Warner Bros. // 1975 // 111 Minutes // Rated PG
Reviewed by Judge Patrick Naugle // March 30th, 2004
For the price of a movie, you'll feel like a million.
Meet Al Lewis (Oscar winner George Burns, Oh, God!) and Willy Clark (Oscar winner Walther Matthau, The Fortune Cookie), two of vaudeville's greatest comedic talents and mortal enemies to the death. Though they created memorable laughs for millions of people as a team, Lewis and Clark can't stand to be in the same room together. But all of that will have to change if they're to work together on a network special that wants the two entertainers to team up one final time for one final skit on its program celebrating great comedy through the years. Though Willy is against it from the start, his agent/nephew, Ben Clark (Golden Globe winner Richard Benjamin), is able to convince Al to come out of retirement for one last skit with Willy. The rehearsals begin well enough...that is, until about three minutes in when Al begins annoying Willy with his stubborn ways (i.e., spitting when he talks and poking him in the chest with his finger). When Willy and Al finally make it to the day of the show, it will be a performance no one will forget as they bring the house down...with laughter!
Cantankerousness certainly is catchy. How else can you explain the career of Walter Matthau? The Odd Couple, Grumpy Old Men, The Sunshine Boys...Matthau made a living playing a man caught in what seemed to be an eternal life of annoyance with the world around him. A prime example: Neil Simon's wonderfully acidic yet warmly amusing The Sunshine Boys, a movie that proves in the comedy world age and wit will always win out over youth and beauty. Matthau gives one of his great performances as Willy Clark, a man not yet resigned to his fate as being washed up in the entertainment industry. Matthau does his blustering, befuddled best as a geezer who doesn't know the meaning of the word "quit." His performance is complemented by George Burns in what turned out to be an Oscar winning role for Best Supporting Actor. It had been 36 years since Burns had an on-camera film role, and he was awarded accordingly for his portrayal of Willy's sharp, sputtering ex-partner, Al Lewis. Giving a solid performance even in the shadow of two legends is Richard Benjamin (who would go on to be a successful director in the '80s and '90s) as Willy's loyal (to a fault) nephew/agent, Ben Clark.
Of course, all of this would be moot without a good screenplay -- luckily the cast of The Sunshine Boys have veteran scribe Neil Simon writing their zingers and one-liners. No doubt pulling inspiration from his early days in the business, Simon creates two well-defined characters in Lewis and Clark, a comedy match made in hell. The put-downs and pratfalls hit hard and fast, especially when the two aging comedians reunite for their CBS special (a skit about a doctor's office that goes disastrously wrong). While I wouldn't consider The Sunshine Boys to be Simon's best work -- that award is held for such classics as The Last of the Red Hot Lovers and The Odd Couple -- it is a genuinely funny movie with winning performances all across the board.
The Sunshine Boys is presented in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen. As usual, Warner has done a great job of making sure the image is in excellent shape. Grain and dirt is at a minimum while the colors and black levels are all well rendered and solid. Though the picture sometimes shows its age (there is a slight fuzziness in a few spots), overall fans will be happy with how this transfer looks.
The soundtrack is presented in Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono in both English and French. There isn't a lot to report about this sound mix -- overall the music, dialogue and effects are clearly heard without any distortion in the track. Also included on this disc are English, French, and Spanish subtitles.
Warner has included a few decent extra features on this disc, starting with an informative commentary by star Richard Benjamin that includes stories about his work with Burns and Matthau, the screenplay by Neil Simon, and other tidbits about the shoot. "The Lion Roars Again" is a featurette about the making of the film with publicity footage of Burns and Matthau discussing the film. For archival purposes Warner has slapped on some make-up test footage with Matthau and Jack Benny (presented in full frame with no sound), and a screen test with actor Phil "Sgt. Bilko" Silvers, who obviously didn't get the part. Finally, there is a theatrical trailer for the film presented in anamorphic widescreen.
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Scales of Justice
Studio: Warner Bros.
* 1.85:1 Anamorphic
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (French)
Running Time: 111 Minutes
Release Year: 1975
MPAA Rating: Rated PG
* Commentary Track with Actor Richard Benjamin
* "The Lion Roars Again" Featurette
* "Phil Silvers Screen Test"
* "Walter Matthau and Jack Benny Make-Up Test"
* Theatrical Trailer