The Sons of Katie Elder

The Sons of Katie Elder
"First, we reunite, then find Ma and Pa's killer...then read some reviews."

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Tough Guys

Two of the biggest stars of the 1940s, 1950s and 1960s, Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas were frequent collaborators during their distinguished careers, doing seven films together. The two best -- for me -- are Gunfight at the O.K. Corral and Seven Days in May, but I've seen a couple others. Well, here's their last venture together, 1986's Tough Guys.

Having served 30 years in prison, Harry Doyle (Lancaster) and Archie Long (Douglas) have finally earned their parole. The veteran bank robbers are reintroduced to a world vastly different than the one they left. Now 72-year old Harry and 67-year old Archie have to figure things out if they hope to make it on the outside, starting with their new living arrangements. Because of his age, Harry is forced to live in a retirement home while Archie moves in at a small apartment and tries to hold down minimum wage jobs. Can they handle their new lives? Can 1980s Los Angeles possibly handle them? The two friends and ex-cons are going to try their hardest, but their checkered pasts may pop up to slow them down and make their readjustment that much harder...if they get through it at all.

As I watched this 1980s action-comedy from director Jeff Kanew, a thought crossed my mind. That can be pretty rare so I've gotta enjoy them when they make their appearances. You know that movie is? A forerunner for a whole sub-genre of flicks that seemed to pop up in the 1990s and still appear here and there. The OLD GUY movie! Since 1986, we've seen the Grumpy Old Men movies, My Fellow Americans, Last Vegas, and probably a bunch more I'm not thinking of. It isn't a good movie, but it is mildly entertaining, most of that because the talent involved is very impressive. It has some laughs but also tries really hard to get those laughs.

It's a premise that would be used in far better fashion some seven years later in The Shawshank Redemption when James Whitmore's Brooks is paroled and discovers a world nothing like the one he left. Here, the goal obviously isn't on the same dramatic level. It's laughs. So what do we get? Two old pros in Lancaster and Douglas wearing some impeccably stylish and impeccably dated hats and fedoras navigating Los Angeles. They're still tough guys, handling street toughs (typically with a swift kick to the crotch), dancing like a crazy person at a night club, and even stumbling into their old watering hole only to find that the bar is now...a gay bar! Oh, the hijinks people will get into, huh?!?

Still, it's Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas. Yeah, there are times where you feel like they're far, far better than the source material. Okay, basically the entire movie. These guys are Hollywood legends for a reason, and they don't disappoint. They commit to the script and the parts, breathing some energy into a movie that would have been dead on arrival without that energy. Setting the story in 1980s L.A. does add a fun flavor to the story, and the duo has a great chemistry throughout. Their dynamic reminded me of Paul Newman and Robert Redford as Butch and Sundance if they had made it out of Bolivia. Their dialogue just flows as smoothly as possible. They're got their routines, they've got their plans in a row, and at times, they bitch and moan at each other like an old married couple. About what you'd expect to see from two guys who spent 30 years in jail together. A movie worth watching because of Lancaster and Douglas.

Who else to look out for? Charles Durning as the cop who put Harry and Archie away some 30 years ago and is now suspicious of what they're up to, Alexis Smith as a former flame from Harry's past, a young Dana Carvey as the duo's adoring parole officer, Darlanne Fluegel as a much younger woman who's drawn to Archie's manliness, and Eli Wallach as a bespectacled killer looking to take the train-robbing duo out after years of waiting for a chance.

By the hour-mark, things get a little more predictable than they already were. They struggle to adjust? Ah what?!? Their solution makes perfect sense as they turn back to a life of crime. It gets goofy at times and downright dumb at others, especially the closing scene. But all that said, it's still Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas.

Tough Guys (1986): ** 1/2 /****


  1. hard movie to find. i always enjoyed the simplicity of it. an ATLANTIC CITY for thoughtless hangover days.

  2. I was able to catch it on one of the Showtimes I think.