Lancaster & Douglas Growing Old Disgracefully
After 6 movies together starting with "I Walk Alone", "Tough Guys" was the 7th and last movie to see Hollywood legends Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas join forces on the big screen. It's a movie which works because of the pairing; they are familiar, believable even though the movie, being a comedy, at times seems to parody their own iconic status. As such "Tough Guys" is a movie which for those who grew up watching Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas cement their iconic status with more serious movies may struggle to really enjoy. But for those who didn't, it is a very entertaining movie which focuses on old friends trying to find dignity in a world they are not accustomed to, playing greatly on the humour of the situation and growing old disgracefully.
Having spent 30 years locked up for staging the last train robbery, Harry (Burt Lancaster - Local Hero) & Archie (Kirk Douglas - The War Wagon) are finally getting out of prison. But the world has changed a lot since they were put inside and whilst Archie is given a job by his parole officer, Harry is sent to an old people's home. With both struggling to make a go of things as they are treated disrespectfully by those around them they decide to do what they do best and return to a life of crime. But with a hit man for some reason intent on killing them and the cop who banged them up also tracking their every move it's never going to be easy.
"Tough Guys" starts brilliantly setting up the characters of Harry and Archie as they are preparing to leave prison with Harry the older one of the pair seeming to reminisce about their great escapades which lead them to spend 30 years banged up whilst Archie, and remember Kirk Douglas who was nearly 70 when this was made, pumping iron and showing off a physique superior too many men half his age. It's a great intro setting up the almost odd couple friendship with Harry being more cautious and intent on going straight where Archie still has the urge to commit crime. This element is built upon as Harry is packed off to an old people's home whilst Archie gets to work, where they both struggle to maintain their sense of self and dignity in a world vastly different to how they remembered it.
It's the first half of "Tough Guys" which focuses on them trying to go straight and settle into the new world where it is at it's best with plenty of humour in both situations from Archie picking up a young gym instructor whilst Harry rebels against the old people's home undignified regime. The humour is also laced with a touch of comic sadness such as when they realise the old joints they use to hang out in have either gone or are seriously changed, such as the humorous scene in Mickey's where Archie is basically propositioned by another man. It all works well even though a lot of it feels a little over the top with scenes like Archie trying to look modern being extremely cheesy, but then it is also funny because it is Kirk Douglas basically making a joke of his own tough guy status.
It's when "Tough Guys" gets passed all the humour of Harry & Archie trying to go straight that it starts to lose its way and with them deciding to do what they do best and return to a life of crime it struggles. It sort of becomes a little mundane and loses the humour which made the first half so enjoyable. But even so ,it's not terrible and between Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas they make it work because the pairing are as sharp as ever delivering great comic timing even when the material they are working with isn't that great.
Aside from the issues with the second half of the movie there are other issues. The story about Leon B. Little a short sighted hit man who tries to kill Harry & Archie is weak and poor old Eli Wallach, who stood in when the original actor chosen to play the role died just before shooting, struggles to make it anything other than a clumsy unneeded addition. Plus the storyline of cop Deke Yablonski played by Charles Durning who having arrested them back in the 50s now has an almost vendetta against them is nothing more than padding. Shame as the idea of their arch nemesis trying to bring them down once more is good; it's just that it's not worked properly during the movie.
But it is the partnership of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas which is what makes "Tough Guys" the entertaining movie which it is. Despite almost making light of their legendary tough guy status they still add some class to the movie and more importantly they are believable. In the scenes together the dialogue between them flows effortlessly as natural as two old friends just chatting normally. But it's also their delivery, when they say "Dame" or "Holy Macaroni" it's got that old style feel to it being both charming yet also amusing.
What this all boils down to is that "Tough Guys" is for me a very entertaining movie which is sadly spoiled by a couple of extra unnecessary storylines and not enough grip on the second half of the movie. Its good fun as we watch two old timers trying to go straight in a world which seems to find being old undignified and at times is a little touching in a nostalgic sort of way. But it is the pairing of Burt Lancaster and Kirk Douglas which makes it all the better, they are believable and deliver such a great sense of comic timing which makes even the silliest of moments amusing.