Centennial Collection

Review by Michael Jacobson

Stars:  Jack Lemmon, Walter Matthau
Director:  Gene Saks
Audio:  Dolby Digital 5.1
Video:  Anamorphic Widescreen 2.35:1
Studio:  Paramount
Features:  See Review
Length:  105 Minutes
Release Date:  March 24, 2009

"Who sends a suicide telegram?"

"Felix the nut, that's who.  Can you imagine getting a thing like that?  She even had to tip the kid a quarter."

Film ***1/2

I can remember when Neil Simon was the biggest name in comedyÖfrom the late 60s through most of the 70s, his name was synonymous with the funniest plays and films available for oneís entertainment dollar.  Although one could argue that his later works never matched the spirit, energy and wit of his earlier ones, you canít argue that many of his works have survived and become staples of comic genius. 

One work of Simonís that has indelibly etched itself into our culture has to be The Odd Couple.  It was inspired by a period in his life where he was forced to share an apartment with his brother.  His brother was a neat freak, while Simon confesses himself to be the slob in the arrangement.  Based on his experiences, he penned a hysterical play that introduced the unforgettable duo of Felix Ungar and Oscar Madisonótwo divorced men who become thrown together, and soon find that even an eight room apartment is too small for them to avoid getting on each otherís nerves!

The play was an instant hit, and has never faded from our consciousness since.  It eventually became a long running TV show, and, in a recent revival, has even found gender-bending success as women took over the lead roles!  And suddenly, there was a new measuring stick for guysí personas:  asking themselves are they a Felix, or an Oscar?

If Felix and Oscar are an indelible fictional duo, the actors who played them in the movie are equally so.  Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were not a comedy Ďteamí, so to speak, but you can look at any one of the number of pictures they made together and recognize these two accomplished actors really brought out the best in one another.  Their sense of timing as a duo was impeccable. 

Still, despite the number of film credits they shared, Iíd wager that The Odd Couple remains easily their most recognizable.  Lemmon and Matthau are at their best as the mismatched roommates who drive each other to new heights of insanity.  Plus, thereís something about what Simon tapped into with his play that most everyone can identify with.  Iíve had my share of roommates, though Iíll plead the fifth on whether I was the neat one or the sloppy one.

Felix (Lemmon) is obsessed with neatness and detail, so much so that his wife of twelve years has finally broken it off with him.  Despondent and a little suicidal, he shows up at best pal Oscarís (Matthau) apartment.  Oscar is also divorced, but leads a more happy-go-lucky life.  His apartment reflects his attitude:  careless and sloppy.  The two men decide to share the pad and experience the joys of bachelor life together.  But, of course, it turns out not to be that easy.

Felixís constant nitpicking about neatness and punctuality begin to wear on Oscarís good nature.  Likewise, Oscarís slovenly habits begin to frazzle the nerves of Felix.  The comic situations that evolve from this simple presence are almost endless, and they apex in the infamous double date with the Pigeon sisters, which has to be one of the most hysterical scenes ever captured on film.

But the comedy is deceptively simple.  Itís not driven by situation, but by character, and both Lemmon and Matthau bring full dimension to people that could have easily been dismissed as caricature.  Lemmon is so pitiful as Felix, as a matter of fact, he manages to achieve a sense of pathos in between the laughs!

With the passing of both Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon, Iím especially pleased to revisit this title on DVD.  The Odd Couple is a perfect testament to this pairís dedication to and mastery of their craft.

Video ***1/2

This is the first time Iíve seen The Odd Couple in its scope ratio...a major improvement!  You can see in shot after shot just how much difference proper framing can make.  To say itís the best looking version of this film Iíve ever seen would be true, but something of an understatement.  The sharp images and excellent, natural coloring bring this movie back to vibrant life, and is a marked improvement over some older, faded looking prints Iíve seen.  Detail is strong, even in deep focused images, and the print is remarkably clean for a film over three decades old.  High marks!

Audio **1/2

The 5.1 soundtrack works well.  The music (including the famous theme) sounds much fuller and is given a more ambient presentation.  That being said, thereís really nothing in the way of channel discretion (common with remixes of older soundtracks), but opening up the audio across all stages gives it a more pleasant, rich, and dynamic sound, with no noticeable noise or distortion.

Features ***

Disc One contains a new commentary by the sons of legends, Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon.  The second disc boasts five featurettes on the movie and the inimitable pair, plus production and movie galleries and an original trailer.


The Odd Couple is near comic perfection:  an unforgettable screenplay by Neil Simon based on his hit play, and two perfect actors to bring the lead characters to life.  Itís definitely a good one to own on DVD, because it remains fresh, funny, and entertaining no matter how many times youíve seen it.

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