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The Odd Couple: Centennial Collection DVD Review

The Odd Couple (1968) movie poster The Odd Couple

Theatrical Release: May 2, 1968 / Running Time: 105 Minutes / Rating: G

Director: Gene Saks / Writer: Neil Simon (play & screenplay) / Producer: Howard W. Koch

Cast: Jack Lemmon (Felix Ungar), Walter Matthau (Oscar Madison), John Fiedler (Vinnie), Herbert Edelman (Murray), David Sheiner (Roy), Larry Haines (Speed), Monica Evans (Cecily Pigeon), Carole Shelley (Gwendolyn Pigeon), Iris Adrian (Waitress)

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Revered older films can put you in a tight situation.
Confessing you don't like them is tantamount to cinematic sacrilege. Claiming you love them and citing them as favorites paints you as either a snob or a follower. Comedies often pose an even greater challenge. Since most aim to bring you regular merriment and what's funny in a moment rarely remains so years later, can you fully celebrate the genre's so-called classics while being true to your tastes? Sometimes, the answer is a definite "yes." That's the case for The Odd Couple, a movie that turned 40 last year but continues to entertain as if it was written for the 21st century.

Adapted from Neil Simon's Tony-winning 1965 Broadway play and itself adapted into a five-season ABC sitcom, the Odd Couple film centers on Felix Ungar and Oscar Madison, two very different divorced men who become roommates. Felix (Jack Lemmon) is a neurotic neat freak, Oscar (Walter Matthau) is a laid-back slob. That may sound like a recipe for formulaic disaster and obvious comedy, but this film chooses a far more satisfying and original path.

The first 45 minutes take place on an eventful July night. Felix has just been given a fate of divorce from his wife. As someone whose world revolves around his spouse and children, Felix takes the news harshly. That's just what Oscar and his four poker buddies fear when they hear about the situation and notice Felix is uncharacteristically late for the routine gathering. When Felix eventually does show up at Oscar's sweltering 12th floor Manhattan apartment, the gang takes unusual pains to avoid stoking any suicidal urges within their friend. Having taken some time to start up, once the hilarity begins here, it continues regularly without ever letting up.

Of course Felix doesn't end his life, instead accepting the invitation to move into Oscar's spacious 8-room residence. The clash of personalities is palpable from the start, but the film gives it time to grow naturally and organically. Indeed it does, with Felix's penchant for cooking, cleaning, and clearing out his sinuses gradually grating on the nerves of his ordinarily carefree roommate. No plot synopsis can do justice to how cleverly things play out. Though the phrase "odd couple" has long been in our cultural vocabulary and so many artistic creations have mined opposites for laughs, first-time viewers will be pleasantly surprised by how subtle and special Simon's script remains today and how successful the film is at bringing it to life.

Poker buddies Oscar (Walter Matthau), Vinnie (John Fiedler), Murray (Herbert Edelman), Speed (Larry Haines), and Roy (David Sheiner) try their best to be delicate so as not to upset their suicidal pal Felix. Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) gives Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) a shoulder rub to a reception we struggle to determine is pain or relief.

There really isn't an aspect of this movie that disappoints, but some shine especially bright. Figuring high in that class is Simon's Oscar-nominated screenplay. The playwright didn't stray far from what he wrote for the stage, but he didn't have to. The gold of Simon's words and scenarios glistens in the skillful turns of Lemmon and Matthau. With such a solid foundation, you might assume anyone paid to act could earn raves merely by remembering their lines. To some degree, that might be true, but Lemmon and Matthau excel by avoiding performance. They are so natural and seemingly unrehearsed in their deliveries that you never for a moment doubt that they are these characters. More importantly, you believe that Felix and Oscar are real humans with concerns, unseen lives outside the tense apartment showdowns, and convincingly divergent ways of dealing with their dilemmas.

Lemmon and Matthau rightfully earn the lion's share of the praise, as they carry the film almost double-handedly. But the few supporting actors seize their limited screentime to make comedic impact as well. Helping here are John Fiedler as henpecked vacationer Vinnie, Herb Edelman as Murray the cop, and Monica Evans and Carole Shelley as the Pigeon sisters, Felix and Oscar's giggly British neighbors. (Like Matthau, Evans and Shelley were also part of the original Broadway cast. Unlike Matthau and anyone else from the film, they held onto the roles for ABC's long-running sitcom.)

