Kotch review by Tom Blain
Ive been a big fan of Walter Matthau ever since I saw him, but was introduced to him while he was in the twilight of his career. When I was younger, I saw him in movies like Dennis the Menance and the two Grumpy Old Men movies. In both films he played an enjoyable crotchety old man, so thats sort of how I thought of him through much of my life. Later in my life, I saw a younger, versatile Matthau such as the Odd Couple, Plaza Suite, Cactus Flower and The Fortune Cookie. Kotch is probably the first movie where you could label Matthaus character as a grumpy old man, but what is incredible is that he pulled it off two decades-plus before he became Mr. Wilson and Max Goldman.
Joseph Kotcher (Walter Matthau) is an old grandpa type with a lot on his mind, and no shame about telling everyone about it. In his old age he is showing signs of senility: he tells stories unrelated to the moment, he rambles, and he seems to still be living in another time. Kotch lives with his son Gerald (Charles Aidman), daughter-in-law Wilma (Felicia Farr) and baby grandson and all he really wants to do is help out around the house, in particular help raise his grandson right. But his daughter-in-law gets upset and impatient with his senior moments and mishaps (i.e. accidentally spraying her with a hose as he waters flowers). Poor punching bag Gerald often takes the brunt of her fury later as she demands he do something about it.
One day Gerald and Wilma plot to take Kotch to a retirement community. This sends a shock to the old guy as he realizes that he is no longer wanted in his sons home. So instead of giving into the leisurely lifestyle Kotch hits the road. First he travels North towards Seattle and comes back just to prove he can still function on his own. Then he finds what he needs: someone who could still use his help. He finds his grandsons former baby sitter Erica alone, young, and pregnant without much direction. Kotch needs to feel needed and she needs elderly advice, a place to stay, and a little cash. They make the perfect odd pairing.
The film itself is a nice little diamond. Walter Matthau is highly convincing as a grandpa with never-ending stories and thought patterns that stretch 5 minutes into an hour. Matthau really was a brilliant actor in all stages of his life. I dont think people from my generation really know the range of his work and what he could do with a role. Merely looking at this film you might easily forget that at the time the film was made (1971) Matthau was only 51 years old. Thats a full 22 years before he was Jack Lemmons neighbor in Grumpy Old Men, so its not as if he was playing his age. For this role he was given an Oscar Nomination but lost out to Gene Hackman (another special actor) for his role as Popeye Doyle in The French Connection.
I should note that the film was made in that time where many films had pretty shady style (1971). So the first thing that stuck me about Kotch was how the opening sequence took me back to those days when my 2nd grade class was treated to a projector film about school safety. The opening music is dripping with melodramatic feeling set over freeze frame moments with grainy film; are all techniques that time has forgotten. Oddly enough they dont introduce the films comedic side well at all either. I dont want to get hung up on that too long though
Although incredibly dated style-wise, Kotch is a rather enjoyable family flick. It is on DVD but maybe difficult to find at your local video stores.
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