THE ODD COUPLE (1968)
Thursday, April 9, 2015
CANON OF FILM: "THE ODD COUPLE"
Director: Gene Saks
Screenplay: Neil Simon based on his stage play
Some people think that it’s a problem if a film version of a play feels too much like a stage play. I actually disagree; I think a film that gives a good representation of what it feels like to see the stage is possibly even trickier than filming a movie version of a play. I personally enjoy films that give me the impression that I’m going to a theater, and I think people who live way too off-Broadway to go would agree. Exhibit A for this argument is probably "The Odd Couple". Gene Saks directed numerous Neil Simon plays for film, Gene Saks was more than capable of extending a place outside the limits of the stage, he did it with films like "Cactus Flower" and "Brighton Beach Memoirs" and "Mame", but for "The Odd Couple", except for an opening sequence involving Felix's (Jack Lemmon) failure to attempt suicide and a couple other scenes where the location is switched briefly, the movie mainly stays true to the stageplay; our seat is the empty one at the poker table where Felix is supposed to be.
I have experience with "The Odd Couple", I've actually done some scene work from the play, playing both Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) and Felix Unger on separate occasions, and let me tell you a secret that only most actors know, these are two parts that are some of the most difficult in all of western literature to portray. I'm not kidding, they're hard; I'd rather play Hamlet, it's easier; these two roles are tough. It seems simple, clean guy, messy guy, I'm sure some moron wants to put some kind of allegory withing the film and analyze it too thoroughly, political message or whatever, but it really just came out of Simon's own experiences of moving in with his friend temporarily and how they're relationship started to mimic that of a husband and wife. That's what makes these parts so impossible, there isn't much to hold onto and these parts can turn dramatic easily in the wrong hands.
I suspect this is what continually draws people to the movie and play, the more simple direct idea of the film that one person’s mannerisms, no matter how good a friend he or she is, will get on your nerves, and vice-versa. Anybody who says they can’t relate, is the most annoying person within a group of friends. (Stop thinking about me in that context!) So, I don’t look for deeper meaning in this literal comedy of manners. The movie begins with Felix failing to kill himself on several occasions. Then word gets out to his friends who are gathered at Oscar Madison’s house for a poker game that his wife just left him. His wife meant everything to Felix and… well, you probably know what happens from here. The stage play has been renewed or reimagined dozens of times, even Neil Simon did a reinterpretation with two women once and the movie itself spun-off the TV series “The Odd Couple,” with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman. (Who I personally like in the roles better than Lemmon and Matthau strangely. Lemmon actually is filling in for Art Carney who originated the role onstage, in the movie's only real major casting change from the play) It's actually being remade again on television now with Matthew Perry and Thomas Lennon and much of that show's pilot episode dialogue was taken from the play.
It’s a little difficult to specifically describe the jokes in the film, they’re based on the characters in the play.
Felix: So in other words, you’re throwing me out?
Oscar: No, in other words. Those are the exact words! I’m throwing you out!
Felix: You know, I have half a mind to actually leave.
As you can see, the actors have to make the movie, and can you think of anyone better than Lemmon and Matthau for Felix and Oscar. They worked together on at least a dozen films in their career, with this clearly being there best and funniest work, and if there is an allegory within the film, it’s one of friendship. A lesser film would have characters hug at the end. Here, they don’t because both know it isn't necessary, even if he leaves little notes on the other’s pillow.
Oscar: “…We’re all out of cornflakes. F.U. It took me three hours to realize F.U. was Felix Ungar!”