Wednesday, May 26, 2004

Video: Going in Style (1979)

Warners has finally released this little gem on DVD. Three Queens retirees (George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg) decide to break up the monotony of their golden years by robbing a Manhattan bank. It’s a low-key caper in the vein of the Italian classic BIG DEAL ON MADONNA STREET, but with a more bittersweet taste. Burns, unafraid to play his age, gives a wonderful performance.

Writer/director Martin Brest was just starting out when he made this film. He would go on to become the master of smart action/comedy with BEVERLY HILLS COP and MIDNIGHT RUN, one of the best studio films of the ‘80s. How he ended up being responsible for the criminal bloat of MEET JOE BLACK is one of Hollywood’s greatest mysteries. His last film GIGLI seemed like a conscious attempt to revisit the form where he first found success, a dialogue-driven character piece with a relaxed plot. GIGLI is a failure, but at least it’s an interesting failure. Brest was attempting to say something about gender roles, although I’ll be damned if I can tell you what it is. Maybe his problem is that he made his movie about senior citizens when he was a young pup, and now he’s trying to relate to the kids when he’s getting on in years.

He should have done a commentary track. It might have made him feel better. The DVD’s only extra is a good one, though: a clip from Dinah Shore’s talk show featuring Carney and Burns.

I have a special place in my heart for this movie because it was filmed in my old neighborhood. In 1978 my mother and I were walking back from Steinway Street in Astoria and stumbled onto the crew. We hung around for most of the afternoon watching them shoot a single scene. You can see it about 31 minutes into the movie: as all three actors cross a street, Burns throws up his hand to stop a van from barreling into the intersection. In the movie the van looks close enough to bowl them over, but it actually came to a halt several yards away. It was strange watching the scene 25 years later, knowing that I was standing on the other side of the camera when it was shot. It provoked an almost Proustian reverie. Almost.