Grumpy Old Men

Grumpy Old Men

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were the peanut butter and jelly of actor pairings, each bringing out the best in the other and always to hilarious results. Grumpy Old Men, released in 1993, was their sixth collaboration, and it proved to be one of the most endearing, with the two aging thespians at their cantankerous best.

John Gustafson (Lemmon) and Max Goldman (Matthau) have lived their entire life in the sleepy town of Wabasha, Minnesota. Freinds since childhood, the two had a falling out when John married Max’s childhood sweetheart, but they eventually patched things up, each finding happiness with their respective families. They now live next door to each other, two old codgers alone in their golden years, and spend plenty of time together ice fishing, incessantly grumbling and insulting each other. They are also not above the occassional practical joke.

Their childhood rivalry is re-awakened when a beautiful widow named Ariel (Ann Margret) moves into the neighborhood. She takes a friendly liking to both, but eventually decides on John. Max doesn’t appreciate this repeat of history and the pair have a falling out that leads to them duking it out.

John feels guilty about the whole affair and dumps Ariel, making Max feel even more guilty. When Christmas Eve arrives, the pair run into each other at a local bar. Max tries to reconcile, but John storms out of the place. As Max is walking home, he finds his friend laying in the snow, the victim of a heart attack. Max has a change of heart as a result and alerts Ariel who rushes to John’s bedside. They reconcile and Max helps his friend by waging battle against an IRS agent who wants to take John’s house because of back taxes. It turns out Max actually has a pretty good heart. Of course, that doesn’t mean that the insults and practical jokes are going to stop anytime soon.

Grumpy Old Men did quite well at the box office, thanks to the magical chemistry between all of the actors. The supporting cast was quite impressive in their own right and included Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollack, Ossie Davis and Buck Henry. Surprisingly, despite the collective talent, they were all upstaged in the film by Burgess Meredith, who plays Lemmon’s father, a devious and dirty old man. Meredith easily steals every scene he is in with his one-liners and during the final credits, a number of outtakes are shown, proving Burgess was just getting warmed up.

With the charm and success of Grumpy Old Men, a sequel was a no-brainer. It arrived two years later as Grumpier Old Men. The original cast was reunited along with a new newcomer to the mix, Sophia Loren. Despite not being quite as charming as the original, it still managed to earn more money, making it the more successful of the two. It would also be the last role for Burgess Meredith, who passed away two years later. Old friends Matthau and Lemmon, on the other hand, would still make two more pictures together – a little grumpier, a little older, and ever as endearing.

If you count Grumpy Old Men as one of your favorite comedy films, we’d love to hear your thoughts in our comments section below, as we tip our hats to Lemmon and Matthau for decades of comedy fun.

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