The Odd Couple (1968)
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The Odd Couple began its life as a Broadway play with Art Carney and Walter Matthau as Felix and Oscar respectively. Before Jack Lemmon got the Felix role, many other big names were rumored to get the role like Frank Sinatra or Dick Van Dyke. Famed producer Robert Evans wanted Lemmon though and got him which makes The Odd Couple the second of ten movies that Lemmon and Matthau appeared in together.
Neil Simon is the writer for The Odd Couple and of course is also responsible for the Broadway play. I'm not cultured enough to have seen any of his plays but I've seen some of the other movies he's written like The Out of Towners and The Heartbreak Kid which are great. Some movies you can just tell that they were at one time a play but I find the The Odd Couple kind of escapes that. It lends itself extremely well to being a movie and it goes without saying that it is very well written.
Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) checks into a cheap hotel in New York with the intention of killing himself. He makes sure to get a room very high up but when it comes to opening the window to jump, the window is jammed and he hurts his back. While Felix continues to have one misfortune after another in his bid to die, Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) is with a group of friends playing poker and they're confused as to where Felix could be as he'd never been so late before. Speaking to Felix's wife Frances, it turns out that the two have split up and Felix is probably out trying to kill himself. Felix eventually shows up and is invited to stay with Oscar for a while.
The black comedy elements of The Odd Couple are especially clear in the very beginning when Felix Ungar is trying to kill himself. A man trying to kill himself is very rarely funny but Neil Simon makes it so. The score also goes a long way in making the black comedy work. Jack Lemmon also deserves full credit for his portrayal of Felix Ungar and making the comedy work. It's like he really is Felix and he is paired so well with Oscar. The two are a great pair and they have great chemistry. Lemmon and Matthau are one of the key factors as to why The Odd Couple works so well.
Overall, the humour still works very well and has aged very gracefully. There's some pretty blatant sexism in a diner scene where Oscar pulls some moves on a waitress that would be pretty shocking if something of the sort were pulled today. But this is 1968 though and stuff like that has to be taken with a grain of salt. There are lots of laughs to be had in The Odd Couple and a lot of them are created single-handedly by the Lemmon/Matthau pairing.
The movie actually gets pretty deep at certain points but always with a smile on its face. I also love the set for Oscar's apartment that goes through a massive change following the moving in of Felix. Most of the movie takes place in the apartment but it never gets boring. The dialogue is smart as a whip and let me just say that the ending is very good.
I went into watching The Odd Couple knowing that I was going to like it and I did. I think I liked it a bit better than I was expecting even. Lemmon/Matthau are like pancakes and maple syrup. They're like Oreos and milk. The script is also very well put together. The premise is simple but the resulting movie is absolutely hilarious.
Truly one of the greatest comedies ever made.
The theme to The Odd Couple takes me right back - to the iconic movie, to be sure, but to my youth watching the sitcom version in French and later in English. Neil Simon's play did offer a great set-up for a long-running sitcom (and various other less successful iterations), and the title has become a comedy trope. Watching the original film with Lemon and Matthau (who has become my favorite actor of the interregnum between the Golden Age of Hollywood and the modern day), it has a lot more humanity than I remembered. Though Felix's suicidal tendencies are played for laughs, I was touched by how supportive his friends were despite their mostly gruff exteriors, none more so than Oscar. It's quite lovely. Of course, the dialog is cracking and funny, and it has something to say about platonic marriages (which anyone who's had a roommate can relate to, especially if adult roommates). I like how it is completely unselfconscious about potential gay subtext, platonic love between men nothing to be worried about. But if the LGBTQ+ community wanted to claim Felix Unger (he's definitely "coded" as a gay stereotype), that would be fine too, and perhaps make the anti-homophobia argument stronger.
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In 3 official lists
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This movie ranks #17 in AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs
This movie ranks #68 in Emma Beare's 501 Must-See Movies
This movie ranks #262 in Box Office Mojo's All Time Adjusted Box Office