The film also deserves credit for how it translates the play into real-world settings. Director Gene Saks moves us around Oscar's makeshift Riverside Drive bachelor pad with impressive adroitness and minimal cuts. While the film takes us outside the apartment for a few scenes (something the play doesn't do), much of it still resides within the same walls. Yet it doesn't feel stuffy or staged thanks to the fluid direction and the sharp pacing of the always-lively dialogue. Viewers aren't apt to notice this achievement, but by not charging the proceedings with being stilted, static, or artificial, they're processing this information as intended.

Felix briefly considers throwing this mug. Watching coolly, Oscar then tries to encourage such an irrational action. Though Felix initially fears conversing with them, giggly British birds/dinner dates Cecily (Monica Evans) and Gwendolyn Pigeon (Carole Shelley) prove to be most sympathetic listeners.

The Odd Couple was an instant hit with audiences. In addition to Simon's adapted screenplay nod, it received a Best Editing Academy Award nomination. The film got more recognition from the Hollywood Foreign Press, who included both Lemmon and Matthau in the Best Actor (Musical/Comedy) category and the film in Best Picture (again with the Musical/Comedy distinction) race of the Golden Globes. (Oliver! and its star Ron Moody kept it shut out of statues, however.) There is no doubt that The Odd Couple has aged more gracefully than most of the works of its time.
It's remarkable how little the film is dated, but then that helps to explain why Simon's play has been twice revived on Broadway and continues to be performed around the globe.

The American Film Institute ranked the movie 17th on its "100 Years... 100 Laughs" list in 2000. That is an honor, although frankly none of the sixteen works that placed higher on the chart has made me laugh nearly as much.

The Odd Couple became the second of ten films on which Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau would collaborate. The first was Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie and the last was 1998's coolly-received The Odd Couple II.

Over eight years after its DVD debut, The Odd Couple gets revisited this week as part of the third wave of Paramount's Centennial Collection. The number 7 emblazons its black and gold spine, identifying this as the seventh film in the line of classics that the studio launched last fall.

Buy The Odd Couple: 2-Disc Centennial Collection DVD from Amazon.com DVD Details

2.35:1 Anamorphic Widescreen
Dolby Digital 5.1 Surround (English),
Dolby Mono 2.0 (French, Spanish)
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish;
Closed Captioned; Video Extras Subtitled
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Two single-sided discs (DVD-9 + DVD-5)
Suggested Retail Price: $16.99
(Reduced from $24.99)
Black Keepcase in Sturdy Cardboard Box
Netflix, Inc.

VIDEO and AUDIO

The Odd Couple appears in 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen, the only aspect ratio in which its panoramic frame-filling compositions ought to be seen. The picture quality is largely pleasing. The clean, sharp element is completely free of any artifacts or print intrusions. The colors are a little drab and the most telling sign that this is an older film, but I hope and suspect that this is an accurate representation of the original look.

While it's encoded as Dolby Digital 5.1, the default soundtrack hardly qualifies as a surround experience. As you can guess from the origins, the bulk of the film is speech, which always emanates from the center channel. Beyond that, Neal Hefti's familiar instrumental theme (which was later used on the television series) is heard several times with variance. If you put your ear up to the rear speakers, you'll notice the music is in fact ever so slightly reinforced there. I have no complaints with the mix offered, but it is similar to a mono track, which should be offered but isn't.

Fan of the film and friend of its makers, Larry King discusses The Odd Couple while Felix and Oscar argue on their roof. Carole Shelley is one of two surviving cast members appearing in the Disc 2 featurettes. She wonders what her Pigeon sister Monica Evans looks like today, and so do we since she's not seen here.

BONUS FEATURES, MENUS and PACKAGING

Disc 1 is devoted entirely to the feature film, which makes its only extra a new audio commentary by Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon that's hidden in the Set Up menu. As you can guess, these are the sons of the legendary comic team. Since both were children when The Odd Couple was made, their insight is limited to family stories, impressions, and observations. While we don't learn much about the film, we do learn plenty about the actors. That makes this thin track different and unusually interesting for Matthau/Lemmon fans.

The bulk of Disc 2 is comprised by five featurettes that add up exactly to one hour. Each of these dips into an 8-deep pool of interview subjects. Talking here are director Gene Saks, actors David Sheiner and Carole Shelley, offspring Chris Lemmon and Charlie Matthau (who both bear great resemblance to their famous fathers), former Paramount head Robert Evans, and famous fans Larry King (a personal friend to both Neil Simon and Walter Matthau) and Brad Garrett (of "Everybody Loves Raymond" and the 2005 Odd Couple stage revival).

"In the Beginning..." (17:00) covers Simon, his play, and the film's two stars. Jack Lemmon is described as serious and thoughtful (his son repeatedly refers to him as a leprechaun), while Walter Matthau is remembered to be dry and reckless with his money.

"Inside The Odd Couple" (19:06) addresses the casting (with Evans sharing specifics of the salary negotiations), the rehearsing, the work of producer Howard W. Koch and Gene Saks, the Pigeon sisters, the poker buddies, and favorite scenes.

In "Memories from the Set" (10:20), director Saks shares a few tales from production, none of them too memorable. They're spruced up with clips from the movie.

This isn't an older picture of Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, but a recent one of sons Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon, who speak in Disc 1's audio commentary and Disc 2's featurettes. This is one of 56 black and white photos you can see in Disc 2's Production and Movie galleries. Disc 2's main menu screen may look familiar to you especially if you've looked at the cover or Disc 1's menu.

"Matthau & Lemmon / Lemmon & Matthau" (10:30) returns our attention to the leading men, this time considering them as a pair whose chemistry on and offscreen fueled a long, productive friendship. The second part lets the actors' sons talk about their fathers and following their footsteps into the industry.

"The Odd Couple: A Classic" (3:00) gives the eight bonus participants a final chance to sound off on the film and its enduring status.

Black and white photo galleries of the production and movie variety are provided. The former holds 27 stills from sets and locations, the latter offers 29 shots of scenes from the film.

Finally, we get the one supplement included
on The Odd Couple's original DVD: its fun theatrical trailer (2:45).

It's not hard to think of other things that would have made for reasonable inclusions. Even if deleted footage and more promotional material from the time of release wasn't handy, a trailer for the sequel or an episode of the TV series (both of which are in the studio's library) would have been a good use of available disc space.

Like the other titles in Paramount's Centennial Collection, The Odd Couple is packaged in a sturdy, stylish cardboard box that lets the keepcase out on just one side. The two discs claim opposite sides of the standard-sized keepcase. In between them is a nice booklet that devotes two of its eight pages to notes on the film and the other six to high-quality stills.

The menus uphold the line's physical design with black and gold, adding music and slight animation only to the repeated main menu.

Oscar (Walter Matthau) and Felix (Jack Lemmon) stare each other down, as one source of contention (a strewn plate of spaghetti -- er, linguini) stands between them on the wall. Oscar gives a clearly distraught Felix some words of wisdom outside of Grant's Tomb in Upper Manhattan.

CLOSING THOUGHTS

For a long time, Paramount's DVDs were more simple than other studios'. Now that Paramount has warmed to rereleases, it's the special editions that seem simple compared to other studios'. Still, when a film as good as The Odd Couple is treated to a superior release, you've got to take notice. The wonderful feature presentation is nicely complemented by the hour of new video featurettes and the sons' stars' adequate audio commentary. But it's mostly the feature attraction itself, holding up remarkably well four decades later, that earns this set a recommendation. While it could use some variety in supplements' age and type, this package does right by this classic comedy and suggests that the Centennial Collection is justly revisiting the gems in the company's extensive film library.

More on the DVD / Buy from Amazon.com

Buy from Amazon.com

Related Reviews:
Starring Jack Lemmon: The Apartment (Collector's Edition) | The TV Series: The Odd Couple: The Third Season
1960s Comedies: The Graduate (40th Anniversary Edition) Mary Poppins (45th Anniversary Edition) The Jungle Book (Platinum Edition)
The Parent Trap That Darn Cat! 101 Dalmatians (Platinum Edition) | Adapted From Neil Simon: The Heartbreak Kid (2007)
New to DVD: Lilo & Stitch (2-Disc Big Wave Edition) Bolt (Deluxe Edition) Escape to Witch Mountain (Walt Disney Family Classics)



Featuring The Cast of The Odd Couple:
John Fiedler: Rascal The Fox and the Hound | Carole Shelley & Monica Evans: The Aristocats Robin Hood | Herb Edelman: The Golden Girls
Other Odd Couples: Laverne & Shirley: The Third Season Rush Hour 3 Get Smart Hot Fuzz
AFI's 100 Years... 100 Laughs List: (#23) When Harry Met Sally... (#42) Big (#67) Mrs. Doubtfire (#100) Good Morning, Vietnam

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Reviewed March 24, 2009.



Text copyright 2009 DVDizzy.com. Images copyright 1968 Paramount Pictures and 2009 Paramount Home Entertainment. Unauthorized reproduction prohibited.