Sunshine Boys, The (1975)

Sunshine Boys, The (1975)

“He forgot already; he’s got arthritis of the head.”

An agent (Richard Benjamin) in New York tries to convince his uncle — aging vaudeville star Willy Clark (Walter Matthau) — to do one final show with his former partner, Al Lewis (George Burns); but given that Willy and Al despise each other, this is much more challenging than expected.

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Comedy
  • Elderly People
  • Feuds
  • George Burns Films
  • Has-Beens
  • Herbert Ross Films
  • Neil Simon Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Richard Benjamin Films
  • Vaudeville and Burlesque
  • Walter Matthau Films

Herbert Ross directed this adaptation by Neil Simon of his own 1972 stage play, about quibbling vaudeville performers whose resentment of one another makes it just about impossible for them to co-exist in the same room for more than a few minutes, let alone perform on stage in a revue. However, a reunion performance is exactly the goal of Benjamin’s determined agent and loving nephew, who puts up with outrageous levels of abuse and frustration from his uncle in order to get the performing couple back together — and unfortunately, we see this playing out on screen for far too long.

With that said, Matthau is remarkably effective at playing a cantankerous elder (despite only being 55 in real life), and Burns makes an impactful screen comeback after 36 years away (he won an Oscar for his efforts). Seeing the fictional duo finally performing their “doctor’s office” act on stage during a rehearsal is a welcome throwback to the simplicity of the joy they once enacted for audiences as vaudevillians:

… though of course we watch them with trepidation, knowing things will inevitably go sour at some point. This comedy is likely one of those films that will either tickle your funny bone or not: if it’s your cup of tea, you’ll be delighted; personally, I was simply eager to not have to watch this duo making each others’ lives miserable for any longer than necessary.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Walter Matthau as Willy Clark
  • George Burns as Al Lewis
  • Good use of location shooting in New York
  • The amusingly vulgar vaudeville sketch

Must See?
No, unless you’re a fan of Simon, Matthau, or Burns.


One thought on “Sunshine Boys, The (1975)

  1. Agreed that it’s mainly for fans of the stars or Simon. Not must-see.

    I’ll admit that I wouldn’t particularly want to sit through this again – primarily because I agree that I wouldn’t want to (again) “watch this duo making each others’ lives miserable”. Though I did see this film version, strangely, my memory is stronger of the original Broadway production (starring Jack Albertson & Sam Levene, directed by Alan Arkin). It was among the first shows I saw on Broadway and I recall the vaudeville sections in particular (perhaps because they’re intended for the stage and may play better live).

    It’s not rare, of course, for Simon characters to be in strong conflict – as witness, for example, one of his best works ‘The Odd Couple’. However, ‘The Sunshine Boys’ has a marked difference in its bitterness, which makes it less alluring for a rewatch.

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