Play Pause

Saturday, 9 April 2016

Retro Movie Review: The Survivors (1983) #RobinWilliams

The Survivors
Cast: Robin Williams, Walter Matthau, Jerry Reed, James Wainwright, Kristen Vigard, John Goodman
Genre: Comedy
Estimated Worldwide Gross: $14,000,000

Trivia: Robin Williams quoted: 'first of all, after (The World According To Garp) Garp, I wanted to do a far-out comedy, & The Survivors certainly qualifies. Secondly, I like the premise....'

Plot: Having both lost their jobs, two strangers become unlikely friends after a run-in with a would-be robber, who turns out to be a hit-man with a grudge against the two

'A Rare Diamond In The Rough From Robin Williams's Filmography'

The movie is funnier to me now, more so than as it was when it was originally released in 1983. In fact, I was too young to remember this or know anything about this movie when it came out. I only discovered it by looking up Robin Williams filmography on Wikipedia. Co-starring a pre-superstar, Mork & Mindy famed Robin alongside the highly experienced Walter Matthau, The Survivors is a comedy movie telling the tale of 2 New York men with nothing in common, who both lose their jobs on the same day, only to meet up and bond after falling victim to a botched armed robbery in a cafe. Donald Quinelle (Robin Williams) is a young professional who has risen up the ranks to upper management when due to company restructure plans meant he is fired & made redundant. Sonny and Donald later sign up for a training camp to learn the basics of survival, in order to prepare themselves in the unlikeliest of circumstances & for Western society to collapse. Sonny is a single father to a daughter named Candace, and she is not so much your typical teenager, but she comes across as a likeable character. 

You have two polar opposites in Donald, who is wacky, excitable and Sonny who is a dour and sour puss at first but later on, he cheers up. Both are amusing in their own ways. It's interesting to see how much Donald changes from being a regular Joe, down-to-earth, down on one's luck type of guy into a gun-toting, trigger-happy, obsessed Huntsman. 

Other than say Midnight Run with Robert De Niro and Charles Grodin, there is nothing quite this in terms of story/narrative and plot, making movies such as The Survivors as one of a kind. 

It took a while to get used and it does get off to a slow start, but it is a movie, especially a Robin Williams movie that you need to watch more than once, in order to appreciate it for what it is, what it was and for what it and the director, Michael Richie wanted to achieve. At first viewing, I wasn't so sure, but there was something about it that I couldn't put my finger on that I thought I have to watch it a few more times to see what it's really like. And so after the 4th or 5th viewing, I got into it more and liked the film more as well. 

The third movie starring Robin after Popeye and The World According to Garp and his first (un)official comedy movie, The Survivors is an interesting look at the lengths people go to, in order to survive and to stay alive. I found this film more entertaining than the latter. 

In addition, in one of Robin Williams earliest performances, he shows layers of his versatility both as a comedic and dramatic feature film actor. Following on from Mork & Mindy, the physical and improvisational comedy aspects of The Survivors was a sign of things to come for Robin, throughout the heydeys of Good Morning, Vietnam, Aladdin, Mrs Doubtfire, The Birdcage and Fathers' Day during the late '80s up until the late '90s.  

If I was to describe this movie in a few words, I would say The Survivors is a dark, though not too dark comedy with some drama, funny one-liners and occasional slapstick thrown in. In fact, it kind of feels like it plays it straight as a story, with most of the humour generated by Robin's character. I liked all of the characters, but for Donald's wife/girlfriend, of whom didn't provide much value to the movie. There is also a brief cameo from John Goodman of Roseanne fame. 

One thing that didn't make sense was that I didn't quite understand the change of heart from the gunman: one minute he is holding up a diner and set of people, the next he is working alongside Sonny and Donald against the authorities. 

Because of its box office failure & negative reviews, it bombed in theaters when it came out in 1983; I think that critics, audiences and some fans were expecting a Mork & Mindy - type of movie with Robin as the main headlining star, and when they saw the trailers for The Survivors, they were turned off by what they saw. & with that, it became and it is one of Robin Williams's obscure efforts, which would've secured cult status by now, had more and more fans and people discovered it. Roger Ebert didn't like how this movie allows Robin Williams to run amok in the comedic stakes: I felt this was a good vehicle for Robin to exhibit more of his classic improv style that I, myself enjoy a great deal of, alongside a tone where the movie shifts from being sardonic in one scene to shrewd and upbeat in another scene. At the time of The Survivors release by Columbia Pictures, Robin quoted:
''one of the reasons I wanted to do The Survivors, is because it has so many different levels of comedy. Some of it is pure slapstick. At times the humour is subtle. It ranges from Black comedy to farce and satire.''

