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Film / Secondhand Lions

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"Sometimes, the things that may or may not be true are the things a man needs to believe in the most. That people are basically good; that honor, courage and virtue mean everything... that good always triumphs over evil; and I want you to remember this, that love... true love never dies."
Hub McCann

In this 2003 film set in the 1960s, Walter Caldwell (Haley Joel Osment) is dumped off on his great uncles by his ditzy mom Mae (Kyra Sedgwick), who says she needs some time to herself so she can go to court reporting school. The uncles, Hub (Robert Duvall) and Garth McCann (Michael Caine), don't like having a "kid" around cramping their style, but eventually warm to him, and he to them. The uncles are a little... eccentric (they fish by shooting bass with their shotguns, and spend their days chasing off traveling salesmen... with their shotguns), but time proves them to be surprisingly capable foster dads. Walter is awed by Hub's crazy ways, while Garth spins tales of their adventuring days of yore. Are any of the stories true — including the one about the uncles sitting on a hidden stash of plundered wealth? And how did they afford to buy that lion?

Co-produced by New Line Cinema and Digital Domain.

This movie provides examples of:

  • The Alleged Car: Garth and Hub drive a rusty old truck.
  • All Girls Want Bad Boys: Mae apparently has a thing for crooks. When Walter asks if her new beau Stan has already hit her, she flat-out yells at her son that it does not matter at all.
  • Ambiguous Criminal History: The origin of Hub and Garth's fortune is left purposefully ambiguous, but rumors from various people around town and in various deleted scenes imply that they amassed it through Bank Robbery.
  • "Arabian Nights" Days: The mundane version.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: While telling off Mae about her choice of beaus, Walter asks her: "Has he [Stan] hit you yet?"
  • Artistic License – Gun Safety: Played for laughs. When going after Jasmine the Lion because they think she's mauling Walter, the group includes a young girl who clearly won't be able to handle the recoil of the shotgun she's holding and two boys who aren't big enough to handle a shotgun each so the bigger one holds grip while the smaller one supports the barrel.
  • Assassin Outclassin': The evil Sheik sends a number of assassins after Hub and Jasmine after their first encounters, and all of them came up short (save one who was Garth in disguise, playing along so the two could defeat the Sheik once and for all).
  • Asskicking Leads to Leadership: The brothers McCann are able to assume control of any situation by being calmly assertive. And armed.
  • Badass Boast: Hub lists what he's done in his Glory Days, as he's choking a teenager.
    "I'm Hub McCann. I've fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I've seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I've won and lost a dozen fortunes, KILLED MANY MEN and loved only one woman with a passion a FLEA like you could never begin to understand. That's who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!"
  • The Bad Guy Wins: Strangely, the quote from the Karma Houdini entry below is the page quote for this trope, even though the example is closer to Zigzagged. But in the end, it's technically Averted. Hub gets his girl, the Sheik becomes very wealthy due to profits from oil, and is apparently still living large at the end of the film... but as Hub's Friendly Enemy, if the alternate ending is to be taken as canon. So the bad guy didn't so much as win as he did get a separate Happily Ever After, leaving the whole situation as a draw.
  • Bank Robbery: Implied by Stan to be how the uncles got their money. A series of deleted scenes gave further hints that the uncles may have been a set of notorious bandits who robbed banks while wearing Santa suits with fake beards to mask their identities.
  • Because You Were Nice to Me: Jasmine was an old lazy lioness who didn't even bother to attack Hub even though he planned on shooting her for sport. But was really grouchy and didn't like Hub's relatives. However because Walter fed and took care of her, she treated him with near kitten like affection. She eventually died trying to protect Walter from Stan. Hub and Garth also count, because they only gave a damn about Walter for the very same reason.
