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Warner Home Video presents
The Sunshine Boys (1975)

Ben: You mean to tell me you haven't spoken to Al Lewis in 11 years?
Willy Clark: I haven't seen him in 11 years. I haven't spoken to him in 12 years.

- Richard Benjamin, Walter Matthau

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: March 28, 2004

Stars: Walter Matthau, George Burns, Richard Benjamin
Other Stars: Lee Meredith, Carol Arthur, Rosetta LeNoire, F. Murray Abraham, Howard Hesseman, Phyllis Diller, Steve Allen
Director: Herbert Ross

Manufacturer: WAMO
MPAA Rating: PG for (language, off-color humor)
Run Time: 01h:50m:53s
Release Date: March 30, 2004
UPC: 012569590229
Genre: comedy

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer

DVD Review

Although I seldom find Neil Simon to be very funny, in the right hands his work can be hilarious. There's no better example of the latter than The Sunshine Boys, Simon's affectionate look at a vaudeville team that can't stand one another. In the hands of George Burns and Walter Matthau, it absolutely sparkles thanks to their impeccable comic timing.

Willy Clark (Matthau) and Al Lewis (Burns) haven't worked together in years, but Willy's nephew Ben (Richard Benjamin) lands them a gig on a television special devoted to the history of comedy. But Lewis is in retirement in New Jersey, and Willy despises his former partner. Ben convinces them to make the lucrative appearance but things threaten to come completely unglued when the two old men start to rehearse together and are immediately at each others' throats.

This film really revitalized Burns' career after a lengthy semi-retirement. But he's terrific here, even though the part is fairly small, and it's no wonder why he caught attention with his quietly caustic character. The part was originally going to be played by Jack Benny, whose ill health caused him to have to bow out; that version is hardly imaginable, since Benny's persona was so different from that of Burns. It would have seemed mean for Matthau to be berating Benny, whereas Burns is more than able to hold his own against Matthau's sputtering fury.

Matthau is hilarious throughout, milking his Jewish comedian schtick to the uttermost. He carries the picture for the most part, playing off the neurotic Ben incredibly well. Benjamin overdoes it a bit with his part, but one can understand the feeling that he needs to be a bit larger than life in order to keep Matthau from knocking him completely off the screen. Benjamin isn't helped at all by Simon's script, which grossly overuses the same gag about him having to repeat himself to both of the old men. He's also saddled at one point with an excruciatingly awkward setup line, "How did you find it" that's downright wince-inducing and makes one wonder how Simon ever got a reputation for writing comedy. But from a pure technique aspect, the interaction between the three leads is very much laughter-inducing. Particularly noteworthy is the set piece of the old men when they first meet in Willy's apartment (which looks a bit as if it had been decorated by Oscar Madison). The tension between the two makes for great comedy, especially in their capable hands.

There are some beautiful sequences onscreen as well, most notably the exceedingly long tracking shot backwards that concludes the film, as Burns' voice rambles on. One can hardly ask for a more sentimental picture postcard to conclude, but in the context of the story, it definitely works.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A-


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.85:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: I was ready to criticize the softness of the transfer, but then a look at the extras indicated that the softness is almost certainly intentional. If it had been clearer, the iffy age makeup on Matthau would have been much more apparent. There's decent rendering of grain, although a few sequences (especially toward the end) are rather sparkly. Color is a bit greenish and dated-looking for the most part. The source print is decent, with moderate speckling visible throughout but no major frame damage.

Image Transfer Grade: B-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, Frenchyes

Audio Transfer Review: The 1.0 mono sounds quite acceptable. It's very clear, without any noise or hiss to interfere with the listening experience. Dialogue is quite clear for the most part, though Matthau's muttering is on occasion challenging (but it was back in the theater as well). Willy's teakettle is appropriately piercing, and while there's not any deep bass, the title music has acceptable range without distortion.

Audio Transfer Grade: B


Disc Extras

Static menu with music
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Feature/Episode commentary by Richard Benjamin
Packaging: Snapper
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: RSDL
Layers Switch: 01h:50m:53s

Extra Extras:
  1. Makeup test
  2. Screen test
Extras Review: Warner provides a good array of extras in support of the feature, led by Richard Benjamin's commentary. It starts off shaky, with a tendency to narrate, but stick with it because he has some great anecdotes, especially about Burns. The fawning over Simon's genius gets a bit thick at times, however. The 1975 promotional short The Lion Roars Again (16m:52s) is an interesting look at a studio in denial as MGM tries to pretend it's still the powerhouse of the 1930s and '40s. But the speakers clearly don't seem sincere, and the attending journalists don't seem to buy it either. Among others, the stars of this film are trotted out and a snippet of Burns' monologue and a comic song are seen. There's also coverage of Logan's Run and the premiere of The Wind and the Lion, making it interesting for fans of those pictures as well.

Test material is also included, with over 10 minutes of footage of makeup tests for Benny and Matthau. Unfortunately, sound was not live, so we don't get to hear how Benny might have handled some of the lines (if that's what they're saying). Phil Silvers, who was in contention for the Willy Clark role, is also seen in a screen test with two takes totalling about 3.5 minutes; although the sound is live, he doesn't deliver any dialogue. Wrapping up the package is an anamorphic widescreen trailer that really is more like an EPK fluff piece. What's missing? Well, something about the old vaudeville teams would have been nice; Smith & Dale in particular, whose classic doctor sketch is lifted by Simon for Lewis & Clark's act, only garner a brief mention on Benjamin's commentary and really deserve a bit more acknowledgement.

Extras Grade: B


Final Comments

Comedy sometimes isn't pretty, but it doesn't get much better than Matthau and Burns here. The transfer's probably as good as it reasonably can be, and there are some good extras to go with it.


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