Title: The Odd Couple
Director: Gene Saks
Writer: Neil Simon
Music: Neal Hefti
Cinematography: Robert B. Hauser
A hallmark Neil Simon comedy shot with Panavision parameter by film/stage director Gene Saks, his second feature film, paired with Lemmon and Matthau, the second out of their 10 collaborations, after their prize-winning bash in Billy Wilder’s THE FORTUNE COOKIE (1966).
In the main, it is a one-apartment knockabout, the eponymous couple, Felix Ungar (Lemmon) and Oscar Madison (Matthau), are best friends but equipped with diametrical personalities, Felix is a fastidious neat-freak whereas Oscar a congenital slob. In the opening scenes, we follow Felix wandering off a hotel-dotted Manhattan in the night, he checks in a high-story room and decides to kill himself spurred by the unforeseen cessation of his 12-year marriage, only to find the window is jammed.
Starting with a suicidal attempt going awry, that’s the spirit a quality comedy should have because it heralds that nothing would go more serious than that! So once Felix thinks better of it, he goes to Oscar’s place, literally a divorcé’s dump littered with garbage, food and permeated with smoke, sweat and other repugnant odor, where he meets their usual poker friends, after a flurry of misunderstanding, Felix moves into Oscar 8-room apartment, that’s when the discord begins to ratchet up. It is a time-honored template of mis-matched buddy romp, Neil Simon’s script ensures that their disparity runs to the maximum in opposite scales, even to a fault at the expense of its characters’ likability, especially Oscar, emblazoned as a macho ingrate, in comparison with Felix’s nagging but at least good-natured punctiliousness. Thankfully, the two stars’ chemistry gratifyingly hits the right mark (Lemmon is a compelling sprain-prone dynamo and Matthau is in his element with his trademark rakish sloppiness), and leavens the implausible story with trenchant one-liners (that F.U. monogram for instance), including a hilarious double date with the Pigeon sisters (Evans and Shelley) from Britain, where sensuality humbled by sentimentality.
In retrospect, THE ODD COUPLE is an archetype of urban bromance (minus the gay undertone), likens the friendship between two men to a married couple (the only missing link is the consummation) when they are shoved under the same roof, and aggrandizes their tough/vulnerable dichotomy for laughter, a thoroughly pleasurable pot-boiler (if not a sharp-edged satire or an irresistibly droll goofball) borne out of an ingenious idea, spin-offs aplenty.