Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau made several films together but probably none is more beloved than The Odd Couple. Released on May 2, 1968, written by Neil Simon, the film was based on the Tony Award winning play of the same name. There’s little doubt that The Odd Couple’s two main characters, Oscar Madison and Felix Unger, have become cultural icons. The play was a major success and some sort of revival is usually running somewhere in the world; the movie was a huge success in 1968 and the 1970’s television series continues to be watched by millions through syndication and DVD. However, it’s still the original movie that best captures the essence of the characters and their situation. It’s wonderful that Paramount saw fit to add The Odd Couple to its Centennial Collection.

The Odd CoupleAs the movie begins, Felix Unger (Jack Lemmon), is in a total state of despair because his wife has just left him. He’s prepared himself to commit suicide but when he tries to jump out a ninth-floor hotel room, he can’t get the window unstuck and he throws his back out trying to open it. From that seen alone, we’ve not only learned that Felix is emotionally fragile but physically fragile as well. Felix’s best friend Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau), (who’s been playing poker with the boys) comes to his rescue by suggesting he stay with him for awhile. At first it seems like a good idea. After all, with Felix keeping the apartment clean and fixing the meals, they’ll save lots of money. But just as it did with his fed up spouse, Felix’s cleaning fetish begins to grate on Oscar’s nerves. Even worse, the guys haven’t had dates in ages. Hoping to change their luck, Oscar sets them up with Cecily (Monica Evans) and Gwendolyn Pigeon (Carolyn Shelley), a pair of British sisters who like to swing. Predictably, any woman reminds Felix of his wife and he ruins the entire evening. Angry, Oscar demands Felix move out.
While Neil Simon created two wonderful characters in Felix Unger and Oscar Madison, The Odd Couple could have been insufferable without the considerable talents of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. Both actors were able to find the souls of their respective characters and make them sympathetic and likeable in their own way. You can understand Oscar’s frustration in living with someone that has all the peculiarities of Felix; yet just looking at Jack Lemmon’s face lets you know Felix is a man in real pain.
Both Lemmon and Matthau are in excellent form here but it’s Matthau who seems like he was truly born to play Oscar Madison. With his perpetually hangdog look and a bit of a slouch, he screams sloppy sportswriter. He delivers every word with a droll resignation. What’s more, he gets the best lines. When he learns that Felix, in desperation, has downed a whole bottle of unidentified tablets, he discounts the possibility of overdose: “Well, maybe they were vitamin pills; he could be the healthiest one in the room!” Later, he can’t tell if Felix is choking or laughing: “You make the same sounds for pain and happiness.”
Though The Odd Couple hit theaters more than forty years ago, it still packs a comedic wallop. Lemmon and Matthau were one of Hollywood’s great screen teams and The Odd Couple stands as their finest work. The premise feels fresh and the wacky one-liners still hit the mark.
The picture, projected in a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen ratio, is excellent, with colors bright, rich, and vivid, yet always natural. Further, you’ll find hardly a flicker or shimmer in sight and only a normal, moderate film grain to provide an appropriate movie texture.
As for the sound, it’s in Dolby Digital 5.1, although it doesn’t do much in the surround department. Actually, the front stereo is itself rather limited, but it does a fine job rendering dialogue clearly and accurately, which is its main duty.
Disc one of this two-disc Centennial Collection edition contains the feature film; English, French, and Spanish spoken languages and subtitles; sixteen scene selections; and an audio commentary by Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon, the sons of the two stars. The sons’ comments are very personal, very insightful, often amusing, and sometimes touching.
Disc two contains a series of featurettes that take us behind the scenes of the filmmaking. First, we get “In the Beginning,” seventeen minutes of background on the Neil Simon play that introduced the story to the world. We hear from as many people involved with the film as survive, with an introduction by Larry King. Next, there’s “Inside The Odd Couple,” nineteen minutes on casting the film. Then, there’s “Memories from the Set,” ten minutes of reminiscences; “Matthau and Lemmon,” ten minutes on the stars; and “The Odd Couple: A Classic,” three more minutes of praise for the movie. Things conclude with two still galleries, production and movie; and a widescreen theatrical trailer.