Thursday 22 October 2020

Movie Review: The Odd Couple (1968)

A comedy about a friendship tested at close quarters, The Odd Couple sparkles with witty dialogue and two excellent performances.

In New York City, writer Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) is thrown out of the house by his wife after 12 years of marriage. Despondent and contemplating suicide, he eventually makes his way to the home of his best friend Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau), a sports reporter who has also experienced divorce. 

Oscar invites Felix to live with him, but the two men are very different: Felix is a cleanliness and tidiness freak and a proud chef. Oscar is a slob living on rotting food and proud of it. They soon start irritating each other, but the living arrangement is most severely tested when Oscar invites a couple of ladies over for a fun evening and Felix ruins the jovial mood with excessive sentimentality.

With Neil Simon adapting his own play and Gene Saks directing, The Odd Couple is a playful exploration of a friendship under pressure. How far the bond between the two men will bend before it breaks becomes a battle of wills, patience and empathy caught in the crossfire between diametrically opposed domestic expectations. While the film is mostly confined to Oscar's apartment and does not stray far from the stage origins, the humour is sustained, and Lemmon and Matthau bounce off each other to great effect. 

The tension and laughs are derived from two endearing characters. Felix is vulnerable and still absorbing the shock of his marriage coming to an abrupt end. He takes refuge in obsessive compulsive behaviour, driving Oscar and their poker buddies to distraction with exquisite housekeeping. Felix wants to be accommodating, but starts to suffer under Oscar's increasingly regimented expectations. Two men on divergent wavelengths under the same roof are soon mimicking the behaviour of a married couple in crisis.

Simon's dialogue is razor sharp, the repartee between the two men filled with barbs, sarcasm and throwaway remarks. Saks keeps his cameras moving within the confines of the apartment, and the catchy Neal Hefti theme music is deployed in good doses.

But the film's success resides with Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, and they bring to life two unforgettable men. Lemmon delivers Felix's nervous mannerisms with perfectly annoying accuracy, while Matthau's slouch and grumpy exasperated expression define the prototypical divorced slob.

The supporting cast members add plenty of brio. The loud and sweaty poker group includes Herb Edelman and John Fiedler arguing about chips, snacks, and humidity. Monica Evans and Carole Shelley are the sisters Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon (or is it the other way around), a brilliantly giggly transplanted English pair looking for a good time but unknowingly landing in the ever widening crevasse between Felix and Oscar.

Cranky and candid, The Odd Couple celebrates complicated cohabitation.

All Ace Black Movie Blog reviews are here.

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