The Odd Couple: Centennial Collection
Directed by Gene Saks
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:1 anamorphic
Running Time: 105 minutes
Audio: Dolby Digital 5.1 English; 1.0 French, Spanish
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish
MSRP: $ 24.99
Release Date: March 24, 2009
Review Date: March 16, 2009
Tony Randall once said in an interview that The Odd Couple was foolproof material. “Cast it properly,” he said, “and you’ve got a sure-fire hit. High school students can play these roles just as well as professionals.” The movie version of Neil Simon’s sure-fire hit The Odd Couple certainly cast it right. With two Oscar winners working together for the second time, the film is bursting with laughs and high spirits. True, the direction is a might stodgy, but the performances and writing are tops, and the film captures one of the great Broadway comedies pretty much intact.
Fussy Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon) is despondent over the end of his marriage and after an unsuccessful attempt at suicide, shows up on the doorstep of friend and poker buddy Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau). Feeling sorry for his downcast friend, Oscar, an inveterate slob, suggests that Felix move in with him. The fastidious Felix does so and within three weeks has the Madison apartment looking spic and span. The only problem is that he’s driving his friend nuts with the constant cleaning, complaining, and crying, worse than Oscar’s ex-wife ever thought about being. The only glimmer of light comes from upstairs neighbors the Pigeon sisters (Monica Evans, Carole Shelley). These two bubbly British lasses seem ready for a good time if only the always pessimistic pest doesn’t pour cold water on Oscar’s plans for a night of frolicsome fun.
Playwright Neil Simon adapted his Broadway play for the screen (and earned an Oscar nomination for his trouble) by adding a few new scenes showing Felix’s despondency before he shows up on Oscar’s doorstep and moving other dialog scenes out of the Madison living room where the play entirely takes place. Otherwise, this is as close to a filmization of a play as it’s possible for a movie to be. Director Gene Saks keeps his camera fairly stationary for large chunks of time and lets the actors play scenes without interruption. While that aids the comedy by not taking attention away from the great gags, it requires some rather stagy blocking of actors in the frame. The invariable direction flattens some of the lengthy dialog scenes too much losing some of the buoyancy of the plot that a more inventive director might have been able to retain fully. (Billy Wilder was the original choice for the director, and Blake Edwards and Stanley Donen might also have given the wonderful lines some added zip with some creative directorial touches. Mike Nichols directed the play on Broadway, and he, too, might have livened things up a bit directorially.) Saks, an award-winning theater director, is too careful and conservative with the property. He didn’t harm it, but he didn’t quite give it the feel of a movie rather than a filmed stage play.
Jack Lemmon is triumphant as Felix Unger, a nagging, needling mass of psychoses in one of his most memorable performances. Walter Matthau had won a Tony Award for his stage performance, and he brings his Oscar Madison to the screen with all his expected expertise, the hundreds of performances as Oscar he had given prior to the film version not causing the least bit of staleness to have set in. The male poker-playing ensemble (John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, David Sheiner, Larry Haines) seem to breathe their roles; they’re as believable and authentic as one could wish. Carole Shelley and Monica Evans repeat their stage roles as the twittering Pigeon sisters delightfully.
The film has been framed at 2.35:1 and is anamorphically enhanced for widescreen televisions. For most of the film, the image is spectacular, one of the best standard definition transfers possible with the current technology. Only an occasional dust speck and a single hair mar an otherwise exceptional image with rich, tanned flesh tones and very good black levels. Compared to the 2000 DVD release, this new edition is a vast improvement. The picture is much brighter, the color is richer, and the encoding is much more solid with none of the artifacting distractions like jaggies present in the new transfer. The film has been divided into 16 chapters.
The Dolby Digital 5.1 audio track is very front centric and mostly center channel-specific. As there is a great deal of talking, the necessity for a clear center channel encoding is important, and this new DVD provides that. Neal Hefti’s highly identifiable score gets channeled into the surrounds, but the rears are only barely used for ambiance.
Chris Lemmon and Charlie Matthau, sons of the film’s celebrated stars, provide a patchy start-and-stop audio commentary. Bursting with pride about their fathers and their decades-long friendship, the two men don’t do much commenting specifically on The Odd Couple (other than constant praise for what they’re watching and enjoying). Most of their anecdotes are personal in nature and while interesting, don’t add much tangible information about the production of the film. What information that is imparted is also mentioned in the bonus featurettes making this track only a mild reminiscence at best.
The majority of the bonus features are contained on disc two in the set.
“In the Beginning” is a 17-minute anamorphic featurette with talking heads Larry King, Robert Evans, Brad Garrett, David Sheiner, Carole Shelley, Gene Saks, Charlie Matthau, and Chris Lemmon giving a brief background of the play and then moving forward into the initial stages of the movie’s production.
“Inside The Odd Couple” continues the story of the film’s production with information about why Jack Lemmon was cast instead of the stage’s original Felix Art Carney, why Billy Wilder didn’t direct the movie, and about the three week rehearsal process that preceded filming. The same group of commentators in the previous featurette are also the information givers in this 19-minute anamorphic feature.
“Memories from the Set” spends 10 ½ minutes with director Gene Saks and co-star David Sheiner sharing remembrances of the shoot and especially their impressions of the two stars. It runs 10 ½ minutes in anamorphic widescreen.
“Matthau & Lemmon” is a 10 ½-minute featurette with Chris Lemmon, Carole Shelley, David Sheiner, Larry King, Robert Evans, and Charlie Matthau sharing stories about the two stars of the film. It’s in anamorphic widescreen.
“The Odd Couple: A Classic” takes 3 minutes for Carole Shelley, Chris Lemmon, David Sheiner, Robert Evans, and Gene Saks to explain why they consider the film a classic. It’s also in anamorphic widescreen.
There are two black and white photo galleries which the viewer can step through: Production (behind the scenes) stills and Movie stills. Many of these pictures were also used as illustrations during the preceding featurettes.
The original theatrical trailer runs 2 ¾ minutes and is in anamorphic widescreen.
An enclosed 7-page booklet contains some color film stills and some background information on the making of the movie.
The Odd Couple features a top notch script performed by two of Hollywood’s most accomplished comic actors competently produced and directed so that the great writing received its due. This new Centennial Collection release presents the film in its best-ever home video incarnation that earns a strong recommendation from me.