Had the good fortune the other night, thanks to Turner Classic Movie’s awesome 31 Days of Oscar programming, to re-watch The Sunshine Boys. Written by Neil Simon and starring Walter Matthau and George Burns for those not in the know.
Man oh man, Walter Matthau is fantastic. I think it takes a great actor to convincingly play a much older guy, although you have to admit he does have the natural chops for it. He did the same in the Jack Lemmon-directed Kotch, and I believe was Best Actor-nominated for both performances. Sure, Burns won the much-deserved gold boy for Sunshine, but if you ask me, Matthau blows him off the screen. It’s simply impossible to forget “En-taaa!” and “The finger!” And sure, the movie is packed with Simon’s schmaltz and “ba-dum-bum” one liners, but it works from start to finish– even Richard Benjamin (who stars in the second worst movie ever made, Saturday the 14th) is acceptable in an typically whiny role.
Of course, Matthau’s best performance is in, no not The Odd Couple, not The Fortune Cookie, not Grumpy Old Men, not The Bad News Bears (which is his second greatest role) but The Taking of Pelham One Two Three. Watch it (NOW!) and discover for yourself. I couldn’t do it the proper justice by describing here. Mostly known as a comic actor, Matthau did the drama well also, in Pelham and in films like The Laughing Policeman and Charley Varrick.
One of my favorite, much lesser-known Matthau moments, is his appearance in the gimmicky Earthquake. Of course, Dad took us to see it because of the hilarious and mildly effective “Sensurround”, and was amazed to see an unbilled Matthau in the film, as “Drunk in a Bar”. To double check, he made us stick around for the end credits, something Dad NEVER did, and it turns out Matthau was billed as Walter Matuschanskayasky, which led to rumors that was his real name, natch. But it isn’t. But it’s still funny. And so is Walter Matthau, one of the finest actors ever to grace the screen. There, I said it.
Now do yourself a favor and go watch a Walter Matthau movie. (But not Out to Sea….and not I.Q., even though he’s good in that one too )