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Pop Rocks: "Getting Too Old for This Shit" -- A Cinematic History

Time marches on. There comes a point in all of our lives when the inevitability of our eventual demise goes from esoteric concept to concrete fact. There's no set schedule for when awareness will strike; maybe it's the first time your back gives out, or when you find yourself squinting to read the newspaper. It could be something as devastating as the funeral of a lifelong friend, or as innocuous as realizing one of your all-time favorite movies is 30 years old this year. And you saw it when you were 12.

If you've ever found yourself muttering, "I'm getting too old for this shit" to yourself, you're in pretty good company. And I'm not talking about me, even though I say it every time I end up awake past 11 p.m. writing another goddamned American Idol recap. Some of the most venerated names in Hollywood have uttered that very line (or variations thereof), which was of course made famous by Danny Glover in Lethal Weapon, but who said it first? And when? The answers may shock and surprise you.

Or bore and annoy you. I get paid either way.

The exact phrase -- "I'm getting too old for this shit" and/or "I'm too old for this shit" appears in ten different movies (for purposes of this exercise, all four Lethal Weapon films count as one, and no TV movies were included). The films, along with the character who speaks the line, are as follows:

Behind Enemy Lines/P.O.W. The Escape (1986) - Col. James Cooper (David Carradine) The Hunter (1980) - Ralph "Papa" Thorson (Steve McQueen) Ladder 49 (2004) - Lenny Richter (Robert Patrick) Lethal Weapon series (1987-98) - Sgt. Roger Murtaugh (Danny Glover) Maverick (1994) - Bank Robber (Danny Glover) Out for Justice (1991) - Capt. Ronnie Donziger (Jerry Orbach) To Live and Die in L.A. (1985) - Agent Jim Hart (Michael Greene) Showtime (2002) - Det. Mitch Preston (Robert De Niro) Space Cowboys (2000) - Eugene Davis (William Devane) Stripes (1981) - Sgt. Hulka (Warren Oates)

A more innocuous version, "I'm too old for this crap," appears in two movies:

Adventures in Babysitting (1987) - Chris Parker (Elisabeth Shue) Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen (2009) - Jetfire (Mark Ryan)

Babysitters and robots, of course, don't curse.

The rigors of life-threatening duty seem to prompt a great deal of introspection: Of the original ten profane versions, the line is uttered by a member of the military or law enforcement six times (seven if we count bounty hunter "Papa" Thorson). It also appears McQueen was the first ever to use the line (and all this time I'd been betting on Warren Oates), which is kind of bittersweet, since The Hunter was his last role before he succumbed to lung cancer.

Too old indeed. Oates would die a year after Stripes' release.
Too old indeed. Oates would die a year after Stripes' release.

Another variation, without any reference to feces whatsoever ("I'm getting too old for this [etc]"), appears in a further eight movies:

Blade (1998) - Whistler (Kris Kristofferson) Coccoon (1985) - Art Selwyn (Don Ameche) Elf (2003) - Santa (Ed Asner) The Freshman (1990) - Carmine Sabatini (Marlon Brando) The Mask of Zorro (1998) - Don Diego de la Vega (Anthony Hopkins Sneakers (1992) - Martin Bishop (Robert Redford) Star Wars (1977) - Ben Kenobi (Alec Guinness) Wizards (1977) - Avatar (Bob Holt)

That's an impressive lineup of (overwhelmingly male) talent, with McQueen, De Niro, Oates, Brando, Hopkins, Redford and Guinness standing out in particular. Carmine Sabatini says he's too old for "this nonsense," while the about-to-retire Zorro actually tells his horse, "You're getting too old for this." I included it anyway because horses are awesome. Interestingly, both Ben Kenobi and the wizard Avatar speak essentially the same line, "I'm getting too old for this sort of thing," in two fantasy/sci-fi movies released in 1977, which would appear to make them the first.

But if we loosen up our parameters a little bit further, we come up with even more examples.

 

In the Line of Fire (1993) "I'm too old to go running along the limousines." - Frank Horrigan (Clint Eastwood) Live Free or Die Hard (2007) "I'm getting too old to jump out of cars." - Lt. John McClane (Bruce Willis) Queen of the Damned (2002) "I'm too old to live forever." - David Talbot (Paul McGann) The Rescuers (1977) "I'm too old to be chasing mice." - Rufus the Cat (John McIntire) Showgirls (1995) "I'm getting a little too old for that whorey look." - Cristal Connors (Gina Gershon) Silver Bullet (1985) "I'm a little too old to be playing Hardy Boys meet Reverend Werewolf!" - Uncle Red (Gary Busey)

Those last two are my favorites.

Fifteen of the 26 were released in the period between 1977 and 1994, suggesting a growing number of screenwriters were attempting to profit on the generational angst of Baby Boomers beginning their transition into middle age. And as Hollywood became increasingly derivative during that period, it's not surprising the line -- in all its forms -- grew in popularity. But upon closer examination, we can see the sentiment dates back even earlier.

The first instance I was able to come up with was Josephine Hull telling Cary Grant, "You're too old to be flying off the handle like this," in 1944's Arsenic and Old Lace. Still, we're trying to come up with instances of characters becoming self-aware, so that unfortunately doesn't count. Then we've got several examples from the 1950s:

The Big Combo (1955) "I guess I'm getting too old to handle a gun." - Joe McClure (Brian Donlevy) Bright Leaf (1950) "I'm too old a horse to change my gait." - Major Singleton (Donald Crisp) Kansas Raiders (1950) "My dear Kate, I'm too old a man to have any illusions about the constancy of women or to be seriously disturbed by the lack of it" - Col. William Clarke Quantrill (Brian Donlevy) Indiscreet (1958) "You know, I'm too old for this sort of evening." - Alfred Munson (Cecil Parker) Say One for Me (1959) "I'm a little too old to still believe in Santa Claus." Phil Stanley (Ray Walston) Trio (1955) "I'm too old a dog to learn new tricks, sir." Albert Foreman (James Hayter)

Brian Donlevy represent! Bright Leaf was actually released before Kansas Raiders, so it looks like Donald Crisp is your ultimate winner, though that line from Raiders is hilarious if you aren't my wife. As for the number of '50s flicks represented, we may never know why everyone was so tired during that period. Was it the onset of postwar malaise? Weariness at America's new global leadership role? Subliminal digs at Eisenhower's leadership from pinko screenwriters? Write your own thesis. I do know the only subsequent appearance until the 1970s, was in 1967's To Sir, with Love ("I'm getting much too old for that sort of thing, Miss Dare."), and that was just to defuse the suspicion that Sidney Poitier might nail a white girl.

The latest Transformers movie aside (like anybody expected it to be anything but a deafening piece of garbage in the first place), "I'm getting too old for this shit" appears to have fallen out of favor for good. The next most recent occurrence was back in 2004. At this point, actors like Eastwood and Glover really are past their action star prime, while ten of the original 25 actors have already passed away.

Riggs and Murtaugh in happier --  and younger -- times.
Riggs and Murtaugh in happier -- and younger -- times.

Sooner or later we all get too old, for this or any other shit.


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