If someone told you there was a movie out there starring David Carradine, Bruce Dern, and Rip Torn as three retired sea captains sharing a house together, what would your expectations be? I personally would expect a raucous production with colorful characters and a whole lot of the kind of scenery-chewing that those three guys are known for. However, set it at the turn of the century, fill it with unmemorable supporting actors, and change its title from Chatham (not a great title I admit) to the far more generic The Golden Boys, and it doesn’t take a perch in the crow’s nest to see that this schooner is close-hauled and tacking into the wind. See what I did there? I cleverly used nautical terminology to illustrate the disappointing quality of a movie about sailors. Now I feel like a big-time reviewer.
The DVD cover trumpets the quotation, “A cross between Grumpy Old Men and Three Men and a Baby”. This quote is attributed to Cindy Adams of the New York Post, and I’m not sure which film she watched, but it certainly was not this one. The three lead characters are not grumpy, there isn’t a baby to be seen anywhere, and the romantic rivalry for the affections of Mariel Hemingway amounts to nothing and, in fact, is pretty much nonexistent. I looked up the source of the quote and found that it didn’t even come from a review, but from a puff piece she wrote about Rip Torn. This gives you an idea of how desperate the publishers were to find a way to market this thing.
The story takes place in 1905, where the three friends of the title share a house in Cape Cod. Since none of them are very skilled in housekeeping or food preparation, they hatch a plan: one of them will be selected to find a woman and marry her. This way there will be a lady in the house who can take care of these things and the boys won’t have to pay for a housekeeper. Now, at this point it sounds like a promising setup for a potentially funny movie. It isn’t. After a promising few moments involving a case of mistaken identity at the train station, it goes meandering off in multiple directions, touching on various storylines without zeroing in on anything until it stops feeling like a movie and starts to feel like one of those television period dramas like The Waltons or Little House on the Prairie.
As for the performances, the leads are fine but they never really get to do much of anything. Carradine in particular gives a gentle and restrained performance as the sensible and calm center of the group. Although I have to admit, there were a few points where he glared at Torn or Dern and I was positive he was going to whip out a samurai sword and dismember them. And another thing – I have no clue what was going on with Rip Torn’s character’s speech. For some reason he starts the film with a Southern drawl, but by the final scenes he is speaking with what sounds like an Irish lilt. This confused me so much that I had to go back and watch some scenes again, just to confirm that I hadn’t been taking crazy pills.
The film builds to a climax that is supposed to be suspenseful and full of peril, but is so casually approached that I sat there wondering what all the fuss was about. And that pretty much describes my overall reaction to the whole thing. After just over ninety minutes I couldn’t decide if I had just watched a comedy or a drama, and had no idea what the point to all of it was.
The DVD is presented in 1.78:1 widescreen, and the picture is quite good. Contrasts are nice, but most of the film is shot with a palette of mostly browns and greys. This makes the images a bit dull, but enhances the period feel of the movie. The whole thing feels like it was shot in a museum. This may be a good or bad thing depending on personal preference.
The DVD’s audio is in 5.1 Dolby Digital and also includes a 2.0 Dolby Digital track. For the most part it suffices, but tends to distort at higher volumes. Despite this, dialogue is reasonably clear, though nearly every scene has soft, mellow music in the background. It’s as though the director wanted to instill some kind of forced whimsy or nostalgia into every scene. Instead, most scenes sound like there should be a historian in the foreground, talking about baseball or the Civil War or whatever historical subject is currently fascinating Ken Burns.
From Zen Master to Shipmaster: The Life and Career of David Carradine (40:09): This featurette was obviously made as one of those typical making-of pieces and was hastily retitled after Carradine’s recent death. In the latter half there is much conversation with him, but in no way is this a retrospective salute to the man.
Theatrical Trailer (2:02): Another one of those trailers I hate; the kind that gives away the ending of the movie. However, in this case it is not such a huge offense since the entire audience can see the ending coming from 20,000 leagues away. See? I did it again.
Also from Lionsgate (6:37): Trailers for New in Town, Super Capers, and Battle for Terra.
Sadly, despite its cast of maverick 70s actors and a promising premise, The Golden Boys disappoints. If you’re looking for a comedy full of laughs, it’s not very funny. There are many light-hearted moments and some humor that comes from the characters’ personalities, but that’s it. If you’re looking for a light-hearted period drama, you might be less disappointed, but due to its unfocussed script it is ultimately an unsatisfying experience.