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SUNSHINE BOYS, THE (director: Herbert Ross; screenwriter: Neil Simon/based on the play of the same title by Neil Simom; cinematographer: David M. Walsh; editor: John F. Burnett; music: Harry V. Lojewski; cast: Walter Matthau (Willy Clark), George Burns (Al Lewis), Richard Benjamin (Ben Clark), Lee Meredith (Nurse in Sketch), Carol Arthur (Doris), Rosetta LeNoire (Nurse), F. Murray Abraham (Mechanic), Howard Hesseman (Commercial Director), Ron Rifkin (TV Floor Manager), Phyllis Diller (Herself), Howard Hesseman (Walsh, director), Jennifer Lee (Helen Clark, Ben’s wife), Carol Arthur (Doris Green, Al’s Daughter); Runtime: 112; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Ray Stark; United Artists; 1975)
It’s generally an appealing and witty film because the leads are outstanding as cranks.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Herbert Ross (“The Turning Point”/”The Goodbye Girl“/”Play It Again, Sam”) directs this stagy abrasive comedy about feuding old-timer vaudeville comedy team, known as The Sunshine Boys. It’s based on the hit Neil Simon play. On Broadway, in 1973, it had Jack Albertson and Sam Levene in the leading roles. The pic has in the leads the 54-year-old Walter Matthau (playing older) and the 80-year-old George Burns (his first movie role since 1939’s Honolulu, who got the part because first choice Jack Benny died and second choice Red Skelton turned it down). Burns won an Oscar for Best Supporting Supporting Actor, making him the oldest winner in Oscar history at the time (Jessica Tandy would be a little older when she won for Driving Miss Daisy in 1989).

After eleven years apart, in a partnership that lasted 43 years, the cantankerous vaudeville duo of Al Lewis (George Burns) and Willy Clark (Walter Matthau) are persuaded to reunite for a television special on the ‘History of Comedy’ by the nice guy TV agent nephew of Clark’s, Ben (Richard Benjamin), despite the boys hating each other.

It’s generally an appealing and witty film because the leads are outstanding as cranks, in a love-hate relationship. Though the one-note sketch is over-extended and tends to become too hammy, it still delivers with great warmth and perception the way vaudeville was and how dated it is now.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”