Cast & Crew
In Los Angeles, seventy-two-year-old retired salesman Joseph P. Kotcher has been living with his son and daughter-in-law, Gerald and Wilma, for several months and enjoying the companionship of his baby grandson, Duncan. One day Wilma, who resents that Kotch has moved into their house, decides to hire Erica "Ricci" Herzenstiel, an orphaned teenager who lives with her brother and sister-in-law, to baby-sit. Dubious of her abilities, Kotch joins Erica when she takes Duncan to the park, but when her boyfriend, Vincent Perrin, arrives in his car to pick up Erica and Duncan, Erica leaves Kotch behind. Having a keen interest in life, the loquacious Kotch tries to start conversations with strangers in the park, who politely ignore him. After seeing a little girl crying in the swimming pool, Kotch cheers her up, then pats her on the behind to send her on her way. Mistaking his intentions, Mrs. Fisher, the mother of the child, files a complaint that Kotch "indecently" touched her daughter and, that evening, she and Miss Roberts, a Parks Department employee, confront Kotch at his home. While defending himself, Kotch seems to digress, making it hard for the others to follow his logic, but Miss Roberts is amused and satisfied with Kotch's explanation. When Gerald and Wilma go out for the evening, Erica baby-sits, despite Kotch's complaint that hiring her is a "damned extravagance." He spends most of the evening listening to music on headphones, but later in the evening checks on Erica and the baby and realizes she and Vinnie are making love while the baby sleeps. Later that night, Kotch tells Gerald about the incident, but his rambling manner of speech causes Gerald to miss his point. Prompted by recollections of making out with his girl friend in a car many years ago, the next morning Kotch has second thoughts about reporting Erica's behavior and asks Gerald to forget about their conversation. Soon after, Kotch learns that Erica is no longer working as Duncan's babysitter and confronts Gerald, who informs Kotch that Erica left to take a job in San Bernardino. Wilma's numerous complaints about Kotch soon prompt Gerald to research retirement communities for his father. Without explaining where they are going, Gerald and Wilma take Kotch to look at a senior citizens' village. He immediately concludes that the people are "too old" for him, but realizing that Wilma wants him out of the house, agrees to move there temporarily. Required by the home to undergo psychological tests, Kotch resigns himself to the humorless psychologist who administers them, but when he sees that she has written in his record that he is unimaginative and too literal, Kotch decides to make other plans. After kissing Duncan goodbye, Kotch first goes to Erica's high school to present her with a gift of money, as he feels responsible for her situation. Upon finding her clearing out her locker, Kotch learns that Erica is pregnant and moving to San Bernardino to work at a beauty shop. She complains about feeling betrayed by her sister-in-law Candy, who encouraged her to confide her problems and then made sure she was exiled to San Bernardino. At first she refuses Kotch's money, but then accepts it as a loan. Kotch then embarks on a bus trip up the coast, all the while talking to the other passengers and reminiscing about his deceased wife Vera. When he returns home, Gerald and Wilma are holding a Halloween party and he discovers that Wilma has appropriated his room for her sewing. He receives a postcard from Erica bearing the address of a motel, which explains that she is unable to repay the loan due to "difficulties." When he goes to the motel to visit her, he learns that she has lost her job and moved. At the beauty shop where Erica had worked, Kotch learns from Erica's co-worker Sissy that she was fired because she was unlicensed to shampoo hair and took another job in Palm Springs. Concerned about Erica, Kotch asks around at Palm Springs beauty shops until he finds her and then takes her to lunch. When Erica tells him that she is having difficulty with her landlady and will soon lose her current job because her pregnancy is "showing," Kotch invites her to share a house that he has rented in nearby Cathedral City, but she declines. On Christmas Eve, as Kotch finds himself alone and reminiscing about happier holidays, Erica arrives and moves in, having found his house because he told her it was next to a bowling alley. They get along well together and, in anticipation of her doctor visits and the trip to the hospital for her delivery, he buys a decades-old car, which he considers more dependable than the newer ones. She confides that she never told Vinnie about the baby and that her parents died in a car accident, leaving her to be reared by her cold older brother. Kotch tells her about Vera and how they had wanted a daughter, and attends Erica's hospital child-bearing courses. After informing Kotch that she is giving the baby up for adoption to a couple her doctor, Ramon Caudillo, knows, Erica goes to a country club to meet them. Kotch, hoping she will keep the child, remains silent, but buys a crib and spends the evening putting it together. When Kotch becomes ill with a virus, Caudillo arranges for Erica to stay a few days with the adoptive