  • Beef Bandage: After Hub beats up some thugs, he gives them some meat to press against their bruises.
  • Betrayal by Inaction: When Mae brings Stan to the McCann farm in an effort to try and turn Walter against Garth and Hub and find their money, Stan takes him off for a "man-to-man talk". Mae just turns away while Stan takes her son behind the barn and tries to beat information out of him (though it's possible she went back into the house to get Hub and Garth for help). A later conversation indicates she was aware of his abusive tendencies already but tells Walter she has no choice but to marry him. This is finally the last straw for Walter and he decides to leave his mother for good.
  • Big Brother Instinct: Hub to Garth in their youth. In their final years, Garth inverts this from time to time.
  • Bittersweet Ending: The two uncles die after the kid grows up and moves out on his own. But dammit if they don't go out in the coolest way possible.
  • Black Humor: The uncles' death. We see the airplane embedded in the barn...upside-down.
  • Bookends: The beginning and the end of the movie are set in the present, the rest some decades previous.
  • Borrowed Catchphrase: Cornered by Stan, Walter remembers the part of the story where Hub told the Sheik "Defend yourself!" so Walter says the same thing to Stan before unleashing a Groin Attack.
  • Brainless Beauty: Mae is quite beautiful, but sadly, is rather dim-witted.
  • Bullying a Dragon: The lead-in to the bar fight scene. Hub might be old, but he's a good twice your size, and doesn't look like he's particularly interested in sharing his barbecue, or amused by your hoodlum antics. Do you really want to pick a fight with him?
  • Call to Agriculture: Invoked. Garth wants himself and Hub to tend a small garden because, according to him, it's just something that retired people do.
  • Captain Ersatz: The comics Walter draws in the end are obviously inspired by Calvin and Hobbes, though it might be a little cloudy since they were drawn in Real Life by Berke Breathed.
  • Character Filibuster: Without the stigma. Uncle Hub's "What every boy needs to know about being a man" speech. Since such matters have a tendency to be seen as subjective, it's mostly just alluded to.
  • Comedic Sociopathy: Hub and Garth shooting at the salesmen. Taken even further in a deleted scene: Walter catches Garth mailing requests for companies to send salesmen to the house. Garth explains that Hub needs something to keep himself occupied. Let that sink in. He was requesting that salesmen come to the house just so he and Hub could shoot at them.
  • Cool Old Guy: Both uncles, but especially Hub whose adventures in Garth's stories are as bombastic and inspiring as those found in pulp novels.
  • Cool Uncle: Hub and Garth.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Thanks to one particularly persistent traveling salesman, Hub and Garth begin buying frivolous items simply because they can afford them. Including an enormous yacht that they plant in the middle of their tiny fish pond.
  • Consummate Liar: Mae so much. Over the course of the film, Walter figures this out the hard way. It reaches a point where he leaves her after discovering that her boyfriend will be staying with them after said boyfriend attacked Walter.
  • Crazy Enough to Work: The uncles allow Walter to stick around mainly to annoy their gold-digging relatives. Uncle Garth gives similar approval to Walter's suggestion that they find out what traveling solicitors are selling before shooting at them.
  • Curb-Stomp Battle: Stan vs. Jasmine the Lion. Had she not got that fatal heart attack, he likely wouldn't have gotten out of it alive. Still, he gets a really nasty mauling.
  • Death by Childbirth: Jasmine (the princess). The baby died with her.
  • Death Seeker: Subtle, but it becomes apparent that Uncle Hub is seeking death.
  • Defrosting Ice King: Hub and Garth eventually warm up to Walter and legally adopt him.
  • Delayed Reaction: Stan doesn’t think too much at first when he sees Jasmine running towards him when he’s beating up Walter. Once the realization sets in, he slowly develops an Oh, Crap! reaction.
  • Delinquents: A handful of teenage hoodlums get their backsides handed to them by the Retired Badass.
