Blu-ray review: “The Odd Couple Collection” (1968 – 1998)

“The Odd Couple”(1968)

Comedy

Running Time: 105 minutes

Written by: Neil Simon based on his play

Directed by: Gene Saks

Featuring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, John Fiedler and Herb Edelman

Oscar Madison: “I can’t take it anymore, Felix, I’m cracking up. Everything you do irritates me. And when you’re not here, the things I know you’re gonna do when you come in irritate me. You leave me little notes on my pillow. Told you 158 times I can’t stand little notes on my pillow. “We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U.” Took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Ungar!”

Recently released on Bluray through the Imprint label is the double header “The Odd Couple Collection” (1968 – 1998) that sees two movies of very different quality featuring two legendary actors in Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau who worked together ten times with varying degrees of success, they did this over a thirty two year period. Interestingly even though in the majority of these movies they are in direct opposition to each other they remained close friends in reality. They also died within a year of each other, although I assume this was not planned in advance.

The plot of the “The Odd Couple” revolves around divorced sports writer Oscar Madison and his card-playing cronies Murray, Speed, Roy and Vinnie have assembled in Madison’s Washington Heights apartment for their Friday night poker game. Murray is concerned because their mutual friend Felix Ungar is unusually late for the game. Murray’s wife calls and informs them that Felix is missing. Oscar then calls Felix’s wife Frances, who tells him that she and Felix have broken up. Felix arrives not knowing that everyone has already heard that he and his wife have separated. The group attempts to pretend nothing is wrong, but Felix eventually breaks down crying and his friends attempt to console him. After everyone leaves, Oscar suggests that Felix move in with him, since Oscar has lived alone since he split up with his own ex-wife, Blanche, some time earlier. Felix agrees and urges Oscar to not be shy about letting him know if he gets on Oscar’s nerves. Within only a week, the two men discover they are incompatible. Felix runs around the apartment cleaning, picking up after Oscar, and berating him for being so sloppy. Felix refuses to have any fun, spending most of his time thinking about Frances. While at a tavern, Oscar tells Felix about two English sisters he recently met who live in their building: Cecily and Gwendolyn Pigeon. Oscar telephones the girls and arranges a double date for the following evening.

“The Odd Couple” (1968) is directly based off the Broadway comedy of the same name written by the legendary Neil Simon. The weakness of this movie, is that it is too faithful to its source material and needs a very talented and powerful director to take charge and create an original work that incorporates the themes and feelings of its source material but make it something that works within the language of cinema. In terms of this movie much of the dialog is lifted directly from the play, and even the sets and a great deal of Mike Nichols’ original Broadway direction are used without significant change in the movie. This isn’t to say “The Odd Couple” is unsuccessful as a movie.

Directed by Gene Saks who was a legendary Broadway director, he won three Tony Awards for his work, is out of his depth here, possible the biggest mistake is that he doesn’t use the entire soundstage which means the full screen is not taken advantage of either. I won’t go into the deficiencies of the direction but I wonder why the original director of the play, Mike Nichols, did not helm this, as he was obviously someone who would be able to switch between stage and screen.

The performances are uniformly good, especially Herb Edelman as Murray the cop, and Monica Evans and Carole Shelley as the twittering Pigeon sisters from upstairs. Jack Lemmon is well cast as Felix, the fussy and suicidal news writer who separates from his wife. But Walter Matthau, for all of his natural charm, is not quite gruff and sloppy enough as Oscar, the role he created on Broadway. What we have, anyway, is a funny “screen version” of a very funny Broadway comedy. It does well as an evening’s entertainment. But it begs the question of what might have resulted if Saks had mad some original choices or the soon to be great Nichols had directed this.

Special Features:

  • 1080p high-definition transfer by Paramount Pictures
  • Audio commentary by Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon
  • Audio commentary by film historians Nathaniel Thompson and Howard S. Berger (2021)
  • In the Beginning – featurette
  • Matthau & Lemmon / Lemmon & Matthau – featurette
  • Memories from the Set – featurette
  • Inside The Odd Couple – featurette
  • The Odd Couple: A Classic – featurette
  • Isolated audio track featuring Neal Hefti’s score
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Film and Production Photo Galleries

“The Odd Couple II” (1998)

Comedy

Running Time: 96 minutes

Written by: Neil Simon

Directed by: Howard Deutch

Featuring: Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Barnard Hughes, Jonathan Silverman and Jean Smart

Felix Ungar: [waking up in the car] “How long was I asleep?”

Oscar Madison: [driving] “I don’t know. I didn’t know you wanted me to time it.”

Unsurprisingly I suppose after the first movie and a hit television series there must have been an appetite for another ‘Odd Couple’ movie, and the 1990s seemed to be the decade to do it as it was a prolific time for movies featuring the original stars  Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. In fact in the 1990s they appeared in no less than six movies together, a huge work rate for them both. Lemmon and Matthau are perfectly suited for working together. In life as in fiction, they are a little like the original odd couple, Felix and Oscar: Lemmon concise and tidy, Matthau rambling, shambling and gambling.

It has been seventeen years since Oscar Madison and Felix Ungar have seen one another. Oscar is still hosting a regular poker game and is still an untidy slob, now living in Sarasota, Florida, but still a sportswriter. One day, he is called by his son Brucey with an invitation to California for his wedding the following Sunday. A second shock for Oscar—the woman his son is marrying is Felix’s daughter, Hannah. On the flight from New York to Los Angeles, it becomes clear that Felix has not changed his ways—he is still a fussy, allergy-suffering neat freak nuisance. Oscar and Felix are reunited at the airport and very happy to be together again after 17 years of separation—at least for a couple of minutes. They share a rental car to San Malina for the wedding. however the trip begins with Oscar forgetting Felix’s suitcase at the Budget car rental, including wedding gifts and wardrobe inside. On the trip, Felix falls asleep and Oscar takes a wrong turn onto the freeway, then loses the directions to San Malina when his cigar ashes burn them.

“Odd Couple II” is not a great movie even though the screenplay has been written by Neil Simon, who at this stage in his career is without anyone to offer a word of advice and maybe change some of the contrivances contained within this movie. Like many sequels sometimes the thinking stops after the stars say yes to the movie, it is seen that they know what to do and it will take care of itself. But the movie has no purpose for being. That’s revealed by the road movie premise: The genre is ideal for throwing characters and dialogue situations at them without the bother of contriving any kind of a dramatic or comedic reason for them to be together. There is a better story that exists here but has been passed over for some quick laughs and a horrible narrative makes really little sense.

Special Features:

  • 1080p high-definition transfer by Paramount Pictures
  • Audio commentary by film historian Scott Harrison (2021)
  • Two Grumpy Men: Directing The Odd Couple II – interview with director Howard Deutch (2021)
  • Promotional interviews with actors Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau, Jean Smart, writer Neil Simon and director Howard Deutch
  • Jack Lemmon, America’s Everyman – 1996 documentary
  • Walter Matthau, Diamond in the Rough – 1997 documentary
  • Theatrical Trailer
  • Photo Gallery

THE ODD COUPLE ON TELEVISION

In the 1970s television series, can two divorced men share an apartment without driving each other crazy? Ten episodes covering all five seasons explore this retorical quesiton. Tony Randall and Jack Klugman make the characters their own in the award-winning television version.

Special Features:

  • 1080p high-definition transfers
  • Audio commentary by series executive producer Garry Marshall on “They Use Horseradish, Don’t They?”
  • Two Original Series Promos
  • Gag reel with audio introduction by producer Garry Marshall
  • Opening titles without narration
  • Isolated music and effects audio track on every episode
  • Series Photo Gallery

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