At the Movies: Going in Style

June 11th, 2015 7 Comments

Art Carney


Certain actors were—and a few still are, thank God—so gifted that just their names on the marquee is enough to make you park your car and pull out your wallet. Or, in the case of old movies on TCM, turn off the phones, lock the doors, and curl up on the sofa with your wife and dogs and something wet in your hand.

Art Carney was one of those.

In the highly likely event that you are too young to know who Art Carney was, I will remind you that he was probably best known, and will almost certainly be best remembered for his role as Ed Norton (“Norton! You are a mental case!”) on the Jackie Gleason television comedy, The Honeymooners. And that’s not a bad thing: The Honeymooners was one of those sitcoms from the golden age of television, with scripts so charmingly zany, characters so real, and performances so brilliant, that they are as much fun to watch now, sixty years later, as they were back then. And they will still be delicious sixty years from now, which is proof of the timelessness of the best theatrical art, from Aeschylus to Downton Abbey, no matter whether it’s comedy or drama: if the playwright has caught something real, the work will endure.

Art Carney Honeymooners

But Art Carney was one of those geniuses capable of anything. Contrast his wacky, over-the-top, plastic, slapstick work as Ed Norton with his performance as the aging detective in The Late Show, or his Academy Award-winning performance in Harry and Tonto (a performance that won him the award over such minor talents as Albert Finney, Dustin Hoffman, Al Pacino, and Jack Nicholson). Very, very few actors are capable of that kind of range. (Jack Lemmon leaps to mind.)

So when Darleen told me Going in Style, (1979) was going to be on TCM, we got serious about comedy.

The plot, such as it is, is about three very elderly retired men, living off their meager social security checks and sharing a modest apartment, fighting off terminal boredom as they wait for God. In an effort to keep from dying of boredom, and to help out the sole relative any of them has (Art Carney’s nephew, played by the late, great Charles Hallahan), they decide to rob a bank. And we’re off to the races.

The other two retirees are George Burns and Lee Strasberg, and when the three of them are together, you are watching almost two hundred years of theatrical experience and genius honed to dry, deadpan perfection.

I don’t want to give anything away, because you really should watch this gem, but like all the best comedy, it has a bittersweet quality that takes you from laughter to tears and happily back again.

There is one scene, in Central Park, when the three old friends walk past a vaguely Jamaican street band, all bongos and congas and steel drums, and Art Carney starts to dance, to the delight of the band, the delight of his friends, the delight of casual onlookers, and to the infinite delight of the movie-goer. That one scene, by itself, is reason enough to watch Going in Style. As Darleen put it, while watching that dance, “With those three guys you don’t need a script. Just turn the camera on and let them go to town.”

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  1. Anonymous says:

    Christopher Lee died at 93. He keep on working until the end. From Dracula to Lord of the Rings. He had a long career. The website said he was in the process of making another movie. The saying goes he died with boots on.

  2. Anonymous says:

    I do remember “The Honeymooners” By the time I was watching the show it was repeats. I never like the fact that Jackie Gleason’s character kept threatening to hit his wife.

    This is Art Carney as Ed Norton. Ed Cradom is trying to learn golf. The book says address the ball. Ed Norton takes the golf club and says “Hello ball.”

  3. Anonymous says:

    Hello JP,

    ok, we are a couple of days apart 😉 but you must be joking… Art Carney, George Burns and Lee Strasberg, they’re fabulous. Of course they are name for any movie fan!
    I particularly love George Burns for his sense of humor and self-irony which he showed in private interviews. He’s a legend!
    Unfortunately I don’t know Art Carney’s early work in the original but I’ve seen “Going in Style” (in German: “Die Rentner Gang”) once a long time ago and loved it. That was in those days when German TV didn’t yet consist of commercials, game-shows, dancing-shows, casting-shows, reality-shows and whatever
    Anyway, I’m glad for you and Darleen that some smart program director digged out this treasure 🙂 .

    Best wishes


  4. Anonymous says:

    Thank to syndication I was able to watch a large number of reruns of TV shows. Some of the shows were made in the 50s and other shows in the 60s. I was watching these shows when I was a kid in the 60s.

    The Andy Griffith show.
    There was I Love Lucy
    Leave it to Beaver
    The Honeymooners
    The Adventures of Superman
    Alfred Hitchcock presents
    The Twilight zone
    Mr. Ed and other show like that. We also watched endless repeats of Gilligan’s Island, I dream of Jeanie, Bewitched, Green Acres and The Beverly Hillbillies.

  5. Anonymous says:

    This was and is a favorite movie of mine. I saw it for the first time when our high school had a movie day for us and it was one of the movies shown. It was brilliant and funny yet sad in places.

    Nancy Darlene

  6. Anonymous says:

    I was mortified when Art Carney passed away–as I was when Jackie Gleason and the girls did, too–growing up watching old “Honeymooners” reruns with my parents on a black-and-white TV! Maybe those weren’t reruns?(ahem!) And having been a well-known TV celebrity yerself, JP, and awkward as that can be–fans that think of celebrities they’ve never actually even met like they are relatives–and it IS kinda weird–one cannot but help having such feeling for personalities that you spend time with, week after week, in your own home, in the bosom of your ACTUAL family–a very strange, modern phenomenon, for sure….. I remember my parents(lo, those many eons ago), getting a big kick out of asking me how I liked the first episode of the “Honeymooners” I ever saw–what was I? Four or Five years old, maybe? And I told them I liked it fine, but they OBVIOUSLY were just copying “The Flintstones”!…..L.B.

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