  • Diner Brawl: The incident with the aforementioned delinquents.
  • Disappeared Dad: The only thing we know about Walter's father is that he's been dead for a long time (although it's implied that Mae was actually a hooker).
  • Distant Finale: The movie ends with Walter getting notice of Hub and Garth's deaths, long after he's moved out and become a successful Sequential Artist.
  • The Ditz: Mae in a nutshell.
  • Do Wrong, Right: The delinquent diner brawl includes Hub correcting their knife-fighting technique.
  • Dual Wielding: The Sheikh grabs a pair of swords for his final fight with Hub.
  • Dramatic Gun Cock: A couple times. With shotguns, as it should be.
  • Establishing Character Moment: The uncles are introduced via various "Keep Out" signs along their extensive driveway, and when we see them they're both shooting fish in their pond with shotguns.
  • Everybody Has Standards:
    • The McCann's money grubbing relatives and the hoodlums who tried to assault Hub all pitch in without hesitation when they hear that Walter might be in danger from a wild animal.
    • It can be assumed that Mae went back inside the house to get Hub and Garth for help after Stan took Walter into the barn to interrogate him.
  • Evil Uncle: Briefly implied, subverted, but ultimately averted.
  • Eyepatch of Power: The Sheikh.
  • First-Person Peripheral Narrator: Squared. The film is told from Walter's point of view as an adult looking back, and Garth narrates the flashbacks to their adventures in the same way.
  • Friendly Enemy: We find out at the end of the movie that the Sheikh and Hub become this.
  • Foil: Jasmine the Lion serves as this to Mae. Jasmine dies protecting Walter from Stan, whereas Mae failed to protect the boy. Jasmine is loyal to her loved ones, whereas Mae shows little loyalty to or concern for her son.
  • Framing Device: Walter's story about his uncles. Garth tells stories about his adventures with Hub as a story-within-a-story.
  • The Friendly Texan: The Brothers Mc Cann reveal themselves to be Friendly Texans as they take care of their great-nephew, Walter. Garth, in particular, is quick to show a friendly, sociable demeanor. His brother, Hub, takes a bit longer to reveal his true colors, but he's nursing some deep emotional sorrows that needed to be worked out, first. When fighting a group of hooligans, he's actually jovial and even gives them sincere advice on how to fight while fighting them. Then he gives them his "What Every Boy Needs to Know About Being a Man" speech.
  • Glory Days: Garth tells Walter stories about the adventures he had with Hub when they were much younger.
  • Great Way to Go: "Going out with your boots on."
  • Groin Attack: Walter buys himself time to run away from Stan by striking Stan's groin first.
    Walter: Defend yourself!
  • A Handful for an Eye: In the assassins flashback, Jasmine blinds an assassin by throwing flour in his face.
  • Helping Another Save Face: Word of God is that this is done mutually between the Brothers McCann and Walter when they try to get him to return to their farm. They tell him that they have better maps than the one he's using at the farm, and since, as Hub notes, Walter irritates the relatives seeking their money to no end, Walter offers to stay long enough to annoy the hangers-on into leaving. This allows Walter to return without it looking like he was upset about his mother, and without the McCann brothers looking like they missed his company.
  • Hero of Another Story: The Sheikh may have been one: his grandson tells an older Walter that he was raised on stories of his (the Sheikh's) youth, much like Walter was with Hub and Garth.
  • Heroic Sacrifice: Jasmine the Lion dies while mauling Stan to save Walter. Poor thing had too much excitement.
  • Hidden Depths: The climax heavily implies that Mae shows a small measurement of concern for Walter and this is evidenced at least twice. First when she goes back into the house (presumably to get Hub and Garth for help) and finally when she decides to let Walter go, essentially disowning him in a heartbreaking way.
  • Hollywood Density: Lampshaded by Walter in the assassins flashback, when he points out that all that gold would have weighed Garth down far too much for him to do any swordfighting.
  • Horrible Judge of Character: Walter thinks this way about Mae loving crooks, and he flat-out tells her so about Stan:
