Originally a 1972 play by Neil Simon, The Sunshine Boys is best remembered for its 1975 film adaptation directed by Herbert Ross and starring Walter Matthau and George Burns, the latter in a career-reviving, Academy Award winning performance.
Willy Clark (Matthau) and Al Lewis (Burns) were once a famous Vaudeville comedy Double Act, "Lewis and Clark, the Sunshine Boys". Eleven years after the two parted ways on unfriendly terms, Willy's nephew Ben (Richard Benjamin) is a talent agent who's been trying to find his uncle work. One day, ABC inquires about having the Sunshine Boys appear in an upcoming TV special on the history of comedy. Now, it's up to Ben to persuade the long-estranged duo to patch up their differences and get back together.
This work features examples of:
- All for Nothing: Ultimately, Willy and Al can't get past their differences long enough to complete a rehearsal, let alone a performance. The producers of the special decide to use archival footage of an old performance instead.
- Big Applesauce: Willy invokes a bit of this while arguing with Al.Willy: You know what's wrong with you? You've been sitting on a New Jersey porch for too long. You're out of touch. From my window here, I see everything that's going on in the world. Here, I see old people, young people, nice people, bad people. I see holdups, I see drug addicts, ambulances, car crashes, jumpers from buildings, I see everything. You see a lawnmower and the milkman. [...] Did you ever hear the expression "That's where it's at"? Well, this is where it's at, and that's where I am!
- The Cameo: Steve Allen and Phyllis Diller are among the stars appearing in the same TV special as Lewis and Clark.
- Forgetful Jones: Willy and Al both display this at times for comedic effect. They will ask questions someone has just answered, repeat something someone has just said as though introducing a new topic into the conversation, and have the same conversation with the same person multiple times in succession.
- Glory Days: Willy has a hard time accepting that he's not a star anymore. Part of the reason for his feud with Al is that the latter broke up the act, thereby taking said stardom away.
- Grumpy Old Man: Willy and Al. Willy is especially cantankerous to everyone around him, including Ben.
- Hospital Hottie: One of the supporting characters in the Sunshine Boys' trademark "Doctor Sketch" is a buxom blonde nurse in a tight-fitting uniform with a low-cut neckline and short hemline, and the routine features many jokes about the doctor (and, eventually, the patient played by Al) getting not-so-subtle looks down one end of her uniform and up the other.
- Inherently Funny Words: Discussed by Willy with Ben; according to Willy, words with a "K" sound (such as "cupcake") are funny, and words without it (such as "tomato") are not. At the beginning of the film, Ben has secured Willy an audition for a Frumpie's Potato Chips commercial, but Willy keeps changing the name because he doesn't think the word "Frumpie's" is funny enough.
- Jewish Complaining: Willy and Al partake in much of it.
- Willy goes off like a rocket over Al's habits of spitting when he says words with a "T" sound and poking him in the chest with his forefinger for emphasis, while at their first rehearsal of the Doctor Sketch at Willy's apartment, Al goes berserk over Willy changing the line "Come in!" to a hammy "En-ter!", which Willy claims is an attempt to freshen up a sketch they've done 11,000 times before.
- At the end of the film, Willy complains about Ben seemingly spending 60 cents calling Al in New Jersey (he's actually downstairs in the lobby of Willy's hotel), while when Al comes upstairs and Willy is rude to him, he complains about having spent $1 in tolls to come up from New Jersey.
- Large Ham: Willy, to the constant irritation of Al, who hates the fact he's distorting the act with it.
- Oh God, with the Verbing!: Al keeps pointing his finger at Willy's chest. This leads to a moment during the rehearsals:"The finger? Again with the finger?!"
- Sad Clown: The heated arguments between Clark and Lewis maybe humorous, but also sad and hardest to watch at the same time as you think about it: these two elder actors were a successful comedy act and initially the best of friends, but then parted on negative terms and both became the grouchy shadows of their former selves, especially Willy, who was the most cantankerous and stubborn, yet refuses to give up acting when it is already evident his career is all but dead due to his being difficult to work with, his delusions of non-existent acting success, and his own unlikable arrogance. It's quite heart-wrenching to realize that after all these years, the rancor remains.
- Spiritual Successor: For The Boys.
- Spiteful Spit: One of Willy's big complaints about Al is that the latter has a tendency to spit onstage when he pronounces words beginning with "t" (something Willy is convinced Al does on purpose). This causes problems in the tech rehearsal of the Doctor Sketch when Al has to play the part of a tax collector from the Treasury Department.
- Yiddish as a Second Language: Both Al and Willy use plenty of Yiddish in their dialogue.