parents and for a local man, Pablo, to take care of Kotch. Later, after Kotch recovers, Erica's brother and guardian, Peter, brings some papers for her to sign. More interested in the "plushy" toy dogs he sells wholesale than he is in Erica, Peter leaves the papers for Kotch to deliver. Kotch drives to the home where Erica is staying and learns from the Spanish-speaking housekeeper that she has gone to the couple's cabin to be alone and think. After arriving at the cabin late in the day, Kotch plans to drive Erica back in the morning, but during the night, she starts to have labor pains. They begin the long drive down a steep mountain road to the hospital in town, but must stop at a gas station, where Kotch delivers the baby on the ladies room floor. Later, while recuperating at Kotch's home, Erica writes a letter to her son, whom she still plans to give up, that she hopes will be presented to him when he is older. Frustrated, she crumples up the letter and calls Vinnie, intending to tell him about the baby. However, when they quarrel, she hangs up on him. The next morning, Kotch finds a letter from Erica explaining that she has decided to keep the baby, whom she has named Chris, and has returned to Los Angeles on an early morning flight. Soon after, Gerald and Wilma arrive, and Wilma, who has had a change of heart, apologizes and invites Kotch to come back. He declines, explaining that he plans to buy the house he is renting and has been offered a job running a small shop, adding that they will always be welcome to visit him. Later, while cleaning the house, Kotch finds Erica's crumpled letter to Chris. In it, she tells Chris how much they owe "old" Kotch and that he would have made Chris a great grandfather. When a friend drives by and invites him out to drink, Kotch is happy to go along.
James E. Brodhead
John [a.] Anderson
Harry Hogan Iii
Henry L. Jaffe M. D.
Richard H. Kline
Sarah Jane Paxton
Richard M. Rubin
Frank E. Warner
Ralph E. Winters
Another first timer, producer Richard Carter, spent two years developing Kotch. First, he optioned the novel and hired John Paxton, the screenwriter behind The Wild One (1953) and On the Beach (1959), to write the script. Then he began searching for the right director. As Carter remembers it, "I sent a copy of the script to Jack [Lemmon] more as a courtesy than anything else, just to let him know what I was moonlighting on. A couple of weeks later he called, wanting to talk to me about Kotch. My first thought was, 'Oh my God, he wants to play it.'" Instead, Carter was surprised by his meeting with Lemmon, who asked to be considered as the film's director. "I just looked at him," recalls Carter. "I hadn't even thought about Jack as director. I said, 'We got a deal.'"
With Lemmon on board as director, it was then time to cast Kotch. Fredric March was initially signed to play the title role but the studios felt he was no longer a box office draw and declined to fund the picture. Another rumor had Laurence Olivier attached to the film, but he reportedly pulled out due to illness. Then one day, Lemmon received a call from Walter Matthau who wanted the part. "I almost fell over," said [Lemmon]. "Richard and I had discussed Walter as Kotcher, and even though I felt he could play anything, thought he might be too young for the part, and might not want to do it."
Matthau actually agreed to play Kotch without even reading the script. He accepted the role on the advice of his wife, Carol, using a bit of reverse logic. Matthau's wife had, years earlier, vowed to never again influence his work choices after suggesting Matthau turn down The Odd Couple (1968). She read the script and hated it. Obviously, Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple ended up being a trademark role for Matthau. So with Kotch he figured that his wife couldn't be that far off the mark twice.
And Carol Matthau was right about Kotch; her husband received an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor for the role (losing out to Gene Hackman in The French Connection (1971)). The film was also Oscar® nominated for Best Editing, Best Sound and Best Song Life Is What You Make It with music by Marvin Hamlisch and lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
For his part, Lemmon appeared to make it through his directorial debut unscathed. Credited dialogue director Alan De Witt planted himself on set in case Lemmon needed help. But according to De Witt, "From the moment Jack started, he was totally secure as a director, as knowledgeable as someone who'd been doing it for twenty years. He never asked me a thing; didn't need to. He knew that camera almost as well as the cameraman." By Lemmon's own account, he found the experience valuable. He felt directing would "make you a better actor, accentuating the necessity to view the whole rather than your part in it." Nonetheless, some reports claim that Lemmon didn't like directing and negative reviews from The New York Times and others did nothing to encourage him. On Kotch , the Times said, Lemmon's ability as a director must be judged...as much by the material with which he chooses to make his debut as by the end product. Both are so unadventurous as to be downright depressing." Either way, Lemmon never directed another movie.
