By all rights, I suppose I should like The Sunshine Boys (1975). I generally like Walter Matthau. I like George Burns (though I like him better with Gracie Allen). I like Richard Benjamin (though I like him better with Paula Prentiss). I don’t mind director Herbert Ross (though he’s always struck me as the poor man’s George Cukor.) But the truth is I find the film close to unbearable — and I’ve tried it at least five times over the years, thinking I’ll suddenly “get it.” Every time I bump into it on TCM, I’ll at least kind of watch it. I tried it again for this showing. Nothing. I know a lot of people love it, but all I see are largely unpleasant characters yelling at each other for what seems like hours. The only exception is George Burns, who seems merely bemused by the whole thing, and who — quietly — says the only sensible lines in the show. I suspect the truth is — and I know this is heresy — I don’t much like Neil Simon’s brand of comedy. And I definitely don’t like the school of comedy that insists a thing is funny if the dialogue is shouted.
As a film, The Sunshine Boys is a solid enough version of a play — with everything that implies. But it is competent enough. The premise is on the shaky side because there never seems any very compelling reason to get these former vaudevillians back together to perform their very broad and very loud act one more time for a TV show. But as I say, a lot of folks seem to be gaga about this. I’m just not one of them. Burns is good though, and if you look fast you’ll see a young F. Murray Abraham as a car mechanic.
The Hendersonville Film Society will show The Sunshine Boys Sunday, July 6, at 2 p.m. in the Smoky Mountain Theater at Lake Pointe Landing Retirement Community (behind Epic Cinemas), 333 Thompson St., Hendersonville.