Sidewinder’s View: The Survivors (1983)

From 1983, this evening’s movie.
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Occasionally amusing, with one really funny scene (an aggressively smiling Robin Williams insulting angry hitman Jerry Reed over the phone and daring him to come kill him).
Otherwise, pretty average stuff, with a fairly relentless anti-gun/anti-vigilante message that gets downright monotonous by the end of the film.
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The studio and the filmmakers sell the movie with a gun-driven plot, multiple guns on the poster…then spend the whole film pushing a cartoonish stereotype of ‘gun nuts’, or anyone who believes in defending themselves against violent crime.
 
The story’s main conflict concerns two put-upon Average Joes (Williams and Matthau) and a desperate hitman (Jerry Reed) who’s constantly showing up and shoving a gun in their faces…
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…mostly Matthau’s, repeatedly threatening or attempting to kill them for witnessing a crime he committed (as well as others he’s bragged about to them)…
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…yet the Matthau character, a weary, yet meek pacifist, is presented as the rational one, compared to the spastic, neurotic Williams, who’s depicted as a pathetic whacko who’s fallen in love with guns and the idea of self-defense/survivalist training due to a nervous breakdown he’s been having since getting fired from his job.
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Having Matthau constantly cowering and pleading and attempting to reason with the unflinching hitman…
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…and then going to extreme measures to disarm Williams…
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…and persuade him…
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…to reassure the hitman (huh?) that he won’t turn him in to police– even though the hitman’s repeatedly terrorized Matthau and tried to kill him– made Matthau’s character look pathetic and foolish.
The fact that the movie has the hitman experience a sudden change of heart simultaneously with Williams’ character– immediately after a firefight where the two were trying to kill each other– was a real groaner of a moment. The filmmakers also had to make the other survivalists out to be clownish wannabes and their ‘leader’ a phony tough guy and con man who’s only in it for the $$$.
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For an alleged comedy, the picture features lots and lots of bashing of guns, self-defense, capitalism (of course), “phony” patriotism (liberal Matthau touts his patriotic bona fides, while chiding the survivalists, by quoting General Douglas MacArthur)…
…yet also depicts overworked, apathetic police officers and a criminal justice system that seems to favor the criminal over their victims.
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Thematically, the film’s a real mess. I believe I know what its makers were trying to say with the film, but I don’t feel they succeeded. The movie sold just over four million tickets at the box office during its release in June 1983 and perhaps it did a little better on home video the first few years after that, but, for the most part, this has since become one of those forgotten pictures, memorable only for its cast.
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This is another of those comedy-dramas that played so much better when I was fourteen and watching the movie for the first time on HBO.
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