AMAD: The Sunshine Boys (1975)
As an actor nobody could touch him. As a human being nobody WANTED to touch him.
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with today’s installment of A Movie A Day.
[For those now joining us, A Movie A Day is my attempt at filling in gaps in my film knowledge. My DVD collection is thousands strong, many of them films I haven’t seen yet, but picked up as I scoured used DVD stores. Each day I’ll pull a previously unseen film from my collection or from my DVR and discuss it here. Each movie will have some sort of connection to the one before it, be it cast or crew member.]
How the hell did that happen? I totally lost the day and now I’m behind on AMADS, with only a few more to go! How embarrassing!
I am very tired as I type this up, but I can tell you that I didn’t feel any bit of my exhaustion from a long day’s worth of work when I watched the flick. It doesn’t hurt that I’m a rather massive fan of Walter Matthau’s and like any child of my (or even the previous) generation George Burns holds a very special spot in the softest corner of my heart.
I’m also a fan of grumpy old bastards being grumpy to each other. Hearing Matthau scream out “Goddamnit” just makes me happy, like waking up to the smell of pancakes cooking or something.
Here you have Matthau playing about 30 years older than he was. He’s a forgetful, cranky old man, one half of a famous vaudeville act who now is struggling to get commercial work selling potato chips. He’s causing his nephew and agent heart problems. He’s always late, he never knows his lines, he’s kinda loopy and always ready to hurl an insult or two.
I was about to type Actor Name then Character Name, but somehow I think if I wrote “Matthau’s Willy” I’d be giving off the wrong impression. The character that Walter Matthau plays is named Willy Clark and his ex-partner in crime went by the name Al Lewis. Naturally, as a duo they were Lewis and Clark, The Sunshine Boys.
But it turns out they never got along. Over 11,000 performances together, spanning more than 40 years. They were magic onstage and respected each other… onstage. But not off. Anybody who lives so closely with another person for 40 years is bound to build up short tolerances for personal ticks… in Matthau’s case, he was fed up with Burns’ habit of spitting his “T’s” and chest-poking to make a point.
In any event, it’s been 11 years since they’ve seen each other and 12 since they’ve spoken. When Matthau’s nephew questions that logic, Matthau spits at him that the only time he talked to Burns in that time was when they were on stage, so it wasn’t them talking, just their characters.
ABC is gearing up a television special that will chronicle the history of comedy and they’re keen on bringing the two back together to recreate one of their classic bits. It takes some convincing on the part of Matthau’s nephew, played by Richad Benjamin, but about 50 minutes into the movie Burns and Matthau are united on the screen.
It starts out awkwardly civil and quickly devolves into years of pent up frustration and pet peeves exploded out of Matthau. Burns is the more together of the two, but he isn’t afraid to dish it back, either, especially when it comes to call horseshit on some of Matthau’s more outrageous eccentricities.
They split and reunite at least two more times during the course of this story and what you end up with is the most unlikely pairing of friends ever. I know that sounds trite, but it’s true. I don’t mean that they’re mismatched or some horrible Rob Schneider comedy definition of unlikely pairing. These two guys share so much in common and have an obvious love for each other, but don’t ever say one good thing to the other.
Only once from Burns and that’s when Matthau ends up in the hospital and you can see just how crushed Burns is, sitting in waiting room. Matthau I don’t think ever vocalizes his love outside of a line about respecting him as an actor. Respect he has, love he has, but never admits to.
Like the best Neil Simon, this movie is both hilarious and emotionally effective. I cared about these guys and was hooting laughter throughout the movie. Like I said earlier, I have a thing about crotchety old men being racist and forgetful and offensive… They are totally endearing to me.
Burns won an Oscar for this movie, beating out Brad Dourif for Best Supporting Actor for ONE FLEW OVER THE CUCKOO’S NEST, the only major category Cuckoo’s Nest got locked out of that year. I don’t know if I’d say Burns is better than Dourif in that movie, but he certainly deserved the award.
I was actually a little shocked to see Burns for the first time onscreen… he was bald. I never realized his trademark silver locks were a hairpiece. Apparently he never went without it, but relented to doing one scene in this movie as he was naturally, only putting his hairpiece on when he went to go reunite with Clark.
As you’d expect from the man, Burns turns in a warmly comic performance. There’s just something about Burns that is instantly likable. He exudes kindness and is hard to take your eyes off when he’s onscreen.
