The Odd Couple Movie Review
After adapting his Come Blow Your Horn and Park for the big screen, Simon was given the complicated task of translating his mega-hit The Odd Couple as a movie. While the studios would accept Oscar- and Tony-winner Walter Matthau as Oscar, Art Carney's cinematic clout as Felix was questioned. Luckily, director Gene Saks hired friend and Fortune Cookie co-star Jack Lemmon as the notorious neat freak. The rest, as they say, is motion picture history.
When Felix Unger (Lemmon) is kicked out of the house by his recently liberated wife Frances, he moves in with poker pal and all around slob sports writer Oscar Madison (Matthau). At first, it seems like a great idea. With Felix fixing meals and keeping the apartment clean, the men are saving money. But as he did with this former spouse, Felix's cleaning fetish begins to get on Oscar's nerves. Even worse, the boys haven't been out on dates in ages. Hoping to change their love life luck, Oscar sets them up with Cecily (Monica Evans) and Gwendolyn Pigeon (Carolyn Shelley), a pair of British sisters who like to swing. Of course, any romantic interest reminds Felix of Frances, and he ruins the date. In a snit, Oscar demands he move out.
When critics discuss chemistry, that onscreen magic that occurs between perfectly paired actors, the electricity exemplified by Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon is a textbook illustration of same. As the second of 10 eventual team-ups between the two stars, Simon's swaggering look at "divorce, henpecked hubby style" is both dated and delightful. There is no denying the witty repartee between Oscar and his finicky buddy Felix, and Simon sure knows how to move a narrative along without necessarily resorting to excessive exposition. At the same time, we are stuck in a mindset where men are still practicing chauvinists and poker is as close to non-erotic male bonding as you are going to get.
Yet unlike some of his other works, The Odd Couple is more than a collection of certified Simon one-liners. It's an honest attempt at trying to reconcile the growing problem of marital strife and separation -- supposedly inspired by the playwright's own brother Danny. Aside from the clash of opposites and the swipes at social acceptability (men like Felix would be called worse than "girlie" these days), our duo delivers in both the wit and wisdom department. Matthau is particularly brilliant, finding inventive ways to make his slovenly louse as loveable as possible. Even when he's berating Felix over his numerous neurotic habits (which Lemmon illustrates magnificently), we sense the compassion he has for the man and his predicament.
It's important to note that, after hugely successful runs in the '70s and '80s, Simon has become something of a disappearing act. At 81, he's no longer a vital part of the Broadway lexicon, and his plays aren't being tapped for revivals or reinvention. It's not so much a retirement as a rest for an individual responsible for many of the seminal works of stage and screen. Taken on the boards or as part of a movie matinee, The Odd Couple proves Neil Simon's one time status as the most important, prolific, and produced writer in the world.