Sunday, September 6, 2009

GRUMPY OLD MEN - Blu-ray (WB 1993) Warner Home Video

Conceived as something of a reunion for one time ‘Odd Couple’ costars, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, Donald Petrie’s Grumpy Old Men (1993) is a delightfully acidic romantic comedy charting the exploits of two elderly and very adversarial Wabasha Minnesota bachelors destined to remain the best of friends.

The script by Mark Steven Johnson is devilishly clever and multilayered, superbly tying together a history of gross miscalculations between two men that have paved the way for the current series of subplots that begin to unravel almost from the moment the film begins.

Since the death of his wife May, retired school teacher John Gustafson (Lemmon) has lived his life in relative obscurity. John’s daughter, Melanie (Darryl Hannah) is estranged from her husband, Mike (Christopher MacDonald) and much his concern. Also on John’s plate is immediate eviction from his home after the IRS perceive that he is $30,000 behind in his taxes. Paramount in John’s life is his tempestuous relationship with neighbor, Max Goldman (Matthau). The two simply hate each other – though the ‘why’ at the crux of their mutual disdain will only later yield to cooler reason.

Both men are stirred to romantic thoughts upon the arrival of eclectic free spirit, Ariel Truax (Ann-Margaret). A sculptor/painter with laissez faire ideas about living life to its fullest, Ariel makes her initial move on John and the two become lovers. However, when John believes he has nothing to offer Ariel apart from himself he quietly breaks her heart, allowing Max to move right in.

Meanwhile, John attempts to clumsily entangle Melanie in a romance with Max’s single son, Jacob (Kevin Pollak). The two were once high school sweethearts. However, when Melanie awkwardly arrives to visit John for Christmas with Mike in tow she effectively deflates both John and Jacob’s hopes for rekindling that romance. Depressed and alone, John ventures into the cold and suffers a near fatal heart attack.

Max and Ariel rush to John’s side and Jacob – the newly appointed mayor of Wabasha - thwarts the IRS foreclosure on John’s home with Max cutting a check to make certain John will remain his neighbor for many years to come. Ariel confesses to Max that she loves John and the two are married before the final fade out.

Grumpy Old Men was a colossal success upon its release, grossing more than $70 million and virtually resurrecting the screen careers of both Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon who would continue to work in films until their respective deaths. Viewed today, the film retains its bitter edge of dark, often sexually risqué humor; particularly in the crude barbs randomly pitched by actor Burgess Meredith; cast as John’s randy father, Grandpa J.W. Gustafson. But it’s the feel good crescendo at the end of the story that remains in our hearts after the final fade out.

Warner Home Video has at long last done the film justice with an anamorphic 1080p Blu-Ray transfer that easily bests its own slip-shod full frame standard DVD. There is no comparison between these two discs to intelligently speak of. The Blu-Ray’s refined image captures the subtle starkness of John E. Jensen’s cinematography. Flesh tones appear slightly pinkish but fine detail is evident throughout as is film grain. The audio is True HD Dolby 2.0 and adequate for this presentation.

The one failing of this disc is that Warner Home Video has not seen fit to give us even a brief featurette or retrospective on either the film or the careers of its two memorable costars. A theatrical trailer is the only extra feature. Nevertheless, recommended.

FILM RATING (out of 5 - 5 being the best)



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