Matthau doesn’t exude kindness, but there’s a warmness to him, too, even when he’s being a right dickhead. I love Matthau’s comic timing and the way he can deliver any line and make it work, be it an insulting one, an emotional one, a vulnerable one… He’s all over the map in this movie, but doesn’t feel spread thin. It all fits into a nice package.
He plays older really well, too. It’s shocking looking at him in this film because he really does remind me of his turn in the GRUMPY OLD MEN series and you have to keep in mind that he shot this movie in-between THE TAKING OF PELHAM 123 and THE BAD NEWS BEARS. Yeah.
Also keep an eye out for the second small appearance by F. Murray Abraham in a Neil Simon movie that we’ve covered (the first being a cabbie in THE PRISONER OF SECOND AVENUE). He’s an automechanic in this one… I guess Neil Simon thought he was a natural car guy…
Final Thoughts: Entertaining, but not lacking an emotion punch THE SUNSHINE BOYS is a flick that is right up my alley and didn’t disappoint. Herbert Ross (director of THE GOODBYE GIRL and tomorrow’s CALIFORNIA SUITE) did a fantastic job working with two great comic talents. Seeing them play together on the screen was a joy for me. It’s touching without being precious, thanks to the great script, story and true old school talent involved. Interesting to note, but Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson) originated the Matthau role on Broadway. I would have loved to have seen that.
Here are the final run of A Movie A Day titles:
Tuesday, January 6th: CALIFORNIA SUITE (1978)
Wednesday, January 7th: A BRIDGE TOO FAR (1977)
Alright, our final Neil Simon movie is tomorrow with CALIFORNIA SUITE, following not only Simon, but Matthau and director Herbert Ross over. After that we end A Movie A Day on an epic war film. I’ll be kinda lost if there aren’t any old Jews yelling at each other in A BRIDGE TOO FAR…
June 2nd: Harper
June 3rd: The Drowning Pool
June 4th: Papillon
June 5th: Gun Crazy
June 6th: Never So Few
June 7th: A Hole In The Head
June 8th: Some Came Running
June 9th: Rio Bravo
June 10th: Point Blank
June 11th: Pocket Money
June 12th: Cool Hand Luke
June 13th: The Asphalt Jungle
June 14th: Clash By Night
June 15th: Scarlet Street
June 16th: Killer Bait (aka Too Late For Tears)
June 17th: Robinson Crusoe On Mars
June 18th: City For Conquest
June 19th: San Quentin
June 20th: 42nd Street
June 21st: Dames
June 22nd: Gold Diggers of 1935
June 23rd: Murder, My Sweet
June 24th: Born To Kill
June 25th: The Sound of Music
June 26th: Torn Curtain
June 27th: The Left Handed Gun
June 28th: Caligula
June 29th: The Elephant Man
June 30th: The Good Father
July 1st: Shock Treatment
July 2nd: Flashback
July 3rd: Klute
July 4th: On Golden Pond
July 5th: The Cowboys
July 6th: The Alamo
July 7th: Sands of Iwo Jima
July 8th: Wake of the Red Witch
July 9th: D.O.A.
July 10th: Shadow of A Doubt
July 11th: The Matchmaker
July 12th: The Black Hole
July 13th: Vengeance Is Mine
July 14th: Strange Invaders
July 15th: Sleuth
July 16th: Frenzy
July 17th: Kingdom of Heaven: The Director’s Cut
July 18th: Cadillac Man
July 19th: The Sure Thing
July 20th: Moving Violations
July 21st: Meatballs
July 22nd: Cast a Giant Shadow
July 23rd: Out of the Past
July 24th: The Big Steal
July 25th: Where Danger Lives
July 26th: Crossfire
July 27th: Ricco, The Mean Machine
July 28th: In Harm’s Way
July 29th: Firecreek
July 30th: The Cheyenne Social Club
July 31st: The Man Who Knew Too Much
August 1st: The Spirit of St. Louis
August 2nd: Von Ryan’s Express
August 3rd: Can-Can
August 4th: Desperate Characters
August 5th: The Possession of Joel Delaney
August 6th: Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx
August 7th: Start the Revolution Without Me
August 8th: Hell Is A City
August 9th: The Pied Piper
August 10th: Partners
August 11th: Barry Lyndon
August 12th: The Skull
August 13th: The Hellfire Club
