The Odd Couple. 1968. Directed by Gene Saks | MoMA
The Odd Couple – 1968

Director Gene Saks
Screenplay Neil Simon
Starring Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, David Sheiner, Karry Haines, Monica Evans, Carole Shelley, Billie Bird, Iris Adrian

The Odd Couple is a film I avoided watching through for many years. Partly because I found the subject of divorced men living in NYC not in my purview. The Golden Girls kind of changed that for me, even though not all of the girls were divorced. It takes place during a high time in New York storytelling. Neil Simon is as big as he ever would be churning out tales of the big city wrought small as a Broadway stage could make it.

I always loved Walter Matthau. I sort of respected Jack Lemmon, though his Felix Unger persona seemed just another version of him that I would see in every film. Who am I kidding? Oscar Madison is pretty much every character Matthau ever played too, more or less.

The story starts with Unger newly separated from his wife. He rents a sleazy hotel in Times Square intent on jumping out of it’s ninth story window to his doom. Of course he cannot open the window. He then goes out on the town to get drunk and he gets hurt there too just throwing down a drink.

On the Upper West Side, Oscar Madison and the rest of his poker playing pals are playing a game. They discuss with concern how late Felix is to the game. Soon enough they find out why. Oscar decides to ask him to move in, which he agrees to after the kind of long discussion one witnesses in the middle of an act on Broadway.

The screenplay’s theater roots show throughout, with only a couple of scenes taking place outside of a set. One of them is at a Mets game, where everyone except Oscar gets to see Bill Mazeroski hit into a triple play to end a game. The back and forth is natural for the two, as they bring out the best in each other. Lemmon is so good at his obsessive compulsive loser role, he begins to grate on the viewer even before he does on his co-star.

The film is not a landslide of laughs. There are some dramatic turns here and there, but nothing that will change your outlook on life. Ultimately, what works best is the chemistry of the two leads, as everyone else appears to be along for the same ride as the viewers.

If it’s not the perfect comedy, it is a good one worth viewing for the slice of life that is the late 60’s early 70’s when marriages began to fall apart in record numbers in the United States.

(**** out of *****)

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