THE ODD COUPLE (1968) 

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Jack Lemmon
Walter Matthau
John Fiedler
Herb Edelman
David Sheiner
Larry Haines
Monica Evans
Carole Shelley

Gene Saks




Time: 105 mins.
Rating: G
Genre: Comedy

Academy Award nominations for Best Film Editing and Best Adapted Screenplay.

Though this story was a success on Broadway before it became a hit movie, there's just something about this version that's pure magic. Perhaps it's the crisp, heartfelt, witty writing by Neil Simon. However, I believe it's the onscreen chemistry between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. This was their second film together and they make it seem like they've been working with each other for years. Both are brilliant actors in their own right and they bring all their comic genius to the table in this hysterical tale of two men trying to get on with their lives after divorce. Up until Simon wrote this play, I'm sure most people just assumed men were thrilled to be single again, suffering no real loss or regret when their marriages went South. This film illuminates their point of view in a brutally honest and devastatingly funny way.

The film opens with Lemmon, as Felix Unger, walking the streets of New York dejected and alone. He should be playing poker with his friends, but today his wife sent him packing, so he's decided to put an end to his miserable existence. Though competent in other areas, his completely inept attempts to kill himself leave him more depressed than ever. When he finally drags himself over to Oscar's apartment, his finds his friends in a tizzy about his disappearance. They know he was out trying to commit suicide and react to his sudden presence like a group of nervous nellies, running around after him in order to stop him from harming himself. Once everyone calms down, it becomes clear Felix just wants to be alone to process the new direction his life has suddenly taken. Since he has nowhere to live, Oscar invites him to move into the apartment. It's so large, they probably won't ever see each other. Felix is unsure. Clearly, he's not an easy man to live with.

Oscar convinces him to stay. If he was so perfect, he wouldn't be divorced either. Both men are a woman's worst nightmare and quickly become each others. Felix is the ultimate control/neat freak. Oscar such a slob, pigs would refuse to enter his apartment. Everything goes fine at first. Oscar appreciates the hot meals, clean floors and washed clothes. Felix, someone to listen to his problems. However, Felix is unwilling to bend, turning Oscar's comfortable, if filthy home into a monument of cleanliness. His need for neatness even drives their poker buddies away. If they wanted someone to nag them about coasters and crumbs, they'd stay at home with their wives. Oscar was hoping for a friend, someone to have fun with. What he gets is a 24/7 companion without the benefit of sexual intimacy. To save his sanity and their friendship, he forces Felix to find other accommodations. Felix is angry at first, but he lands in a wonderful place no one could have expected, especially him.

"You guys get this one night a week. I'm cooped up here with Mary Poppins 24 hours a day."

Simon creates two unforgettable characters in Felix and Oscar. Without the talent of Lemmon and Matthau, both would be insuffrable and annoying. Instead they find the souls of these men and bring them to life in an honest and endearing fashion. Just the idea of living with someone as particular as Felix makes my skin crawl with frustration, and yet watching Lemmon you can't help but love him. Sure he's horribly difficult, but he's also clearly in pain. He doesn't act this way to irritate people. He's just trying to make his world a nice place to be. Of course, his life is so out of control, order is the only way he keeps his sanity. Matthau, though initially a louse, has the more sympathetic role. Who can blame him for going totally insane. The scene where he completely loses it, threatening to kill Felix is priceless. As much as Oscar loathes him, he still loves Felix and values his friendship. It takes a great actor to be able to portray such diverse emotions while still being funny.

Of course, this would never have come to pass without the wit and wisdom of Neil Simon. One of the great playwrights of our time, he tells a simple story of heart, humor and the bonds of friendship. It's also filled with some of the best one-liners ever written. Though the film takes place mostly in their apartment you never feel confined or bored. Saks keeps the pace quick and the angles interesting. It's easy to see why it was nominated for an award for editing. This has to be one of the funniest films I've seen in a long time. It hasn't aged a day. If you're looking for a comic treat, you won't find many other films more satisfying.

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