August 14th: Blood of the Vampire
August 15th: Terror of the Tongs
August 16th: Pirates of Blood River
August 17th: The Devil-Ship Pirates
August 18th: Jess Franco’s Count Dracula
August 19th: Dracula A.D. 1972
August 20th: The Stranglers of Bombay
August 21st: Man, Woman & Child
August 22nd: The Little Girl Who Lives Down The Lane
August 23rd: The Young Philadelphians
August 24th: The Rack
August 25th: Until They Sail
August 26th: Somebody Up There Likes Me
August 27th: The Set-Up
August 28th: The Devil & Daniel Webster
August 29th: Cat People
August 30th: The Curse of the Cat People
August 31st: The 7th Victim
September 1st: The Ghost Ship
September 2nd: Isle of the Dead
September 3rd: Bedlam
September 4th: Black Sabbath
September 5th: Black Sunday
September 6th: Twitch of the Death Nerve
September 7th: Tragic Ceremony
September 8th: Lisa & The Devil
September 9th: Baron Blood
September 10th: A Shot In The Dark
September 11th: The Pink Panther
September 12th: The Return of the Pink Panther
September 13th: The Pink Panther Strikes Again
September 14th: Revenge of the Pink Panther
September 15th: Trail of the Pink Panther
September 16th: The Real Glory
September 17th: The Winning of Barbara Worth
September 18th: The Cowboy and the Lady
September 19th: Dakota
September 20th: Red River
September 21st: Terminal Station
September 22nd: The Search
September 23rd: Act of Violence
September 24th: Houdini
September 25th: Money From Home
September 26th: Papa’s Delicate Condition
September 27th: Dillinger
September 28th: Battle of the Bulge
September 29th: Daisy Kenyon
September 30th: Laura
October 1st: The Dunwich Horror
October 2nd: Experiment In Terror
October 3rd: The Devil’s Rain
October 4th: Race With The Devil
October 5th: Salo, Or The 120 Days of Sodom
October 6th: Bad Dreams
October 7th: The House Where Evil Dwells
October 8th: Memories of Murder
October 9th: The Hunger
October 10th: I Saw What You Did
October 11th: I Spit On Your Grave
October 12th: Naked You Die
October 13th: The Wraith
October 14th: Silent Night, Bloody Night
October 15th: I Bury The Living
October 16th: The Beast Must Die
October 17th: Hellgate
October 18th: He Knows You’re Alone
October 19th: The Thing From Another World
October 20th: The Fall of the House of Usher
October 21st: Audrey Rose
October 22nd: Who Slew Auntie Roo?
October 23rd: Wait Until Dark
October 24th: Dead & Buried
October 25th: A Bucket of Blood
October 26th: The Bloodstained Shadow
October 27th: I, Madman
October 28th: Return to Horror High
October 29th: Die, Monster, Die
October 30th: Epidemic
October 31st: Student Bodies
November 1st: Black Widow
November 2nd: The Ghost & Mrs. Muir
November 3rd: Flying Tigers
November 4th: Executive Action
November 5th: The Busy Body
November 6th: It’s A Mad Mad Mad Mad World
November 7th: Libeled Lady
November 8th: Up The River
November 9th: Doctor Bull
November 10th: Judge Priest
November 11th: Ten Little Indians
November 12th: Murder On The Orient Express
November 13th: Daniel
November 14th: El Dorado
November 15th: The Gambler
November 16th: Once Upon A Time In America
November 17th: Salvador
November 18th: Best Seller
November 19th: The Holcroft Covenant
November 20th: Birdman of Alcatraz
November 21st: The Train
November 22nd: Gunfight At The O.K. Corral
November 23rd: Mystery Street
November 24th: Border Incident
November 25th: The Tin Star
November 26th: On The Beach
November 27th: Twelve O’Clock High
November 28th: Gentleman’s Agreement
November 29th: Panic In The Streets
November 30th: The Hot Rock
December 1st: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
December 2nd: The Day of the Dolphin
December 3rd: Carnal Knowledge
December 4th: The Cincinnati Kid
December 5th: Pocketful of Miracles
December 6th: Mikey & Nicky
December 7th: Two-Minute Warning
December 8th: The Sentinel
December 9th: How To Steal A Million
December 10th: What’s New Pussycat?
