The Survivors (1983 film)

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The Survivors
The Survivors.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMichael Ritchie
Produced byWilliam Sackheim
Written byMichael Leeson
Jonathan Reynolds (uncredited)
Music byPaul Chihara
CinematographyBilly Williams
Edited byRichard A. Harris
Distributed byColumbia Pictures
Release date
Running time
102 minutes
CountryUnited States
Budget$15 million
Box office$14 million[1]

The Survivors is a 1983 American comedy film directed by Michael Ritchie. It stars Walter Matthau and Robin Williams, with supporting roles by Jerry Reed, Kristen Vigard, and James Wainwright. Actor John Goodman also has a minor role.


The story focuses on two beleaguered New Yorkers who appear fated to meet and profoundly affect each other's lives, becoming friends through adversity.

Donald Quinelle (Williams) is a stereotypical young urban professional who has risen to upper management in a nondescript company, when he is suddenly fired from his job due to a surprise corporate "reorganization". Sonny Paluso (Matthau) is a down-to-Earth Korean war veteran who owns a gas station which is accidentally blown up by the unmindful actions of both Donald and Sonny acting apart and unaware of each other. The two men's paths cross again while at the unemployment office, and later they finally meet and first speak to each other while seated side-by-side at the counter of a local diner as each considers his sudden loss of employment. Their tense exchange is abruptly interrupted when a masked gunman (Jerry Reed) attempts to rob the diner. While struggling to disarm the gunman, Donald is shot, but Sonny unmasks the robber and gets a good look at the criminal before he flees the scene. Donald survives, and later at the hospital, while recuperating from his gunshot wound, Donald is visited by Sonny, who is introduced to Donald's fiancee, Doreen, as she helps Donald operate the TV. Donald then sees himself on the local news coverage of the attempted armed robbery, when a commentator insults Donald's heroism as reckless foolishness. After Donald recovers from his wound, he reads his own on-air rebuttal to the opinion of the TV news commentator, and inadvertently reveals Sonny's identity, while the unmasked robber, Jack Locke, watches the broadcast at home. Sonny and his teenage daughter Candace also happen to see Donald's on-air commentary, which causes Sonny to leave many insults on Donald's answering machine. That night, Jack silently breaks into Sonny's house in order to kill Sonny so that he can't identify Jack to the police as the robber of the diner. As fate would have it, Donald drops in to apologize to Sonny about mentioning him on TV, and ends up saving Sonny and Candace while capturing Jack and obtaining his pistol. Sonny and Donald take Jack at gunpoint to a police station to turn him in as the robber of the diner, and possibly as a criminal of notorious fame due to Jack's bragging that he is a professional hit-man who has only resorted to armed robbery due to the current economic recession.

Donald's outlook on life is greatly changed due to these recent events. While Sonny drives himself and Donald home from the police station after Jack is booked into custody, Donald tells Sonny that having held Jack at gun point was exhilarating. Donald then notices they are driving past an all-night gun show (which is ludicrous for New York City). Donald insists that they stop and browse at the show. Afterward, Donald returns home with his purchases and inadvertently awakens his fiancee, Doreen. Unsuccessful at hiding his new weaponry, Donald proudly shows them to Doreen, hoping that she will admire him as a "real man", but she is instead appalled. Donald explains that he wants the two of them to attend a survivalist training camp in Vermont, to learn how to defend themselves, develop personal confidence and take control of their destiny. She decides they must part ways.

Donald completely commits to learning the survivalist mentality and moves permanently to his own remote Vermont survival cabin. He and the other survivalist trainees at the camp are led by the instructor and camp owner, Wes. The trainees are convinced by Wes to prepare for the imminent collapse of society. Meanwhile, back in New York, Jack makes bail for the robbery and once again finds Sonny to threaten him and to find out why he and Donald didn't implicate him to the police for Jack's more infamous crimes. A fearful Sonny tries to reason with Jack and assures him that Sonny and Donald will not testify against him if Jack agrees to leave them alone. Jack is willing to agree to the arrangement, if Donald also agrees. Unable to contact Donald by phone, Sonny and Candace travel to Wes' survival camp to inform Donald of the deal. Donald, however, is so confident of his new abilities to face danger that he taunts Jack by telephone and challenges him into coming up to the camp for a final "mano a mano" showdown. Sonny is forced to take his own actions to force Donald to agree to the arrangement with Jack, in order to save everyone's lives. Sonny knocks out Donald and ties him to a chair.

During the night, Donald feigns sleep until Candace, tasked with watching Donald, falls asleep nearby. A completely determined and tactically transformed Donald escapes from his restraints, hastily but quietly gathers his combat gear, and sneaks out of the cabin to meet Jack in armed combat. Wes soon learns that an actual killer is due to arrive at his camp, and enlists all of his trainees to prepare to test their mettle in combat. Donald and Jack have a prolonged battle, but Donald is forced to retreat to his cabin for more ammunition. Wes and his men give pursuit to Jack, all wanting to get a shot at the intruder. Running to Donald's cabin for safety from Wes' militia, Jack finds Donald, Sonny, and Candace. As Wes and his men surround the cabin, a siege begins, but all inside the cabin cooperate to survive against those outside. Sonny, Candace, Jack and Donald cleverly fool Wes and his men, and manage to escape in Sonny's car. The bloodthirsty militia gives chase, but their bloodquest is quickly forgotten once Sonny exposes Wes as a rich businessman whose camp is a sham and has actually defrauded his trainees by selling them their cabins on land leased from a tribe of native Americans. The four New Yorkers head back to the city. When Candace asks Jack about his claim to have killed and disposed of a famous union leader, Jack reveals that he is not all that he has claimed to be either. Donald demands to get out of the car and has an emotional breakdown, realizing how much he has lost and questioning what is real anymore. Sonny comforts him, and after Donald once again sees the compassion and decency of Sonny, the two walk back to the car as devoted friends.



The film did not garner many good reviews, scoring only a 9% fresh rating on Rotten Tomatoes, based on 11 reviews.[2] Many felt that Robin Williams and Walter Matthau's style of humor did not mesh well together. An exception to the negative critical tide was the review that Pauline Kael gave the film in The New Yorker:

The banner line on the ad says ' Once they declare war on each other, watch out. You could die laughing.' The Survivors isn't about two men declaring war on each other; it's about two New Yorkers without anything in common who become friends. The advertisers probably didn't know what to do with it because it's a comedy for grownups. There's a lot of unconventional humour in the writing by Michael Leeson. Robin Williams' work transcends the film's flaws. He acts with an emotional purity that I can't pretend to understand. A lot of the comedy comes from his being a grownup with this ranting little kid inside him. Walter Matthau gives a quiet, old pro's performance.[3]


  1. ^ The Survivors at Box Office Mojo
  2. ^ "The Survivors (1983)". Rotten Tomatoes. Flixster. Retrieved September 28, 2010.
  3. ^ Pauline Kael p.15-18 State of the Art ISBN 0-7145-2869-2

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