    "You're always picking losers, and he's the worst of them all!"
  • Ironic Echo: Written, not verbal: When Walter is being driven up to his uncles' house he reads a sign warning "Turn Back Now" which is the uncles' warning to trespassers. When he's being driven away towards the end of the film he looks back and sees the sign again, just before begging Mae to let him stay.
    • Also, when they see Stan all bandaged up from being mauled by Jasmine, the uncles taunt him with the same threat he said to Walter: "We can be friends... or we can be enemies."
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Though Hub and Garth are rather standoffish to Walter at first, they're never cruel to him. They're mostly sick of relatives always trying to grab their money, which is exactly what Mae intended. They eventually warm up to him and even take on full custody of him from his greedy and neglectful mother after she showed her intention to still marry Stan, a man who attacked Walter.
  • Karma Houdini: The Sheikh. A lampshade is hung on this by Walter:
    Walter: What?! The bad guy gets filthy rich? What the heck kind of story ends that way?
  • List-of-Experiences Speech: Hub lists what he's done in his Glory Days to show the teenage hoodlums just how much they suck in comparison.
    "I'm Hub McCann. I've fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I've seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I've won and lost a dozen fortunes, KILLED MANY MEN and loved only one woman with a passion a FLEA like you could never begin to understand. That's who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!"
  • Mama Lion: Not Walter's actual mother, but Jasmine the lion, in the above mentioned Heroic Sacrifice.
  • Man of Wealth and Taste: The Sheikh of course.
  • Mook Chivalry: Non-video game example: when flashback!Hub assaults the Sheikh's harem, the guards try to fight him off one at a time.
    • Also during the bar fight with the hoodlums - enforced at gunpoint. After all, Hub just got out of the hospital, but Garth isn't going to ruin ALL of Hub's fun. He has the leader go first and insists he take his knife back, and lets him get trashed for a bit before letting the others join in.
  • Mugging the Monster: Those teenagers really should learn to respect their elders.
  • Never Wake Up a Sleepwalker: Garth says this to Walter when Hub is sleepwalking, warning that, "last time I tried to wake him he nearly tore my head off."
  • Non-Human Sidekick: Jasmine the lion.
  • Not Even Bothering with the Accent: The whole thing takes place in Texas, and Mae has a pronounced Southern accent. Walter, though, doesn't even show a hint of one.
    • Michael Caine as Garth barely bothers with a Texas accent. His partial English accent is explained by having him live abroad (including British South Africa) during most of his life.
  • Once More, with Clarity: When telling Walter how they finally defeated the Sheik, Garth says that he took point in the opening of the battle, and the flashback shows Garth throwing off his disguise and beating all the mooks senseless while Hub looks on. When Walter asks how he could have done so while weighed down with pounds of gold, Garth sheepishly admits that Hub helped out a little... and the same sequence plays only Hub breaks out of his chains and beats all the mooks while Garth struggles to even reach his pistol.
  • Oh, Crap!: Stan, when he realizes that one of the world's fiercest predators is charging at him. Nasty mauling ensues.
  • Ooh, Me Accent's Slipping: Michael Caine actually manages to hold a passable rendering of a Southern American drawl for most of the film. But there are moments his natural Cockney shows through.
  • Papa Wolf: Hub and Garth become this to Walter. Hub even tells Stan he's lucky the lion attacked him instead of them.
  • Parental Abandonment: Mae abandons Walter in pretty much every way possible. First with his uncles, then to a man she knows is likely to interrogate and beat him. He ultimately begs her to leave forever, and this time she does so for his own good.
  • The Patient Has Left the Building: After Hub collapses, Garth and Walter take him to the hospital. A while later he wakes up and comes storming out of his room, demanding to know who put him there. After he leaves, his visiting family mistakes him for being dead.

