The Golden Boys, writer-director Daniel Adams’s adaptation of Joseph Lincoln’s novel Cap’n Eri, could just as easily be called Grumpy Old Sea-Men or Two Brides for Three Salty Seadogs. It tells the quaintly inoffensive but persistently quirky story of Zebulon Hedge (Carradine), Perez Ryder (Dern), and Jeremiah Burgess (Torn), three retired sea captains who live together for convenience’s sake. One day, they decide that one of them must get married because, as Ryder points out, the place has become “a pig sty.” Yes, they want to get hitched because they can’t pick up after themselves. How irreverent!
The setup is sitcomish, with the three captains collectively appearing in the role of the zany next-door neighbor—more Mr. Furley than Kramer—and no relatively normal protagonists we can relate to. The grumpy old seamen put a letter in the paper to find a wife and draw lots to figure out who the lucky soon-to-be-wed SOB will be. Jeremiah loses, getting so mad that he breaks the fourth wall from sheer displeasure and balks, “Dang it to hell, I know what it is to be managed by a wife,” and gets a curt but appropriately old-fashioned reply from a Ms. Martha Snow (Hemingway), or, as Zebulon quaintly calls her, “that wonderful woman from Nantucket.” This should be followed by a fight between the three men to win her hand, but Golden Boys is determined to bore you to death, so instead they just have Perez find another lady to flirt with while Jerry goes off to hide under the dining room table, leaving Snow to be seduced by Zebulon’s crusty charms (who could resist a man who speaks poetry like “C’mere, gimme your flipper”?).
The only obstacle for the guys becomes mustering up the courage to go after what they want, which is apparently as much a chore for the captains to do as it is for Adams to conceptualize. The film’s dialogue shows that he has no concept of what these people might say in a real-life situation, using mindless aphorisms meant to lend the protagonists’ syntax some kind of local color. When Perez tries to wriggle his way out of popping the question to his future bride, he stammers something about having plenty of “seafarin’” left to do. As a result, he’s rightly rebuked twice, once by the lady in question (“Your common sense makes about as much sense as a duck in a hen house”) and once by Zeb (“When all you got is a hangline and a scrap of squid for fishin’, you really can’t be goin’ after whales”). If that’s the best either Adams or Lincoln could do in the way of a cute euphemism, they should’ve given up on this sinking schooner well before principal photography began.