Thursday, 24 May 2012

410: Gay Bar 11 - Tough Guys

Tough Guys 1986
Directed by Jeff Kanew
Written by James Cruikshank and James Orr

Harry Doyle (Lancaster)
Archie Long (Douglas)

Harry Doyle and Archie Long are gangsters who have served a 30-year prison sentence. The two are paroled, now in their 70s. Will they be able to rehabilitate, will they team up for one last job, and how will they adapt as fish-out-od-water/time in the changed America of the 1980s? These are the premises from which this genial comedy builds. Since the two actors largely insist upon the dignity of their roles, there isn’t too much of the “rapping grandma” shenanigans which typically make old age / modern lifestyles culture clash comedy such a nightmare – although in this case it’s the La New Wave scene.

Having been released, one of the first things Archie does is visit his old bar, Mickey’s. When he enters everything appears as it should - Glenn Miller-style music is playing, and the bar still seems to be popular.

Douglas looks pleased, approaches the bartender and asks if Mickey is still around but is told Mickey has been dead for the last 20 years. Archie orders a beer, “one of those new light beers”, and downs it, only to observe that it tastes “watery”.

A man sat to his left says the beer “only has 95 calories”, and slides over to Douglas offering to buy him another. Douglas accepts, and the two briefly sit in silence nodding along to the music. The two start talking about how it’s good music.

Some people think it’s out of date.

You kidding? I grew up on that music.

It’s great dance music.

Yeah. (wistfully) I haven’t danced in thirty years.

(slight pause). Shall we?

Shall we what?

Shall we dance?

Archie looks surprised, looks away from man. Cuts to bartender, who winks rather blatantly at him.

Cuts back to Archie’s wary face. His eyes shift to the left.

Cuts to other end of bar where two couples are dancing to the music.

Cuts back to man who realises nonchantly that his offer is not going to be taken up. Archie collects his hat and coat and leaves. Last shot in bar is of man having a drink.

Cut to street outside as Archie leaves bar, ruefully shaking his head and muttering “I can’t believe it”. Harry appears and Archie advises him “You don't want to go in there.”

This only lasts a minute or two and it’s a relatively underplayed scene. The jokes are about the change in mores, not about homosexuals. The joke has to work as Archie only gradually realises the changes, so these are very straight-seeming gay men. Not straight-seeming for the “relatively normal” arguments of the 1977 episode of Maude, but because if the bar was full of camp queens or leather bears there’d be no drama because Archie wouldn’t enter it. The bartender winking is bit crass. It’s more a wink meant for the audience rather than anyone in the film. The men dancing is a bit of a cheat since we had the full-view shot at the beginning, but since the rest of the scene has been shot to the right, a sudden cut to the left makes it seem as though this dancing has been off the radar in everyway.

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