Critics derided The Survivors' screenplay for not having a particular point of view about anything and that it doesn't know whether it wants to be a straight-up comedy or satire -, a criticism which I completely refute. I believe the film is a comedy that generally and satirically pokes fun at or highlight what being a survivalist is all about. As well as this, it is about the developing friendship between 2 strangers, who come together by virtue of one horrible incident that happened out of nowhere; these people just don't get that, at all.

The whole survivalist aspect of this film is interesting that is akin to Stripes with Bill Murray and/or 1997's Grosse Pointe Blank. 

Everyone did an excellent job with Robin Williams and Walter Matthau to Kirsten Vigard who plays Sonny Paluso's daughter, Candace and Jerry Reed as the robber, Jack. Williams and Matthau play off each other really well and they seem to have a better understanding of their own roles, as well as each others. Their pairing may sound a little far-fetched for a lot of people on paper, but when they come together, it's a delight to watch as it unfolds. & in Vigard and Reed, they provide sufficient support to the leads. 

The movie's humour is not laugh out loud funny like with Mrs Doubtfire and Fathers' Day, which is very much farcical, low-brow yet still easily accessible to audiences, and compared to those comedies in terms of subtext, setting, consequences, The Survivors is very niche, but it still has those little a-la trademark Robin moments that make me smile and giggle. Such as ones where Donald takes part in a training camp, the crotch grab and when he gets kicked in the balls by Sonny! Watching a young-faced Robin Williams as Donald and by reminiscing over how much he has evolved as a character actor, and of the various roles he has undertaken in his acting career, as a fan I can say hand on heart that I'm so proud to have seen him come so far and how much he has evolved and developed, ever since Mork & Mindy. Even if his movie career did take a bit of a dip in terms of quality movies from 2003 onwards. 

I know a lot of people and fans remember Robin for Dead Poets Society, Aladdin, Good Morning Vietnam, Mrs Doubtfire, Good Will Hunting and Hook & Mork & Mindy, but The Survivors - whilst it is not your average or typical Robin Williams movie vehicle and this is a pre-Hollywood A-list Robin Williams film - he does carry this movie and dominates in most of the scenes. Here, comedy-wise, Williams is at his most in-yer-face and daring than he has ever been, which is also balanced with being a good guy. It arguably has one of Robin's most underrated and understated performances, as well as it takes top spot for being my favourite Robin Williams movie, pre-Good Morning, Vietnam era. Personally, this is far funnier than The Best of Times and Club Paradise that came out, 3 years after The Survivors. 

I also loved the snowy backdrop and setting when events switch to even colder surroundings later on in the film. 

This isn't the perfect film (likewise, it is a bit all over the place and the middle of the third act drags), it isn't high art & nor will it go down in history by critics and film-goers as one of Robin's absolute best movies, from a critical and commercial box-office standpoint; but it certainly has a few interesting action scenes & nice feel-good moments that warm your heart, funny and amusing one-liners and scenes that make you laugh and reminisce at what a true talent he was. The ending was truly something: the sentimentality and poignancy & emotionally purity of Donald's character, is all the more understandable and heartfelt, given Robin's passing in 2014.  

The Survivors, alongside 1997's Fathers' Day, are 2 of my favourite Robin Williams guilty pleasures. 

(aww, look at that face....)

Favourite Robin Williams Character Lines:

- Today, a head of a major corporation had a parrot fire me, and a woman I've known for years pull a gun on me, and another one I didn't even know at all, she tried to bite off my nose and stick it up my ass

- Damn it! I'm not going to see this man dangle for your delight

- Finally, the cloud disappeared, I heard this voice say.... 'holy s**t!'

- Old woman: I was accosted, Donald: in this century?

- Officer, this man is slicker than whale s*** at an ice flow

- The sooner you get here, the sooner there will be one less wart on the ass of society

- Damn straight! F***ing A, pardon me

- I'm sorry, but I'm gonna blow a large hole in your skivvy heart

- Hi Jack, want some pancakes?

- Oh c'mon off it man, you're so cool, you'll p*** ice cubes 

- You shot my gun, God dammit! You're not supposed to shoot a person's gun! Oh God, that really p****es me off! 

- Guess it's like what Wes says, when it comes down to it, it's like every man for himself. No man is an island and some men are peninsulas  


Pros +

- Good premise 

- Early funny and poignant Robin Williams performance 

- Amusing slapstick humour that isn't grating 

- Some interesting action scenes, memorable lines and feel good moments

- Improves with each viewing 

Cons -

- Becomes boring without Robin in certain parts of the film 

- Very obscure movie with a theme and subject matter that will not appeal to all Robin Williams fans

- Story gets bogged down towards the end

Final Verdict:

A diamond in the rough, The Survivors will satisfy Robin Williams fans, particularly those who are keen on his earlier and obscure works. 


Amazon Button (via

No comments:

Post a comment

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...