December 11th: Being There
December 17th: The Party
December 18th: Casino Royale
December 19th: The Stranger
December 20th: Brother Orchid
December 21st: The Petrified Forest
December 22nd: Moontide
December 23rd: Notorious
December 24th: The Inn of the Sixth Happiness
December 25th: The High Commissioner
December 26th: The Silent Partner
December 27th: Payday
December 28th: A Stranger Is Watching
December 29th: The New Kids
December 30th: Serial
December 31st: The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes
January 1st: Irma La Douce
January 2nd: The Prisoner of Second Avenue
January 3rd: The Goodbye Girl
January 4th: Lost In Yonkers
Readers Talkbackcomments powered by Disqus
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Jan. 7, 2009, 4:15 a.m. CST
by The Amazing G
Jan. 7, 2009, 4:15 a.m. CST
by The Amazing G
I win da prize!
Jan. 7, 2009, 5:27 a.m. CST
Originally, Jack Benny was cast opposite Burns. As they are both old Vaudeville guys, I think that would definitely have added something a bit different to the film. Not that I don't think Matthau is great in it. Still, I would have loved to have seen the Benny/Burns version.
Jan. 7, 2009, 5:28 a.m. CST
Forgot to mention that Benny dropped out due to his ailing health at the time.
Jan. 7, 2009, 6:04 a.m. CST
Especially the scene where Matthau keeps yelling out the window at Burns. I laugh my ass off every time.
Jan. 7, 2009, 6:45 a.m. CST
by Roger O Thornhil
George Burns was coaxed out of retirement to play the role that Benny couldn't do. I think the original casting is Matthau & Benny, not Burns & Benny.
Jan. 7, 2009, 7:21 a.m. CST
Geez, that thing on Burns' head made Sam Donaldson's toupee look good.
Jan. 7, 2009, 8:23 a.m. CST
was supposed to be in this, too...I think. I read Burn's biography years ago and this was something he really wanted and almost didn't get. People didn't think he could do the role. It is a great movie with great actors. I haven't seen it for years, though.
Jan. 7, 2009, 8:32 a.m. CST
Great movie...loved it for years...never gets old.
Jan. 7, 2009, 9:27 a.m. CST
This movie was always great on a rainy sunday afternoon on those tv stations showing the same 20 movies in a month.
Jan. 7, 2009, 10 a.m. CST
by Cletus Van Damme
I need to re-watch that since it's been about 20 years since I've seen it.
Jan. 7, 2009, 10:18 a.m. CST
My dad showed me and my brother this movie when we were little and it holds a special place in my heart.<br><br>"Come in, and EN-TERRRRRRRRRRR!"<br><br>"I'll spit out the sodium!"<br><br>"Doris, I want you to pick me up now. I don't want to discuss it. Pick me up. He pulled a knife on me - a kitchen knife! It was still dirty from breakfast!"<br><br>IT don't get much better than this.
Jan. 7, 2009, 11:29 a.m. CST
I remember laughing out loud when Walter Matthau triumphantly says that line.
Jan. 7, 2009, 12:01 p.m. CST
Jan. 7, 2009, 1:33 p.m. CST
The first two actors cast in these roles was Red Skelton and Jack Benny. It was going to be their first big movie in over a decade. But then Skelton started having problems with the script. He didn't want to curse and he definitely didn't want to call his old friend Benny a bastard. When Red dropped out they asked Bob Hope and they were set to roll but then Jack had health problems that caused him to bow out. Bob suggested Bing Crosby to replace him, and the result might have been interesting, but then Bob and Bing started asking for rewrites before dropping out altogether. George Burns had been in retirement since his wife Gracie died, but he agreed to come back and do the part. The Studio wanted a name actor somewhere in the picture, so Matthau agreed to do it.
Jan. 7, 2009, 8:11 p.m. CST
I give it 24 hours before that turns up as a user name in the talkbacks.
Jan. 7, 2009, 8:56 p.m. CST
I could definitely see Jack Benny or Bing Crosby playing Burns' character. That character was much more dignified and had his life together. I doubt that Red Skelton had the depth to play Willie, but who knows. The rewrites might have been because these guys didn't want to play a character as flawed as Willy. I couldn't see both Hope and Crosby together for this because they were supposed to be Jews. Hope and Crosby were very WASPy.
Jan. 8, 2009, 2:31 a.m. CST
He was right on target as the film's straight man (one of the best since the dawn of Bud Abbott). But, naturally, Burns and Matthau's celebrity eclipsed Benjamin's flawless timing and visibility. I can't recall any racist situations, exempting a scene or two where a fuming Matthau growls "Call the Spanish kid."
Jan. 8, 2009, 3:01 a.m. CST
It is...George Burns is a much better actor than many give him credit for. Check out the Oh God movies, especially Oh God you Devil! which had him playing both God and the Devil.
Jan. 8, 2009, 4:50 p.m. CST
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