36 Films: Grumpy Old Men (1993)

For 36 days straight, we’ll be exploring the famous 36 Dramatic Situations by presenting a film that exemplifies each one. From family killing family to prisoners in need of asylum, we brush off the 19th century list in order to remember that it’s still incredibly relevant today.

Whether you’re seeking a degree in Literature, love movies, or just love seeing things explode, our feature should have something for everyone. If it doesn’t, please don’t hide a dead fish in our backseat.

Part 11 of the 36-part series takes a look at “Rivalry of Kinsmen” with Grumpy Old Men.

The Synopsis

Elder gentlemen John Gustafson and Max Goldman have been competitive frien-emies since childhood. The two have been enjoying a relatively peaceful retirement as next door neighbors and habitual fisherman; that is, until Ariel – a rambunctious and attractive free-spirited woman – moves across the street from the two, at which point John and Max become equally smitten and further ignite their long-time willingness to battle one another for top prize.

The Situation

“Rivalry of Kinsmen” – This situation involves two persons of relation, or friends, fighting over an object or the affection of another, whether that be a love interest or of another kin.

Grumpy Old Men treads the non-blood relation variety even though the two main characters interact with one another very similarly to that of siblings. They’ve known one another for most of their lives and their bitterness towards each other is almost always playfully endearing. They’re constantly at each other’s throats, but seem reluctant to part because that’s just how they are and appear to like it that way, even when they’re not fighting for the attention of a common female companion.

The Movie

Grumpy Old Men reunited one of the best onscreen comic teams of their time in Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, probably most famously in their pairing in 1968’s The Odd Couple. The two teamed up a few times more in the 1970s and once again in 1981 for Billy Wilder’s final picture Buddy Buddy, but didn’t headline a comedy together again until this film in 1993 – and even after nearly a decade apart the magic hadn’t at all faded.

The chemistry on display between the two as they each try and one-up each other, back-and-forth throughout the entire film is unmistakably the work of two seasoned comic actors who have built a familiarity with one another over the course of numerous pictures together, and that familiarity of not only them to each other but of the audience with them together adds to the history of the characters that we’re supposed to buy into. It’s much easier for us to believe two men as lifelong friends if we’re watching two men who we’ve seen together many times over the course of tens of years.

What takes Grumpy Old Men over the edge is the character work of the supporting actors, with Burgess Meredith being the standout as the obscene Grandpa Gustafson who doesn’t just steal scenes, he takes them hostage and threatens to shoot if they try and run away. There simply just isn’t a dull moment when he’s spouting metaphors and giving advice. Even the outtakes that play during the end credits can’t run from him.

Over the course of the next five years the two would appear together four more times – almost as many times as they appeared together prior to Grumpy Old Men over fifteen years – which included a sequel to this film and to their other more famous pairing in The Odd Couple. While Grumpier Old Men was certainly a more than decent sequel (thanks largely to more Meredith material) Grumpy Old Men most exemplified the comic chops of both actors as they came into their twilight years, with just enough heart to complement their tug of war over Ann-Margaret and fishing superiority.

Bonus Examples: Little Giants, Becket, The Ten Commandments

Click here to read our entire series of 36 Dramatic Situations, 36 Movies

Supplication – The Most Dangerous Game

Deliverance – The Rescuers

Crime Pursued By Vengeance – Death Wish

Vengeance Taken For Kindred Upon Kindred – The Lion King

Pursuit – Silence of the Lambs

Disaster – Airplane!

Falling Prey to Cruelty/Misfortune – Misery

Revolt – Lucky Number Slevin

Daring Enterprise – The Professionals

Abduction – The Chaser

The Enigma – Se7en

Obtaining – There Will Be Blood

Enmity of Kin – Once Were Warriors

Rivalry of Kin – Grumpy Old Men

Murderous Adultery – Match Point

Madness – Grizzly Man

Fatal Imprudence – The Fly

Involuntary Crimes of Love – Oldboy

Slaying of Kin Unrecognized – Halloween

Self-sacrifice for an Ideal – Hunger

Self-sacrifice for Kin – Harakiri

All Sacrificed for Passion – A Single Man

Necessity of Sacrificing Loved Ones – The Seventh Continent

Rivalry of Superior vs Inferior – Toy Story

Adultery – In the Mood For Love

Crimes of Love – Dog Day Afternoon

Discovery of the Dishonor of a Loved One – Festen

Obstacles to Love – I Love You Phillip Morris

An Enemy Loved – Underworld

Ambition – Wall Street

Conflict With a God – The Truman Show

Mistaken Jealousy – My Best Friend’s Wedding

Erroneous Judgment – The Contender

Remorse – In Bruges

Recovery of a Lost One – Gone Baby Gone

Loss of Loved Ones – Dear Zachary

Adam Charles has been a film fantatic and unhealthily obsessive purchaser of films he's never seen since the late '90s. He's lived in Austin, TX since 1992 and dropped out of college when he realized his full time job would better fund his dvd (now blu-ray) and movie poster addiction than his passion probably ever could. He is nearly out of financial debt, but it's gonna be another decade or so before he catches up on watching everything he's irresponsibly purhcased. He has written in the past for Collider.com and Horrorsnotdead.com, and can be found on twitter as @the_beef - a label he's had since well before Shia LeBeouf was even a sperm and therefore Adam wins.

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