The Odd Couple began as a concept when playwright Neil Simon observed his recently divorced brother share an apartment with another divorced guy. He developed it into a very successful play. In the original play Walter Matthau played Oscar, but it was The Honeymooners star Art Carney who played Felix. Both actors were offered the parts for the film. Carney declined. It was because of the onscreen chemistry between Matthau and Jack Lemon on the film The Fortune Cookie that led to Lemmon being cast as Felix. The decision was a stroke of genius. If you look at it on its surface, there really isn’t much of a story here at all. It is the connection and relationship between these characters, and subsequently these actors, that made this film the classic that it is. Also returning from the play to reprise their roles were Monica Evans and Carole Shelley as the amusing Pigeon Sisters, roles they would actually repeat for the television series two years later.
When I watch this film, I will admit that it’s often a little hard to get the images of Jack Klugman and Tony Randall out of my mind. Most folks have had far more exposure to that 5 year television series than they have with the original film. To me, they will always be those characters. In fact Klugman replaced Matthau on the stage as Oscar before he took the role on television. Still, even with that bias, it is awfully hard not to get drawn into this film. For me characters and performances can be everything. That’s what makes this film have the lasting power it has enjoyed. Most of the film, as the play, takes place inside the apartment. There is a very limited cast, often just Felix and Oscar on the screen. Certainly there are some great moments with the poker buddies and the Pigeon Sisters, but most of the film takes place in a limited environment with just two actors. If you can make that work at all, let alone create a classic experience from it, that’s saying something. There were a few outside locations utilized in the film that were not part of the original play. These were placed there just to give the viewers a change of scenery but were totally unnecessary.
The film’s story is almost exactly that of the later television series. Oscar is a sportswriter and a total slob. When he offers his guests green sandwiches; he identifies the contents as either very young cheese, or very old meat. Felix is a news writer, not the photographer he is in the series, and is a hypochondriac and neat freak. He might not be as compulsive as Monk, but he certainly was OCD. Divorce has thrown these two friends together. As you might expect, Felix drives Oscar crazy with his cleanliness. In the series, Oscar is just as much a pain to Felix, but in the film, Felix remains genuinely indebted to his friend for taking him in at such a low point in his life.
Whether or not you’re a fan of the television series, this is a film that is worth seeing. It’s a pretty good selection for Paramount’s acclaimed Centennial Collection. It comes with some rather nice extras. Matthau and Lemmon would go on to do 10 films together over the span of their long careers. The eventually reprised these roles in the inferior The Odd Couple II. By that time the television series had redefined the characters and, while the chemistry remained, the reunion was good only for the nostalgic value it gave.
The Odd Couple is presented in its original aspect ratio of 2.35:1. No one is going to call this an outstanding image presentation. At times the picture is quite soft, and I really was disappointed in some of the film’s definition. It’s not a colorful film to begin with, so it really never stands out in any particular way. But, black levels are actually pretty solid, and there are times when colors manage to break through. The dress of the Pigeon Sisters is a rather nicely rendered scene. Contrast is also good at times, making this at least a good average image overall.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 track is really an almost unnecessary touch. I would have been happy with a standard stereo track here. For all intents and purposes that’s what you’re getting. The original was a simple mono affair and wasn’t played with all that much to deliver this mix, thankfully. It’s all in the dialog, and you’ll get that just fine.
There is an Audio Commentary with Chris Lemmon and Charlie Matthau, the sons of the leads. Unfortunately both Matthau and Lemmon are gone, dying less than a year apart. They share a lot of those fond memories of their fathers, and while it doesn’t really enhance the film, it’s a touching audio experience.
There is a nice little booklet that contains some liner notes on the film.
This is a 2 disc set. The first disc offers the film and commentary. The following features appear on the second disc:
In The Beginning: Larry King calls the original play the “perfect comedy”. He and other celebrities, both connected with the property and not, talk about both the play and the film here. For some reason they are all green screened into a pitch black background, which provides them with an unnatural looking green aura. The participants include the actors’ sons. It’s a Jack Lemmon love-fest, but too much time is spent here on Matthau’s already highly publicized gambling addiction. It runs about 17 minutes.
Inside The Odd Couple: The same interview subjects in the same setting touch on casting, rehearsals, and the cast for this 19 minute feature.
Memories From The Set: More anecdotes about the film from the same interview sessions make up this 10 minute piece.
Matthau And Lemmon: A nice tribute to the two actors. A lot of time out of this 10 minute feature deals with the friendship these two shared off the screen.
The Odd Couple – A Classic: At just 3 minutes it’s really a fluff piece with the same participants answering the question: Why is this film a classic?
Photo Galleries and a trailer fill out the extras.
There have really only been a handful of comedy shows that have gone on to succeed, coming from films. The most obvious for most people is likely MASH. For a lot of us, The Odd Couple comes in a close second. Often when that does happen it is difficult to explore the original material years later when both have long since run their course. This is one of those cases where the film holds up. I often get asked the question in these circumstances: Which one do you think was best? My answer here is, all three. They each have their charms and their moments. The film’s a classic. “Not in other words, those are the perfect ones.”