The Odd Couple (1968)

Director: Gene Saks

Starring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau

Bit part: John Fiedler (provided voice of Winnie the Pooh in Disney cartoons)

Moderately interesting fact: Matthau desperately wanted to play the part of Felix, believing that he could ‘phone in’ his performance for Oscar.

In One Line: Marital break-up leads to fastidious, hygiene-obsessed neurotic Felix Unger sharing an apartment with his polar opposite, Oscar Madison. 


Another very ‘stagey’ film, but given the film’s origins, this is hardly surprising. Having said that, the new digitally remastered version of the film helps to emphasise some reasonably imaginative cinematography and framing. Cinematographer Robert Hauser creates a number of dark interior shots to mimic Felix’s suicidal mood and there are some great shots of late sixties night time Manhattan. 

Director Saks does his best to open up the film from its theatrical origins and creates a number of skilful set ups to complement the rapid dialogue of the two lead actors.

The Odd Couple is however, Lemmon’s and Matthau’s film. Their brilliant comic acting, timing and phrasing help to invigorate even the weakest of Neil Simon’s lines and add an extra polish to the better ones:

Oscar: You leave me little notes on my pillow. I told you 158 times I cannot stand little notes on my pillow. “We are all out of cornflakes. FU.” It took me three hours to figure out that ‘FU’ was Felix Ungar.

The other characters in the film don’t really stand up to too much examination. The ‘card players’ are merely there to spout some fairly (stereo) typical Simon New Yorker mildly aggressive banter and the ‘Pigeon Sisters’ are just, well, shit, but it’s worth persevering with their repetitive, longeur-filled appearance to clock  Matthau’s lascivious kite as he laughs too long and too enthusiastically at the dim sisters’ idea of risque conversation in the hope that his forced bonhomie will be rewarded later on. 

Two years later, the film was turned into a long running tv series starring Tony Randall and Jack ‘the governor’ Klugman. It wasn’t very OK, but.... 

And if you still doubt the brilliance of Matthau’s and Lemmon’s performance, go and see a stage version* of The Odd Couple. It will also help you to understand why (generally speaking) the vast majority of ‘the theatre’ is the preserve of tedious show-offs and captive, easily-pleased middle brow audiences. 

*Preferably with two British comedy acting greats such as _______ and  _______ doing their ‘American accents’.