The Odd Couple review by Tom Blain

My introduction to Lemmon and Matthau came at an early age in my life and a later stage of theirs. As a child of the 80s and 90s, I first saw the bickering duo in Grumpy Old Men. Imagine that: finding comedy in men old enough to be your grandfather. To a young adolescent, grandparents represent quiet Sundays wearing your best sweater (given to you by the same grandparents), a batch of warm cookies to spoil your dinner, and The Golden Girls. They dont normally represent laugh out loud comedy but these two yutzes provided it better than most wannabe comedians 1/3rd their age. Thats talent. As I grew older, I began to discover the earlier works of this legendary comic duo, including the big one

Enter The Odd Couple. Oscar (Walter Matthau) is a slob, separated from his wife, and is living the life of a free bachelor. He has a big, messy apartment, spends money as soon as he makes it, and has weekly poker nights with his buddies. In fact he is having one of those poker nights when one of the participants, Felix (Jack Lemmon), shows up late. Not only does Felix show up late, but he is also branded as suicidal since word passes around that his wife wants to separate from him. The group gets to talking and decides that Felix cant (or shouldnt) hack it on his own so he is going to stay with Oscar.

Where the comedy ensues is in the oil and water chemistry of Oscar and Felixs personalities conflicts. Oscar is the slob. Felix is an obsessive (compulsive) neat freak with enough personal ticks and idiosyncrasies to drive anyone (man, woman, child) up the wall. Oscar likes his mess and Felix is orderly. Oscar is always late and Felix is punctual. Oscar lets food rot in his fridge and Felix cooks from scratch. These simple yet well played issues are the reason the movie holds up so well after 40 years. Neil Simons script is really a simple mixing of the two characters at a high level. They could play independent of their surroundings or era. But the genius of his work comes out in how he writes their reactions to situations and is amplified by Lemmon and Matthaus acting. The two play off each other not like friends but like a bickering husband and wife couple that have been at each others throats for decades.

The Odd Couple is still funny today and the main reasons are Lemmon and Matthau. The two veteran actors who were apparently best of friends, have been in several movies together (seven, eight?) and this was their second (first was Fortune Cookie in 1966). There is an odd bond that you can sense between the two actors that lasts through to the Grumpy Old Men films thirty years later. Director Gene Saks doesnt show off, but then again he knows he shouldn't. Most shots allow the actors to work within long takes which allows for the building of chemistry between not just Matthau and Lemmon but also their poker buddies and the Pidgeon sisters. The main stage is the apartment, and Saks uses every nook and cranny to create a confined space within such a roomy Manhattan apartment. In fact about 80% of the movie takes place somewhere within Oscar's apartment. Keeping the acting on the inside and within one set also has sort of a "sealing" affect on the film to where it doesn't feel too dated by outside topical influences (other than a Dave Mazeroski moment).

On that note, I'm amazed when i read other reviews that state that this movie doesn't hold up well. I'm not exactly sure why; maybe the distinction between comedy and vulgarity is becoming more and more blurred. I definitely don't think there is anything pure and saintly about the characters in this film that dates it in anyway. Oscar's character is vulgar, and even displays it in the film (thinking mostly of scenes where he speaks in sexual innuendo with the coo-coo Pidgeon sisters). If anything Simon's writing is strong enough to not need a plastic man-piece to attract laughs. If there were two actors that could hold a candle to Lemmon and Mathau's performances I feel that this movie could be made in the current decade and be just as funny.

For the longest time(since 2000) The Odd Couple was available on a no frills pressing. In March of 2009, this classic finally gets a gold medal treatment with a two disc set featuring a number of extras and a DVD commentary featuring the main actors sons, Jake Matthau and Chris Lemmon. They bring some interesting stories to the table about their fathers relationship, personality quirks, and a few stories about growing up being the sons of famous Hollywood actors. Unfortunately it doesn't add much to the movie experience and most of what they say in the commentary is summed up or retold in the other extras. The commentary on a whole was a little disappointing. Dont get me wrong, the DVD set is good and much better than the version that was in stores for the past 8+ years but when it comes to the Odd Couple it would have been nice to see DVD makers get this one done before Matthau and Lemmon died. Or at least try to include Gene Saks and Neil Simon (both of whom still show up as living in IMDB, al beit in their early 80s). I'm also left to wonder why there is no archival works, interviews, etc from the creators of this movie. This was the most popular Lemmon and Mathau movie and you would think in 30 years they would have said something about it in front of a camera. It would have been a nice touch over the recent puff pieces that were included in this two-disc set.

Im going to toss around the word classic liberally because I truly believe that even the most cynical movie snob could find it in his heart to accept this movie as comic genius at best and just a funny movie at worst. It still holds up and doesnt show signs of aging (which is tough to say many comedies) and thats a testament to all involved: actors, director, and writer. Its just a shame they didnt send up a DVD of this quality for Odd Couple sooner.




10 out of 10 Jackasses
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