Grumpy Old Men (film)

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Grumpy Old Men
Grumpy Old Men .jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed by Donald Petrie
Produced by John Davis
Richard C. Berman
Written by Mark Steven Johnson
Music by Alan Silvestri
Cinematography John E. Jensen
Edited by Bonnie Koehler
Distributed by Warner Bros. Pictures
Release dates
  • December 25, 1993 (1993-12-25)
Running time
104 minutes
Country United States
Language English
Budget $35,100,000
Box office $70,172,621

Grumpy Old Men is a 1993 American romantic comedy-drama film starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau and Ann-Margret, with Burgess Meredith, Daryl Hannah, Kevin Pollak, Ossie Davis and Buck Henry. Directed by Donald Petrie, the screenplay was written by Mark Steven Johnson, who also wrote the sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995). The original music score was composed by Alan Silvestri. This was the sixth film starring both Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau and their first on-screen pairing since 1981's Buddy Buddy.


Retired school teacher and divorcee John Gustafson (Lemmon) and former TV repairman and widower Max Goldman (Matthau), are former childhood friends and longtime next-door neighbors in Wabasha, Minnesota. Their rivalry began decades earlier when John had "stolen" Max's high school sweetheart, May, whom John went on to marry and have two children: daughter Melanie (Daryl Hannah), who is mother to his granddaughter, Allie, and who is separated from her husband, Mike (Christopher McDonald), and son Brian, who was killed in the Vietnam War. However, his marriage to May proved to be unhappy and stayed that way for 20 years until their divorce. Max went on to marry a woman named Amy and have one child: son Jacob (Kevin Pollak), who is a Wabasha politician.

Despite their differences, both men lead boring and lonely single lives, and share a mutual love of the Minnesota winter pastime of ice fishing, as well as competing, arguing, insulting, and pulling cruel practical jokes on each other. However, John has a problem that Max doesn't, he owes tens of thousands of dollars in back taxes to the Internal Revenue Service, and is going to great lengths to avoid agent Elliot Snyder (Buck Henry).

One morning Max and John discover that someone has bought the house across the street from them. They find out who it is when both men are awakened at 1:44 AM by the sound of a snowmobile racing up and down the street. They see their beautiful new neighbor is college professor Ariel Truax (Ann-Margret), a widow who quickly becomes the talk of the town with her exuberant lifestyle and bizarre tactics to get to know her new neighbors. Their mutual friend Chuck (Ossie Davis), who owns the lakeside bait shop, advises that they take advantage of the opportunity, as does John's 94-year-old father (Burgess Meredith). Chuck surprises Max and John by taking the opportunity first. After some good natured ribbing from Max and John he tells them of just how smitten he was.

Early on, Ariel spends time with Max, which John secretly has a problem with and doesn't show it. Max loses his prized fishing rod and learns that Chuck has suddenly died. John and Max get into yet another scrap over Ariel. In his anger with Max, John inadvertently opens the door to find Agent Snyder and is forced to meet with him. Things do not end all badly for John, however- Ariel decides to cook him dinner and spend the evening together.

The next day Ariel spends more time with John due to their shared passions in chess and similar teaching professions. He returns his fishing rod. Max rams into John's shanty (while he is inside fishing) and pushes it into the portion of the lake where the ice is too thin causing it to sink into the water. Convinced Max has gone too far this time, John decides to figure out why he has been acting so strangely. Max accuses John of stealing Ariel away and doublecrossing him again like he did with May. Angered by this, John reveals that Max would've had an unhappy marriage with May, had he allowed the two to marry. He continued to explain his actions to marry May was to save Max the heartache of being hurt by her. John again reminds Max of how much better he was off with Amy because she was loyal and supportive to her family. Max agrees with him, but still hasn't forgiven John for what he did. Eventually, the two fight after John tells Max of May's sexual prowess. This only stop when John's father orders them to behave themselves because they are scaring away the fish. Although John appears to have won, Max reminds him that he will have nothing when the IRS takes his house and that he is too old to wait for another opportunity with a woman like Ariel. Max's attempt at shame works, and John breaks up with Ariel despite having fallen in love with her. Ariel is offended, telling John he would come to regret the decision, and eventually takes up with Max while John sinks into a deep depression.

Christmas Eve arrives and John's depression comes to head. He is joined for dinner by his father, Melanie and Allie. Adding to John's disappointment is Mike joining them for dinner and of who he's not fond of for personal reasons. Unhappy to see his son-in-law, and already angry due to everything else that had been going on, John expresses his displeasure with Melanie's decision to give Mike a 2nd chance, knowing that he'll hurt her again. He tells her that she needs to reconsider her stance with Mike and divorce him. John angrily tells Mike off to leave his house and never come back. John then storms out of the house and heads to the local bar. On his way out, John passes Jacob, who is concerned and heads over to talk to Melanie, who asks Jacob to try to get Max to talk to her father. Although Max is stunned to hear of what happened with Melanie, he refuses to go talk to John at the bar.

After some arm twisting, Max joins John at the bar where John is in denial about the reunion of his daughter and son-in-law. John is also not amused by Max's presence in the bar and does not really want to listen to anything he has to say. Max tries to thank him for finding his rod and returning it to him. However, John does not care and finally comes clean about why he is upset. After admitting his love for Ariel, John scornfully tells Max off that he doesn't understand the depression that he's feeling in having to let her go and everything else that had happened to him. However, he also says it does not make any difference because Max got what he wanted and decides to head home.