A few other family connections to note in Kotch: Matthau's stepdaughter (and daughter of author William Saroyan) Lucy Saroyan, appears as Sissy; Deborah Winters who plays the pregnant Erica is the daughter of the film's editor Ralph Winters; and another daughter, Jessica Rains, daughter of Claude Rains, plays Dr. McKernan. If you look closely, the director himself appears in a cameo - as a sleeping bus passenger.
Producer: Richard Carter
Director: Jack Lemmon
Screenplay: John Paxton, Katherine Topkins (novel)
Cinematography: Richard H. Kline
Film Editing: Ralph E. Winters
Art Direction: Jack Poplin
Music: Marvin Hamlisch
Cast: Walter Matthau (Joseph Kotcher), Deborah Winters (Erica Herzenstiel), Felicia Farr (Wilma Kotcher), Charles Aidman (Gerald Kotcher), Ellen Geer (Vera Kotcher), Donald Kowalski (Duncan Kotcher).
by Stephanie Thames
Opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. During several brief flashbacks, "Kotch" reminisces about life with his wife "Vera." An onscreen acknowledgment thanks the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital and their staff. Although the onscreen credits state that ABC Pictures Corp. is the film's copyright claimant, the picture was not included in copyright records. According to company production notes, Richard Carter, Jack Lemmon's longtime public relations representative and the publicity and advertising director of Lemmon's company Jalem, optioned the film rights to Katharine Topkin's novel, Kotch, and partnered with John Paxton, who spent several months writing the screenplay. According to production notes, Carter showed the script to Lemmon, who became interested in directing it.
A May 30, 1972 Variety news item reported that the project began as a co-venture between Jalem, Carter and Paxton's Brier Productions and National General Pictures (NGP). Although Filmfacts stated that interiors were shot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, a August 13, 1969 Variety news item reported that the production moved from the Goldwyn lot to return to the CBS Studio Center when negotiations with NGP broke down. The May 1972 Variety news item explained that when negotiations with NGP broke down in mid-1969, Jalem and Brier unsuccessfully petitioned for financial support from the Canadian Film Development Corp. before going with ABC in 1970. According to a March 22, 1971 Daily Variety column, Lemmon felt that the team was having trouble getting backing because the script was considered too "soft for the market" until after the success of the 1970 Paramount film Love Story (see below).
A modern source stated that Fredric March and Laurence Olivier were considered for the lead, but each turned down the role due to illness. According to the film's production notes, Carter and Lemmon sent the script to Walter Matthau, who was then in his early fifties. Actress Felicia Farr, who played "Wilma," was married to Lemmon from 1962 until his death in 2001. Deborah Winters is the daughter of film editor Ralph Winters and actress Penny Edwards. Lucy Saroyan, who played "Sissy," was Matthau's stepdaughter and the daughter of author William Saroyan. Twins Donald and Dean Kowalski played toddler "Duncan Kotcher." Although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed, according to Hollywood Reporter and Daily Variety news items, others appearing in the cast are Lemmon's five-year-old daughter Courtney, Matthau's eight-year-old son Charlie, and Carol Bagdasarian, the daughter of composer Ross Bagdasarian. As noted in Filmfacts and other sources, Lemmon appears in a cameo, disguised with a moustache and glasses in the finale of Kotch.
A February 5, 1971 Hollywood Reporter news item added six actors to the cast: Chester Conklin, Carter De Haven, Babe London, Dot Farley, Edgar Dearing and Lilian Jenks. The actors, who were former silent and early sound film performers, were to portray senior citizens in the retirement home sequence that was filmed at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodlands Hills, CA, where they resided. Their appearance in the film has not been confirmed. The onscreen credits of Henry L. Jaffe M.D. and Phyllis Coffey, who were listed with the production team, were not discernable on the viewed print. Portions of the film were shot in Palm Springs, according to Hollywood Reporter production charts, and also, according to a December 21, 1970 Box Office news item, at Pacific Palisades, Glendale and Newhall in Southern California.
Kotch marked Lemmon's only directorial effort and was Richard Carter's only film as producer. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Matthau), Best Film Editing (Ralph E. Winters), Best Sound (Richard Portman and Jack Solomon) and Best Song (Marvin Hamlisch and Johnny Mercer, "Life Is What You Make It"). The Screen Actors Guild named Kotch the Best American Comedy Adapted from Another Medium.
Named Best American Comedy Adapted from Another Medium by The Screen Actors Guild.
Released in United States Fall October 1971
Directorial debut for Jack Lemmon and producing debut for was Richard Carter.
Released in United States Fall October 1971