 1972 Broadway play about a film agent's efforts to recombine the once famous comedy pair Lewis and Clark, played by Woody Allen and Peter Falk. Written by
Kunal Taravade <email@example.com>
One of three 1996 Neil Simon adaptations made for television and first broadcast in that year. The others were Jake's Women (1996) and London Suite (1996). All were made for production houses Hallmark Entertainment and Metropolitan Productions. See more »
[Entering the dining room]
Haven't been in the Friars' Club in years.
Oh, really? Still a member?
Yeah, until I die. Then I'll quit.
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The only reason I was unfortunate enough to see this version of "The Sunshine Boys" is because Netflix sent it to me by mistake, as I thought I was getting the 1975 film version. Boy, was I dismayed, but I gamely watched it anyway because the play is hilarious.
You wouldn't know it based on this updated version. The update is one of the big reasons this version stinketh too much. In the original, Lewis and Clark were old vaudeville comics reunited to recreate their old act on a television variety show. Here, we must supposed they were sort of like Martin and Lewis on television or played Vegas...it's hard to figure out. What's worse is that in this version, we never get to see their "old act," as they've been hired to play supporting characters in a family film. Thus, we have no idea why these old guys are legends.
I suppose it would be extremely difficult to stage any version of "The Sunshine Boys" without keeping it in its original time period, i.e. 1972. Let's face it: vaudeville caved in on itself in the 1930's. Anyone who was a star in vaudeville would not be alive today, or if they were they'd be in their early 100's (possibly late 80's or 90's if they were a child star).
My point is that the original needs to be perpetuated, because if nothing else (aside from a look at the relationship of two performers who worked brilliantly together on stage but horribly offstage) it allows us to see a slice of Americana that is now gone - the crummy, cheap, gag-filled vaudeville act. This 1995 version shows us nothing.
Al Lewis was beefed up for this version, possibly because Woody Allen was making a rare acting appearance in something not of his own doing. And Allen is an old associate of writer Neil Simon from the Golden Age of Television days. Regardless, Allen doesn't get to do much except exercise his particular brand of comic delivery (point with forefinger then jerk back thumb - repeat ad nauseam) in his added scenes showing his New Jersey retirement. Al Lewis is much more effective if we don't see him until well after Willie has kvetched about him, building up the suspense - - "will Al Lewis really be a monster?" and then a sweet old man walks in.
Another wrong choice is to pad out the script with unnecessary characters (Allen's daughter, for instance) and to make Willie's nephew of the play his niece in this version. I suppose some wise guy said "Hey, when you update this show, we need more female roles. It's 1995!" Bottom line: please skip this version of the play. Please see the 1975 film. Not only will you get Walter Matthau as a hilarious old Jewish man but you'll see what is possibly George Burns's best screen performance next to "Going In Style" (at 80 - and having to hold his own against Matthau - Burns deserved his Oscar for the role).
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