Thursday, May 02, 2013

The Big-Screen Debut of The Odd Couple

Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau): Who wants food?

Murray (Herb Edelman): What do you got?

Oscar: I got, uh, brown sandwiches and, uh, green sandwiches. Which one do you want?

Murray: What's the green?

Oscar: It's either very new cheese or very old meat.

Murray: I'll take the brown.

Roy (David Sheiner): Are you crazy? You're not going to eat that, are you?

Murray: I'm hungry!

Roy: His refrigerator has been out of order for two weeks now. I saw milk standing in there that wasn't even in the bottle!

The Walter Matthau–Jack Lemmon movie "The Odd Couple" made its debut 45 years ago today, a couple of years after the Neil Simon–authored play was a splash on Broadway.

It is one of my favorite comedies, and I have written about it before — when it was about to be shown on TV. I'm not sure there is much I can add to that.

Except to say that I have seen it many times in my life, and I still think it is funny every time I see it. I know what's coming. I know all the best lines by heart.

But I still laugh, especially at scenes that I have been laughing at for years. Not even scenes really. I always laugh at Jack Lemmon's portrayal of the fastidious Felix, and I always laugh at Walter Matthau's portrayal of the sloppy Oscar.

They truly were an odd couple. That's what made them funny — but, frankly, Lemmon and Matthau were already funny. When they were paired up, they were even funnier.

And "The Odd Couple" wasn't even their first pairing. That was a couple of years earlier in "The Fortune Cookie," for which Matthau won an Oscar.

Matthau played a lawyer in that movie; he played a sports writer in "The Odd Couple." No matter which movie he was in or which role he played, though, he always looked like he had been sleeping in his clothes.

He didn't have much of a wardrobe in "The Odd Couple" — mostly T–shirts and ball caps — but he didn't really need much.

It was a big part of his charm, I guess.

Oscar Madison: Look at this. You're the only man in the world with clenched hair.

Of Lemmon, I guess it can best be said that he proved his talent for comedic roles in "Mister Roberts," "Some Like It Hot" and "The Apartment," but it was a different kind of role in "The Odd Couple."

Lemmon got his share of laughs in "The Odd Couple," to be sure, but most of the time, I guess, he was Matthau's straight man, feeding him setup lines.

Like when he and Oscar were talking about the fairer sex in a bowling alley, and Felix remarked, "Funny, I haven't thought of women in weeks."

"I fail to see the humor," Oscar replied, gazing longingly at a group of excited young women jumping up and down after one of them bowled a strike.

My favorite exchange may have been when Felix said, "I think I'm crazy."

"If it makes you feel any better," Oscar said, "I think so, too."

It was one of the great film partnerships of all time.