Max, unsatisfied, decides to take off after John to try and set things right. By the time Max catches up to John he finds him in a snow drift, having suffered a massive heart attack while walking back. After seeing John in the hospital Max decides to tell Ariel what happened the next morning. She rushes to his bedside, saying that she does not want to lose him because the holidays will not mean anything as her husband died near Easter. The two reconcile as he recovers.

Max decides to help John out with his tax issues. After meeting with Agent Snyder, he discovers that John originally owed $13,000; with interest and penalties it is $57,000. He reveals the house must be sold at auction in order to pay of the $57,000 debt that John received over the years. Angered by Snyder's arrogance, Max takes matters into his own hands by barricading John's front door shut and throwing a dead fish in Snyder's car. He then gets Jacob to get a restraining order preventing Snyder from conducting the auction, and finally he buries Snyder under a snowpile he caused to fall off of John's roof.

Winter turns to spring and everyone in Wabasha is gathered at the local church. Jacob and Melanie reunite, with Melanie being newly single after reconsidering her decision to reunite with Mike and divorcing him. Although there seems to be a somber tone to the affair, implying that John did not survive his heart attack and his funeral is being held, in reality it is a joyous occasion as John and Ariel get married. As a wedding gift, Max reveals to John that he was able to get his tax debt reduced to what he originally owed and that since he was able to raise the funds, he paid off the $13,000 himself. Max, however, proves that he has not fully gone soft on John and has left a little surprise in the limousine carrying the married couple away...his standby dead fish prank.

The day and the film end with Max heading off to a local dance at the VFW, leaving Jacob alone in the house. As luck would have it, Melanie is also home by herself and the two decide to make an attempt to find romance with each other.


The screenplay of Grumpy Old Men was written by Mark Steven Johnson, a film student at Winona State University (Minnesota) and was based upon the life of noted Winona State theater professor Vivian Fusillo.[1] It is believed that the character of Max Goldman was based on former KWNO radio station owner and announcer Rod Hurd, who was dating Ms. Fusillo for a period in the 1970s. The name for Matthau's character would seem fitting as Hurd was often seen playing tennis, wearing a sun visor and driving a convertible while having a perpetual sun tan.



Grumpy Old Men was one of the biggest surprise hits of the year at the time of its release.[2][3] The film opened on December 25, 1993 with a weekend gross of $3,874,911. However, its numbers gradually became stronger, earning a domestic total of $70 million, well above its budget of $35 million.[4]

Critical reaction[edit]

The film was met with mixed to positive reviews by critics. Review aggregator Rotten Tomatoes reports that 65 percent of 37 critics have given the film a positive review, with a rating average of 5.8 out of 10.[5]

Caryn James of The New York Times called the film "the kind of holiday movie a lot of people are searching for." He went on to explain that this is because "It's cheerful, it's well under two hours and it doesn't concern any major social blights, unless you think Jack Lemmon tossing a dead fish into Walter Matthau's car is cause for alarm."[6] Despite rating it with two stars out of four, and giving it a mixed review about the film's credibility and diction, Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun-Times concluded his review by saying that "Matthau and Lemmon are fun to see together, if for no other reason than just for the essence of their beings."[7] Peter Rainer of the Los Angeles Times said, "Watching Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau sparring with each other in Grumpy Old Men is like watching an old vaudeville routine for the umpteenth time." Rainer added, "They play off their tics and wheezes with the practiced ease of old pros but there's something a bit too chummy and self-congratulatory about it all."[8]

American Film Institute recognition:

Home video[edit]

Grumpy Old Men was first released on DVD on June 25, 1997. On August 22, 2006, the film was made available in a DVD "Double Feature" pack along with its sequel Grumpier Old Men. On July 7, 2009, the film was made available by itself on Blu-ray. The "Double Feature" pack was later released onto Blu-ray on February 23, 2010. The Blu-ray releases marked the first time both films have been available in widescreen since the LaserDisc releases. None of the Blu-ray releases contain any special features.[10]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "In a class all her own". 
  2. ^ "Not Grumpy or Old". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  3. ^ "Weekend Box Office : 'Mrs. Doubtfire' Still Cleaning Up". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  4. ^ "Grumpy Old Men (1993) - Box Office Mojo". IMDB. Box Office Mojo. Retrieved September 12, 2012. 
  5. ^ "Grumpy Old Men". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved March 21, 2016. 
  6. ^ Caryn James (December 24, 1993). "Review/Film; Cheerful, Short and No Big Blights". The New York Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  7. ^ Roger Ebert (December 24, 1993). "Grumpy Old Men :: :: Reviews". Chicago Sun Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  8. ^ Peter Rainer (December 25, 1993). "MOVIE REVIEW : 'Grumpy': Hearts, Flowers, Whoopee Cushions". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved June 1, 2012. 
  9. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs Nominees" (PDF). Retrieved June 30, 2012. 
  10. ^ Broadwater, Casey (March 17, 2010). "Grumpy Old Men / Grumpier Old Men Blu-ray Review". Retrieved September 13, 2012. 

External links[edit]