The Odd Couple (1968)
The Odd Couple (1968)

Genre: Comedy Running Time: 1 hr. 45 min.

Release Date: May 16th, 1968 MPAA Rating: G

Director: Gene Saks Actors: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler, Herbert Edelman, David Sheiner, Larry Haines, Monica Evans, Carole Shelley

 


 

I

n New York, Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) walks into a seedy hotel, alone and with no luggage, and asks to rent a room for a very short time – on the highest floor available. “Goodnight,” says a patron, to which Felix responds, “Goodbye.” It’s obvious he’s planning on taking a mighty leap, which is cemented by the fact that he places his watch and his wallet in an envelope, labeled: To my wife and beloved children. There’s a whimsicality to this impending suicide, not only in the merry music, but also in Felix’s failures at going through with the deed; he struggles with opening the window and throws his back out in the process.

In an attempt to change his own mind, Felix saunters back downstairs and visits a swanky club to spy some scantily-clad dancers. Even the act of downing a shot of whiskey proves unmanageable, as he aggravates a nerve spasm in his neck in the process. Perhaps tossing himself into the river would be a more effective means to a literal end. Meanwhile, five of Felix’s friends engage in their usual Friday night poker game, bickering and snacking and wondering when the sixth player will arrive. Host Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) doesn’t have his head in the game, as he’s broke, he owes money to everyone at the table, and his ex-wife calls to demand her alimony check. But when Murray’s (Herbert Edelman) wife calls to inform the group that she spoke to Felix’s wife – who had broken off their 12-year marriage – and Felix is missing, Oscar is certain that Ungar is preparing to do something extreme. Pals Vinnie (John Fiedler), Speed (Larry Haines), and Roy (David Sheiner) agree that the best way to handle the situation is to remain calm.

“Oh boy do I hate me.” With Neil Simon’s script, based on his own play, plenty of casual chatter alternated with hyper hysterics causes quite the ruckus; Felix turns up okay, but his friends are the ones who act distraught. Of course, they’re also not very good at consoling their suicidal pal. “You can’t spend the rest of your life crying.” Oscar and Felix are now both sans wives, which means they’re all set to be roommates. But they’re not the most compatible of people; Oscar is a happy-go-lucky slob, while Felix is a neurotic clean-freak. So it’s not long before they’re significantly stomping through one another’s personal spaces and comfortable routines.

“I’m cooped up in here with Mary Poppins, 24-hours a day!” Amid the clashes and mania, the film examines the contrasts between single and married individuals (or freedom-loving bachelors versus content couples), while also comically placing Lemmon in the stereotypical housewife role, cooking and cleaning and putting everything away in its proper place. As he copes with sudden familial changes, Felix upsets the balance of his new partner’s improvisational life, vocalizing his guilt, his feelings about meeting new women, and Oscar’s failure to appreciate all the work done around the apartment. “This is no time to have a domestic quarrel!”

“Everything you do irritates me!” The humor isn’t always laugh-out-loud funny, as it’s occasionally based on crafting awkward moments designed to make viewers distressed (along with depressingly believable scenarios, even if exaggerated), but Lemmon and Matthau have an undeniable chemistry that allows their highly contrasting personalities to generate a fitting camaraderie and plenty of comical conundrums. Their contentions highlight composure versus outrage; order versus chaos; organization versus disarray; and careful preparation versus spontaneous fun, which mirror the traditional Hollywood plights of two opposites striving to recognize just how much they love one other. If Felix were a woman, “The Odd Couple” would be a rather straightforward screwball comedy from the ’30s. Perhaps the picture’s greatest qualities are its senses of realism and honesty (boasting a strangely feel-good vibe, despite when the portrayals are galling), even if they’re pushed to hilarious extremes to make a point of the complexity of relationships. And the ending is certainly one of the best of the genre.

– Mike Massie

  • 7/10