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This Review Reveals Minor Details About the Plot.

Old Friends

Going in Style (1979) on IMDb

Plot Overview

Three old, settled geezers: Joe (George Burns), Al (Art Carney), and Willie (Lee Strasberg) room together in a Queens apartment in New York saving rent and trying to get by on their Social Security. They've spent their days for the past two years sitting on a park bench reading the paper, feeding the pigeons, and watching the children play. Remarks Joe cynically as they leave, “Too much excite­ment for one day.”

Joe who'd done some stealing during the war gets a bright idea while watching the tellers as he stands in line to cash his check. He puts it to his cronies, “How would you guys like to go on a stickup with me?” Their life is so mundane they figure they've got nothing to lose.

Al borrows from the gun collection of his nephew Pete (Charles Hallahan.) They purchase hokey Groucho Marx masks, hail a Gypsy cab, and hit the Union Marine Bank on 36th & Broadway. Their geriatric menacing presence is so lame the manager thinks, “You've gotta be kidding!” but once they've “put fear in every­one,” they make their score, effect a get­away, and try to cope with success while becoming a minor media sensation.


Yes, but what does it all mean? That was the sentiment expressed by one member of the movie class I saw this film with. The answer some­one gave was to think about it a while. In this movie we saw three smart kids: the “jelly donut kid” who chased away the pigeons (“They say they bring disease”) that were being fed (“How come you're always feeding 'em, Willie”) by the geezer; Al's talented niece “princess”; and Willie's remembered son who answered his over­bearing father wisely. Princess's father Pete (Al's bro) is experiencing financial difficulties. Joe dominated every situation: persuading his fellows to do a heist with him, intimidating the tellers into handing over the dough, persuading his crew to donate some of it to struggling Pete, taking some company along with him to spread the loot, and keeping mum when asked where it was hid (Pete: “I don't know, Joe. Maybe you should just give 'em back the money from the robbery.”) The old guy was living high (“they treat me like a king around here”) although he had at least a foot in the hoosegow (“No tinhorn joint like this could ever hold me.”) Yet in some ways he was very foolish; the FBI characterized them as, “a care­less group of amateurs.” If we're going to peg the meaning to a passage in scripture, it would be, (Eccl. 4:13-14) “Better is a poor and a wise child than an old and foolish king, who will no more be admonished. For out of prison he cometh to reign; whereas also he that is born in his kingdom becometh poor.”

Of course, that passage doesn't do us much good unless we know what it means. Since a disproportionate number of films feature lowly, smart kid(s) and stupid, authoritative adults, I a reviewer have had to think about it. If we take it in the abstract sense of a man standing for his writings—as we say, ‘I like Dickens’ when we mean we like his works—then “he that is born in his kingdom” is the native English words used in the King James Version (KJV) becoming poor in usage over time though they be very wise. The “old and foolish king” is the dominating modern versions using updated English, i.e. a much older language by now centuries later, that is prone to foolishness and there's no way to correct them; they are the "bible", after all. “Com[ing] out of prison … to reign” means a contemporary speech dialect that is as inappropriate to sacred literature as is problematic a jail­bird being released into society to rule when he's still got bad habits and badder words. Various movies illustrate various aspects of the problem, which I've reviewed elsewhere.

In “Going in Style” “Princess's” artwork that she wants to show Al is upstairs, but Al diverts himself for a trip to the basement where he picks up guns and bullets. The “upstairs” art is shown us around the dome of the Union Marine Bank, which includes elegant wordings not unlike those seen in the KJV. The pain­staking matching of bullet calibers to the revolvers the fellows appropriated is like the mechanical translations in modern form as compared to the elegant literary art­work of the KJV. For more on the subject see the 1959 lecture by George P. Marsh on The English Bible.

Edward Hills in The King James Version Defended talks of Bible manuscripts. Jesus had said to His apostles that, (John 14:26) “the Holy Ghost, … he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, what­soever I have said unto you,” and (Matt. 24:35) “Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away.” His words would be preserved for us, and indeed the reliable old manuscripts we have to be found through­out the area of the ancient world, we call them the ‘received text’ (textus receptus) and they are what's used in the reliable KJV. These correspond in the movie metaphor to the dough received by Pete and held safely in his safety deposit box.

Spiritists Westcott & Hort are responsible for cataloguing the bulk of the manuscripts used in the more modern versions. They are touted for being the oldest manuscripts available, which in this movie corresponds to the respect the bank robbers gained by shooting the clock. It's just one element ignoring the provenance which geographically, unfortunately, corresponds to the influence of the Gnostics. Further­more, these two operated under the twisted philosophy that the manuscripts corresponding to the received text were corrupt, so they would pick every variant manuscript that crossed their path. Rather than looking at a preserved revelation, we are looking at a hidden one, under every rock waiting to be discovered. This corresponds in the movie to Joe refusing to tell the authorities where the money was, only that it's buried and he won't say where. In an artistic sense, that corresponds as well to him going through a shoe box full of fragments of memorabilia and stashing it back in the closet. We aren't going to have a correct, preserved revelation going by these modern versions.

That's how this movie stacks up with a significant meaning, but one has to study the subject to understand it.

Production Values

This 1979 movie, “Going in Style” was directed by Martin Brest. He also wrote it along with his co-writer Edward Cannon. It stars George Burns, Art Carney, and Lee Stras­berg. The performances are excellent, but Burns's stands out in particular as Joe, a different, a more serious character, than he's accustomed to playing. All three main characters complement each other. Art Carney has his own impromptu dance to some Caribbean buskers.

The film is rated PG. Billy Williams's polished cinema­tog­raphy, Michael Small's infectious score, and the easy tone of it all contribute to a pleasant viewing experience.

Review Conclusion w/ Christian Recommendation

This movie is easy to watch and understand, if hard to apply to grand schemes. Enjoy!

Movie Ratings

Action factor: Decent action scenes. Suitability for children: Suitable for children with guidance. Special effects: Well, at least you can't see the strings. Video Occasion: Good for Groups. Suspense: A few suspenseful moments. Overall product rating: Four stars out of five.