The reunion of two aging comedians makes for big screen laughs in the 1975 comedy The Sunshine Boys.
Based on the Neil Simon play (who adapted his words for the film), the film was supposed to star Red Skelton and Jack Benny, both who had been vaudeville stars in their past.
But Benny had to withdraw because of illness and recommended his pal George Burns, who also had been a vaudeville star.
Skelton quit because he realized he earned more as a comedian at the time than he would for his role in the movie. He was replaced by the younger Walter Matthau, who was making his name as a crusty character in his chosen roles.
So the story goes – the duo were Lewis (Burns) & Clark ( Matthau), a popular vaudeville act for over 40 years, who 11 years previously split up. But now, a tv show wants to reunite the duo, who haven’t spoken since their split, as Clark’s nephew Ben takes the task of getting these two cantankerous performers to consider their partnership again.
Directed by Herbert Ross, other cast members included Richard Benjamin as Ben, Lee Meredith, F. Murray Abraham, Steve Allen and Phylllis Diller.
Released in November 1975, the film became box office gold, with fans loving the crusty comments and snarky comments tossed about by Burns and Matthau.
George Burns, who hadn’t been in a film in several decades, was nominated and won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor and relaunched his career as a film actor with this role.
The film was nominated for Best Adapted Screenplay and Matthau was nominated for Best Actor, as well as the movie being nominated for several BAFTA and Golden Globe Awards.
A simple premise and a focus on wit, character and aging, this comedy stands up as a testament to writing making the difference.