History, Legacy & Showmanship
Thursday, 27 December 2018 15:48

Top Form Matthau and Lemmon: Remembering “The Odd Couple” on its 50th Anniversary

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The Odd Couple is one of the great Neil Simon comedies — if not the all-time-great Neil Simon comedy!” — Rob Edelman, author of Matthau: A Life

The Digital Bits and History, Legacy & Showmanship are pleased to present this retrospective commemorating the 50th anniversary of the release of The Odd Couple, the popular Neil Simon comedy about two divorced men with clashing personalities who become roommates.

Featuring Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon in their memorable roles as Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, respectively, and directed by Gene Saks (Cactus Flower, Brighton Beach Memoirs), The Odd Couple opened fifty years ago to box-office success and critical acclaim.

For the occasion The Bits features a Q&A with author, film historian and Walter Matthau biographer Rob Edelman. [Read on here...]

Rob Edelman is the author (with Audrey Kupferberg) of Matthau: A Life (Taylor, 2002). His other books include Great Baseball Films: From ‘Right Off the Bat’ to ‘A League of Their Own’ (Citadel, 1994), Baseball on the Web (MIS Technology, 1998), and (with Audrey Kupferberg) Meet the Mertzes: The Life Stories of I Love Lucy’s Other Couple (Renaissance, 1999). He teaches film history at the State University of New York at Albany, and is a film commentator on WAMC Northeast Public Radio, a contributing editor of Leonard Maltin’s Movie Guide, and a frequent contributor to John Thorn’s Base Ball: A Journey of the Early Game. His essay on early baseball films appears on the Reel Baseball: Baseball Films from the Silent Era, 1899-1926 DVD. As well, he was the keynote speaker at the 2016 NINE Spring Training Conference in Arizona, and was an interviewee for supplemental material included on the director’s cut DVD and Blu-ray release of The Natural.

Rob Edelman

Edelman kindly spoke to The Bits about the appeal of The Odd Couple.

Michael Coate (The Digital Bits): What do you remember about the first time you saw The Odd Couple?

Rob Edelman: I never did see the play. However, the first time I saw — and savored — the film was during its initial theatrical run. I was with my Uncle Mel; we saw it in a drive-in in Florida. And I had never seen my uncle laugh so hard — and so frequently! He passed away a number of years ago, and this remains an extra-special memory.

The Odd Couple newspaper adCoate: Is The Odd Couple a significant motion picture in any way(s)?

Edelman: It is significant because it is not at all dated. At their core, Felix and Oscar remain identifiable to the masses of males all these decades later. And you do not have to be a New Yorker or (in Oscar’s case) a sports fanatic to appreciate these characters.

Coate: In what way were Matthau and Lemmon ideally suited for their roles?

Edelman: Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon were two consummate actors. Both were adept at comedy and drama. I’ve long-screened Some Like It Hot, Billy Wilder’s classic comedy, to my students, and it is a special pleasure to share the laughter with college students who are enjoying an almost 60-year-old black-and-white film — and being introduced to the comedic brilliance of Jack Lemmon! And then, a couple or so years later, you have Lemmon playing an alcoholic in Days of Wine and Roses! The point here is that Jack Lemmon could do anything.

And as for Walter Matthau: The Oscar Madison character both defined his career and made him a star. As noted in Matthau: A Life, the Walter Matthau biography I co-authored with Audrey Kupferberg, “New Yawker Oscar’s world is one in which New Yawker Matthau could relate. He lives and works within an all-male bastion of athletics and Friday-night poker games. He carouses with his pals while reeking of stale beer and cigars amid the unkempt grandeur of his eight-room, twelfth-floor Riverside Drive apartment.”

Audiences certainly can relate to Oscar and Felix all these years later. The bottom line here is that they are perfectly played by two sharp, knowing actors.

Coate: How do you think the play, TV series and sequel, etc. compare to the ‘68 movie?

Edelman: Obviously, The Odd Couple has enjoyed an extensive life. While I particularly liked Tony Randall and Jack Klugman on TV, I cannot imagine anyone beating Matthau and Lemmon!

Coate: How would you describe The Odd Couple to someone who has never seen it or is familiar only with the prior or subsequent iterations?

Edelman: Just sit back, relax, watch the film, and allow yourself to be entertained for 105 minutes!

Coate: How do you think The Odd Couple has been treated over the years in terms of its home video releases? Does it deserve a lavish special edition treatment like so many other films have received?

Edelman: Economics and marketing come into play here. But given the timelessness of its characters and its genuine entertainment value, why not offer a lavish special edition!

Coate: How do you think The Odd Couple should be remembered on its golden anniversary?

Edelman: The Odd Couple is one of the great Neil Simon comedies — if not the all-time-great Neil Simon comedy! And with his recent death, The Odd Couple is well-worth including — and spotlighting — in any Neil Simon retrospective.

The film version was released at a time in which America was undergoing great change — and these changes are reflected in some of the era’s most celebrated Hollywood films. Quite a few of the era’s classic titles — the list begins with The Graduate, Bonnie and Clyde, Midnight Cowboy, Easy Rider, The Wild Bunch, M*A*S*H, Taxi Driver, Five Easy Pieces—were redefining the late-1960s-’70s and reinventing Hollywood. Sure, The Odd Couple is old-school when compared to films like The Graduate or Bonnie and Clyde. But it is proof that not all top-of-the-line late-’60s films were political or reflective of the era. Simply-put, The Odd Couple was — and is — pure entertainment!

Coate: Thank you, Rob, for sharing your thoughts about The Odd Couple on the occasion of its 50th anniversary.

A scene from The Odd Couple


Selected images copyright/courtesy Paramount Home Entertainment, Paramount Pictures.


- Michael Coate

Michael Coate can be reached via e-mail through this link. (You can also follow Michael on social media at these links: Twitter and Facebook)

The Odd Couple (Blu-ray Disc)


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