  • Pay Evil unto Evil: After Jasmine dies attacking Stan, Hub and Garth while checking his wounds and waiting for the ambulance, start poking and prodding him with the butt of their shotguns. Judging by his groaning, they were hitting his wounded areas. Even after he's wrapped up, they still threaten him and Hub cracks his nose.
  • Press-Ganged: Played for Laughs: The two uncles were drinking with some sailors, passed out, and woke up on a ship out to sea.
  • Quirky Household: Garth and Hub buy a lion to shoot, then change their mind and let her live in the cornfield.
  • A Real Man Is a Killer: Played with. The uncles are "real men" because they've fought through lots of difficult situations for something that they love and believe in. The fact that they might have killed some people along the way is not the main point. The movie also shows the kind of issues with retirement that men typically portrayed in this fashion would have to deal with once they got older.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech: Hub lists what he's done in his Glory Days with the strong insinuation that the teenage hoodlums can't come close to matching him.
    "I'm Hub McCann. I've fought in two World Wars and countless smaller ones on three continents. I led thousands of men into battle with everything from horses and swords to artillery and tanks. I've seen the headwaters of the Nile, and tribes of natives no white man had ever seen before. I've won and lost a dozen fortunes, KILLED MANY MEN and loved only one woman with a passion a FLEA like you could never begin to understand. That's who I am. NOW, GO HOME, BOY!"
  • Screw This, I'm Out of Here!: Walter pulls this when Mae reveals that her boyfriend, who beat him for the money's location, will be staying with them while he recovers from his injuries.
  • Sequential Artist: Walter became one of these later in life, drawing fantastical retellings of his relationship with Jasmine.
  • Shotguns Are Just Better: Especially for chasing off traveling salesmen.
    • The idea that shotguns are exclusively short-range weapons is pretty much blown out of the water too.
  • Sibling Team: Hub and Garth, two brothers that have been together through lots of adventures since before World War I.
  • Sleepwalking: Uncle Hub has a bad case of Hollywood Sleepwalking involving him reliving his adventures.
  • Storming the Castle: Hub and Garth do this to rescue Jasmine (the woman, not the lion).
  • Take Our Word for It: Hub's "What every boy needs to know about being a man" speech is supposed to be all of the wisdom Hub had acquired over his very full life distilled into one filibuster. It's portrayed as so profound that a bunch of teenage thugs who had just tried to jump Hub turn their lives around on the spot. And it's implied this isn't the first time it has happened. However, we never actually hear the speech itself, aside from a little bit of it he tells Walter.
  • Tempting Fate: In the flashbacks, Hub and Garth arrive in France in 1914, but Hub convinces Garth that they'll tour the country "One step ahead of the Germans." It almost works too, but then they get Press-Ganged.
  • Time-Shifted Actor: The 14-year-old Walter is played by Haley Joel Osment, while Josh Lucas portrays the 31-year-old Walter in the opening and ending scenes.
  • There Are No Therapists: Well, there are, but in The '50s, going to the head shrinker simply wasn't done. People suffering from depression dealt with it privately — by drinking, or shooting things.
  • Unreliable Narrator: Just about everything said by Stan and Mae is untrustworthy. And while it's played for laughs the first time, Hub and Garth's stories may not be completely true. Except at the end, Walter finds out that they probably are.
  • Vagabond Buddies: Garth and Hub in their younger days, roaming about Europe and Africa in search of adventure.
  • Wealthy Yacht Owner: Parodied at the end when Walter and the Shiekh's grandson are laughing at the large yacht that one salesman sold Hub and Garth, and is floating on their tiny pond.
    Sheikh's Grandson: I see they spent my grandfather's money wisely.
  • Wicked Stepfather: Not married yet, so technically not a stepfather yet, but the man Mae brings with her near the end of the film is definitely wicked, trying to beat up Walter for information on where the uncles' fortune is. It's also heavily implied that he's also beaten Mae.
  • With Us or Against Us: Demanding Walter that he tell him where the uncles' fortune is, on the grounds they are bank robbers, Stan gives him this kind of an ultimatum:
    Stan: It's up to you, kid. We can be friends, or we can be enemies. What's it gonna be?
    Walter: (getting a look at Stan's groin) Defend yourself!
  • Worthy Opponent: The Shiekh evidently viewed Hub as one.
  • Would Hurt a Child: Stan would, especially after he warned Walter, "We can be friends... or we can be enemies", and Walter, sticking by his uncles, tells him to "defend [him]self" before hitting him in the groin. Walter was just lucky that Jasmine was there to save him.
  • You Will Be Spared: Hub and the Sheikh have a battle to the death. Disarmed, the Sheikh hides his head in fear, knowing that he has no right to beg for mercy. But Hub lets him live, because then he owes him.


Video Example(s):


"I'm Hub McCann..."

When he's harassed by a teen, Hub firmly puts him in his place by listing off his many achievements in his glory days.

How well does it match the trope?

5 (7 votes)

Example of:

Main / BadassBoast

Media sources: