MOVIE REVIEW | The Odd Couple (1968)

In a nutshell, Bored & Dangerous says: “Two central characters who only get more hilarious the more they indulge in their worst tendencies.”

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“I’ve been one of the highest paid sports writers in the east for the past fourteen years, we saved eight and a half dollars in pennies. I’m never home, I gamble, burn cigar holes in the furniture, drink like a fish, lie to her every chance I get. Then on our tenth wedding anniversary, I took her to the New York Rangers-Detroit Red Wings hockey game where she got hit by a puck! I still can’t figure out why she left me, that’s how impossible I am.”

TV is littered with movie adaptations turned into series.  And more often than not, they’re terrible, quickly cancelled and even more quickly forgotten.  For every enduring small screen hit like M*A*S*H, there are dozens of misses like Weird Science, Clerks and Minority Report.  But like M*A*S*H, there’s one other TV adaptation that might be just as well known and just as well liked as the movie that inspired it.  The Odd Couple  was an afternoon re-run that filled the airwaves for a lot of my childhood, and for some reason, as an Aussie kid in the 80s and 90s, I found these middle aged divorcees in 60s New York hilarious.  But I’ve always had a nagging feeling that they weren’t the real Odd Couple, they were a more than likely watered down facsimile of the stage and big screen originals.  That nagging feeling finally became too much to bear, and I finally saw the movie version, 1968’s The Odd Couple.

A depressed Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) walks the streets of New York.  He’s just found out that his wife wants a divorce, so he checks into a dump hotel for $50, asking for a floor high up with every intention of jumping to his death.  When a back spasm makes that impossible, he dejectedly makes his way to a poker gamer at the home of his friend, Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau).   Himself divorced for several years, Oscar has embraced bachelor life and proudly wallows in his filthy apartment where he never has to worry about a wife complaining when he comes home late, or leaves foot prints on the freshly cleaned kitchen floor.

Realising just how fragile a state Felix is in, Oscar invites him to move into his large, empty, filthy apartment.  Felix gratefully accepts and almost immediately, his fastidious tendencies for cleanliness and order see him taking on the traditional wife role of the time.  It turns out, Felix is the kind of person to complain when Oscar comes home late, or leaves foot prints on the freshly cleaned kitchen floor.

The clashes between the apron wearing neat freak and the cigar chomping slob could have so easily been easy and obvious.  And a lot of times, they are.  But the characters are written so well, and Lemmon and Matthau perform them so well, that there’s too much history and affection between the two to ever dismiss their arguments, no matter how predictable, petty, or scriptedly grand.

The one downside of The Odd Couple is its faithfulness to its stage play origins.  I’ve never seen a live version of, but it’s so obvious that it was written to be performed live.  While there are few excuses to follow the characters into the outside world, the vast majority of it is claustrophobically set within the pair’s apartment.  And as hilarious as both leads are, there’s a rehearsed quality to every exchange that is just a little too polished and exact, like they’ve been performing live on stage for months or years.
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Almost every successful TV show faces a recurring problem.  The longer they run, the harder it is to find new stories, without sacrificing a little of what made the show special in the first place.  Storylines get more clichéd, or more ridiculous.  While the TV version of The Odd Couple may have been a little cornier and cartoonier than this big screen inspiration, both benefit from the same thing, two central characters who only get more hilarious the more they indulge in their worst tendencies.

The Odd Couple
Directed By – Gene Saks
Written By – Neil Simon

Other Opinions are Available.  What did these people have to say about The Odd Couple?
Roger Ebert
The London Telegraph
Gone Elsewhere

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