Sunday, July 02, 2017

Ship of Dancing Fools

"There's no such thing as too late. That's why they invented death."

Charlie (Walter Matthau)

Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon made a wonderful comedy team. Individually, they were great; together they were even better.

And together they made nearly a dozen movies. If you want to see them at their best, though, I tend to recommend their early efforts. At some point, they began to lose their edge. Toward the end, their movies shouldn't have been made at all.

Now, that's just my opinion. I confess that there were things about some of their later movies like "Grumpy Old Men" that I thought were good, but I still think most of their later efforts shouldn't have been made.

I put "Out to Sea," which premiered on this day in 1997, at the top of that list. I know people who feel differently, and that's OK. Lemmon and Matthau were always terrific together, even when the material wasn't worthy of them.

And their efforts really were wasted in this one.

Maybe they were victims of their own success. When they were together, they were typecast in the public mind as the characters they first played in "The Odd Couple." Matthau was usually the flawed but generally affable one while Lemmon was the fussy, fastidious one — Oscar and Felix. The characters had different names — except in the thoroughly inadequate sequel the two made in 1998 — but otherwise they were quite similar.

In "Out to Sea," they were brothers–in–law, just as they were more than 30 years earlier in "The Fortune Cookie," their first (and possibly best) movie together.

But this was no sequel.

In that first movie Matthau played a shyster lawyer with a weakness for angles and loopholes. In "Out to Sea," his weakness was gambling. He liked it and he knew how to place bets; he just wasn't very good. To get away from all the folks to whom he owed money, Matthau conned Lemmon — the husband of his late sister — into accompanying him on an all–expenses–paid cruise to Mexico. But he didn't tell Lemmon the catch until the ship was on its way — Matthau had signed them up to work as dance hosts aboard ship.

Now, as I say, Matthau was a bad gambler, but he did know how to place bets. He had no clue how to dance.

Lemmon knew how to dance. By his own admission, he and his late wife had been dancing for decades.

They both ended up falling in love. Lemmon's love interest was Gloria DeHaven in what turned out to be her final movie role.

Matthau fell in love with Dyan Cannon, perhaps more because he believed her to be wealthy than because of her physical qualities. At age 60, Cannon was probably too old to be playing the kind of sexpot love interest that she did — although she did come across as younger than Matthau by comparison and was almost still capable of pulling off playing a much younger woman.

But Cannon, now 80, was one of those women who remained beautiful late in her life, and at the time "Out to Sea" was made, she still possessed attributes that the 76–year–old Matthau could appreciate. In his character's colorfully vivid way, he described one such attribute this way: "An ass so beautiful it's a shame she has to sit down on it."

The story was amiable enough, and it was always hard not to like Lemmon and Matthau, but "Out to Sea" nearly achieved the unthinkable.

"Out to Sea" should have been put out with the trash.

Just my opinion, you understand.