The Odd Couple
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The unlikely duo of organized Felix and sloppy Oscar has become so ingrained in our culture that it's hard to imagine a time when they didn't exist. But The Odd Couple (1968) sprang from the mind of writer Neil Simon. He first introduced them in a 1965 play, which he adapted himself for the 1968 film version, gaining an Oscar nomination in the process. The film is a treasure chest of hilarious lines and classic comedy situations, something that you can see over and over without it becoming stale.
The title The Odd Couple pretty much presents the whole situation. When ad executive Felix Ungar gets dumped by his wife he's homeless and turns to friend and sportswriter Oscar Madison for advice. Since Oscar is in the process of a divorce as well he suggests the two move into an apartment together. Sounds like an ideal plan except for one tiny problem: Felix is obsessively neat and tidy while Oscar is a total slob. This is not likely to be a peaceful apartment.
Neil Simon has claimed that something similar happened to his brother, which he expanded and worked into a play. It opened on Broadway in 1965 and provided Simon's first Tony Award (along with three other Tonys, including one for Walter Matthau as Dramatic Actor). On stage, Matthau played Oscar® but Art Carney (from the hit TV series, The Honeymooners) was Felix. When time came for film casting, the studio thought Carney wasn't a big enough name and wanted another actor. ("It's not fair, but it happens all the time," remarked Lemmon.) Eventually somebody thought of the team Matthau and Jack Lemmon made two years earlier in The Fortune Cookie (which had resulted in an Oscar nomination for Matthau). Oddly enough, Matthau wanted to play Felix saying, "I'm not Oscar. I'm not a slob. My housekeeper says I'm the neatest man she's ever worked for, but Jack wouldn't hear of it." The Matthau-Lemmon duo would star together in a total of eleven films (though they both appeared in minor unconnected roles in JFK (1991) and Chaplin, 1992).
When The Odd Couple opened in May 1968, it certainly captured hearts and minds of the citizenry. The film played for a record 14 weeks at Radio City Music Hall and nationwide was the year's fifth highest grossing movie. Shortly afterwards, a TV show appeared with Tony Randall as Felix and Jack Klugman as Oscar (along with a pre-Laverne and Shirley Penny Marshall in a recurring role). It ran a healthy five years. In 1982 TV presented us with The New Odd Couple starring Ron Glass and Demond Wilson but that wasn't as popular. Finally in 1998, Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau repeated their original roles in the big-screen The Odd Couple II, based on a script Simon had been working on for almost ten years.
Producer: Howard W. Koch
Director: Gene Saks
Screenplay: Neil Simon
Production Design: Robert R. Benton, Ray Moyer
Cinematography: Robert B. Hauser
Costume Design: Jack Bear
Film Editing: Frank Bracht
Original Music: Neal Hefti
Cast: Jack Lemmon (Felix Unger), Walter Matthau (Oscar Madison), John Fiedler (Vinnie), Herbert Edelman (Murray), David Sheiner (Roy), Larry Haines (Speed), Iris Adrian (waitress).
by Lang Thompson