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A Brief Appreciation of the 1979 Version of Going in Style Starring George Burns

Posted on the 07 April 2017 by Weminoredinfilm.com @WeMinoredInFilm

A Brief Appreciation of the 1979 Version of Going in Style Starring George Burns

There is a scene in 1979's Going in Style where George Burns cries while looking at his old family photos but then accidentally pisses himself, forcing an embarrassing trek to the nearest bathroom where he bitterly laments, "Crying and pissing in your pants, like a three-month-old baby. I guess the whole damn cycle is complete now."

I don't know if this scene survived into the new remake starring Michael Caine, Morgan Freeman and Alan Arkin, but all signs point to no, not when summarized the remake's connection to its cinematic predecessor as follows: "Trading dry humor and pathos for sitcom beats and sentimentality, this adaptation of Martin Brest's 1979 film (based on a short story by Edward Cannon and starring George Burns, Art Carney and Lee Strasberg) turns a quiet, character-driven piece into a run-of-the-mill collection of high jinks, oldster style."

The general plot of the two identically titled films is the same: three old blue collar retirees decide to rob a bank. However, while the remake, directed by Zach Braff of all people, looks as if it will build to the bank robbery as a climactic comedy setpiece the original is over and done with all of that by the 35-minute market. The remaining hour is a procession of small victories followed by swift defeats, as mortality makes its presence felt and clouds over the three septuagenarians' ill-gotten gains.

It's technically considered a comedy. We know because the above trailer tells us so. Plus, in the actual film the composer keeps throwing jaunty, Vaudeville-esque music at us, as if aggressively screaming, "Three old men robbing a bank? Now I've seen everything! What! They're going to Vegas to gamble with their stolen money? Now I've really seen everything!" But it doesn't really feel funny. Instead, Going in Style is impressively bittersweet, putting its plot into motion not because the men have a score to settle with greedy pension-cutters (as is the way in the remake) but simply because trying to steal some money seems preferable to another lonely day at the park.

It's actually astounding how quickly it all comes together. Burns seemingly decides to rob a bank on a whim, and has talked his friends Carney and Strasberg (in his final film appearance) into it before we've even caught all of their character's names (Burns is Joe, Carney is Al and Strasberg is Willie). From that point forward, it's a classic wish-fulfillment plot, offering it target audience of older viewers a window into how fun it might be to rob a bank and get away with it (or so we hope) and then do anything you wanted with the piles of cash. The experience puts the literal dance back into Al's step, causing Joe to happily observe, "Feels great to be doing something, huh."

The whole things plays out like a more somber version of The Bucket List where the characters' list consists solely of two items: 1. Rob a bank. 2. Figure out what to do with the cash after robbing the bank. Not surprisingly, that last item quickly turns into helping out the kids and grandkids, solely represented here by Al's mechanic/bartender son and adorable granddaughter. However, you don't call something Going in Style and not deliver on the central promise of the title. Thus, not all of the characters make it, but they go out having fun, re-finding a purpose in life and getting to experience the type of things the rest of the world commonly assigns to people half their age.

Have you ever seen Going in Style? Did you, like me, not even know the new film was a remake until recently? Let me know in the comments.


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