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Harry and Archie are released from prison ready to collect their Social Security. How could they get into trouble at their age? Let's count the ways; A parole officer who is a famous criminal groupie, Dead end where people don't know they are dealing with dangerous, though older, criminals, a hit man who can barely see, but who still has an outstanding contract on them. Does anyone still rob trains?Written by
John Vogel <firstname.lastname@example.org>
The 1980s was a period of transition as many great film legends died. Cary Grant, Bette Davis, Lawrence Olivier, Fred Astaire, Jimmy Cagney were just a few of those who left the scene. But there were attempts (before the end) to bring some of the great figures together. Bette Davis and Jimmy Steward made there only film together. Henry Fonda and Katherine Hepburn did ON GOLDEN POND. Cagney appeared with pal Pat O'Brien, as well as Donald O'Connor, in RAGTIME. Davis appeared with Lillian Gish, Anne Southern, and Vincent Price in THE WHALES OF AUGUST. And Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas appeared in this film.
In the Oscar ceremonies of 1985, Lancaster and Douglas had come in together to deliver an award, and everyone noted how healthy both men still were. It was over two decades since they appeared in a film as co-stars (SEVEN DAYS IN MAY), and some of the news items in the wake of their appearance suggested it was too bad there was no property that they could develop together. Shortly afterward this comedy was produced.
It had a great build-up, and I was fortunate to see it in a movie house. But it did not have a massive audience box-office, and was gone within six weeks. It was too bad, because it was a funny film, and would turn out to be the best comedy buddy film of the films that they did together.
Harry and Archie (Lancaster and Douglas) pulled off one of the smoothest and most impressive railway train robberies in American history back in 1947. They almost got away with it, except for the persistence of a police officer (played by Charles Durning) who broke the case and managed to bring them to jail. They have served nearly forty years in jail, and when released they are in for time shocks. After all, they were used to the world of 1946/47. While both are physically fit, both can't get out of their mental views from their youth.
On top of that, they have to deal with Durning, whose police career - after it's brilliant start - petered out leaving him embittered, and desperate to prove himself to the young pups who count the days until his enforced retirement. They have to deal with parole officer Dana Carvey, who has all the typical problems of a nice, naive parole officer. They have to deal with hostility around them from all peoples - mostly the young, but the middle aged are not much better. They resemble Reggie Kray, one time kingpin of London's largest criminal empire, who in his later years when interviewed pointed out to reporters that (while he did not dismiss his own use of violence against opponents in other gangs) he did dislike the lack of respect he observed towards older citizens. He and his brother Ronnie never stood for that kind of thing. Neither do Harry and Archie here. When threatened as easy, elderly targets by a gang of punks, they beat up the punks quite effectively.
To add to their woes is the most ridiculous, but scrupulous, hit-man in modern cinema: Leon B. Little (Eli Wallach - who almost walks off with the picture). Hired on a contract against the boys back in their heyday, their being in prison prevented the ever ready Little from completing their executions. Even the death of the idiot who hired him means nothing - he was paid already, and he has a code of honor with his clients.
That in the end, the battle of youth and old age unites Lancaster, Douglas, Wallach, and even Durning should not surprise anyone. All four manage to demonstrate that it is street smarts and brains, not youthful idealism (paging Carvey) that will win out in the end. The film has some nice moments, such as Douglas almost going in for dirty dancing with a young chippy, and Lancaster protesting the slop he has to eat in an old age home, and memorably showing his teeth to advantage for a purpose (for a change). It was a good conclusion to the long road of movies these two cinema giants made together - and a funny one too.
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