...it's still the original movie that best captures the essence of the characters and story.

John J. Puccio's picture
John J.

No doubt about it, Oscar and Felix have become cultural icons. You'll still see Neil Simon's popular stage play, "The Odd Couple," in theaters big and small all over the world. The movie was a smash success in 1968. The TV series reached into countless millions of homes. And there was a film sequel thirty years later. Of all these versions, however, it's still the original movie that best captures the essence of the characters and story. It's no wonder, then, that Paramount have finally given the film a proper DVD package, a two-disc Centennial Collection edition.

It's interesting that when I first reviewed this movie on DVD about a decade ago, I wondered if more readers would recognize the TV show than the film. Today, both the movie and the TV series have probably either faded into memory for older folks or are totally unknown to younger people. Anyway, when the film opened, it became so famous that the public began talking about it as an accepted sociological pattern. Friends at the time referred to my then-roommate and me as an "odd couple" because I had a rather finicky attitude toward keeping the apartment clean, while he was more than a bit careless. Years later, my wife told me after we'd watched the DVD that I reminded her of Felix. I guess some things never change.

As the movie begins, Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) is in despair because his wife of twelve years has left him. He's ready to commit suicide, but when he tries to jump out of a ninth-floor hotel room he can't get the window unstuck and throws his back out trying to open it. Felix's best friend, Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau), comes to his rescue by suggesting he room with him for a while. Oscar has a big apartment, he tells him; and, besides, he figures if Felix cooks their dinners rather than his having to go out to eat every night, he can save enough money to pay his ex-wife the alimony and child support he owes her. The guys' new relationship lasts about five minutes before Felix starts getting on Oscar's nerves, Felix forever tidying up, cleaning, and fussing about. He even disinfects the playing cards when their friends come over for their weekly poker game. Likewise, Oscar starts getting on Felix's nerves with his slovenly manner and general disregard for decorum. Felix is a persnickety hypochondriac, and Oscar is a dedicated slob. They are, indeed, an odd and very funny couple.

Matthau, with his perpetual hangdog look, would seem to have been born to the part of the high-paid sports writer who's continually down on his luck. He marks his every utterance with a subtly droll resignation. What's more, he gets the best lines. When he learns that Felix, in desperation, has downed a whole bottle of unidentified tablets, he discounts the possibility of overdose: "Well, maybe they were vitamin pills; he could be the healthiest one in the room!" Later, he can't tell if Felix is choking or laughing: "You make the same sounds for pain and happiness." Lemmon, on the other hand, plays Felix, the fastidious television news writer, rather seriously, taking some of the comic edge off the piece and occasionally replacing it with an uncomfortable air of sadness. It isn't enough to dampen the film's overall humorous spirit, but it can be a momentary wet blanket.

Most people probably remember Lemmon and Matthau for this particular collaboration, but, of course, they made a number of other films together over the years. I suppose practice makes perfect, even if they would never be quite as polished together as they were here. Let's see, there was "The Fortune Cookie" a couple of years before "The Odd Couple"; then "The Front Page" (1974), "Buddy, Buddy" (1981), "Grumpy Old Men" (1993), "Grumpier Old Men" (1995), and, unfortunately, their last team effort, the sorry sequel, "Odd Couple II" (1998).

Happily, in this older release director Gene Saks ("Barefoot in the Park," "Cactus Flower") keeps the pair punching out Neil Simon's one-liners at a healthy clip, and Neal Hefti's musical score is instantly recognizable, making "The Odd Couple" a delight. The hilariously disastrous scene with the Pigeon sisters from the apartment upstairs is a minor classic all by itself.

As far as I can tell, Paramount used the same transfer here they used earlier. In a side-by-side comparison, the new edition looked just a smidgeon brighter, but that may have been a condition of the upscaling abilities of the two players I used. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with the new transfer, a model of standard-definition work. The picture, projected in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, is excellent, with colors bright, rich, and vivid, yet always natural. Moreover, you'll find hardly a flicker or shimmer in sight and only a normal, moderate film grain to provide an appropriate movie texture.

As for the sound, it's in Dolby Digital 5.1, although it doesn't do all that much in the surround department. Actually, the front stereo is itself rather limited, but it does a fine job rendering dialogue clearly and accurately, which is its main duty. And every once in a while you can, in fact, hear a little of Hefti's music seeping into the back speakers.

Disc one of this two-disc Centennial Collection edition contains the feature film; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; sixteen scene selections; and an audio commentary by Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon, the sons of the two stars. The sons' comments are different, to say the least, very personal, very insightful, often amusing, and sometimes touching.

Disc two contains a series of featurettes that take us behind the scenes of the filmmaking. First, we get "In the Beginning," seventeen minutes of background on the Neil Simon play that introduced the story to the world. We hear from as many people involved with the film as survive, with an introduction by Larry King. Next, there's "Inside The Odd Couple," nineteen minutes on casting the film. Then, there's "Memories from the Set," ten minutes of reminiscences; "Matthau and Lemmon," ten minutes on the stars; and "The Odd Couple: A Classic," three more minutes of praise for the movie. Things conclude with two still galleries, production and movie; and a widescreen theatrical trailer.

Paramount enclose the keep case in an elegant, charcoal-gray "Centennial Collection" slipcover (pictured upper right). The keep-case itself displays an enlarged view of the small picture used on the slipcover.

Parting Thoughts:
In the long-running television series (with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman), the roommates lived together for a number of years. In the movie they are together about three weeks before Oscar throws Felix out. I had forgotten that. Strange, how time and circumstance alter one's perceptions. Be that as it may, the original movie version of "The Odd Couple" remains a comedy classic, and this newest DVD edition breathes new life into an old favorite.


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