"The Odd Couple" was not the first teaming of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau (see Billy Wilder's "The Fortune Cookie" ) but was the most momentous. Here the seeds are planted for one of the great comic duos of the late twentieth century: the Grumpy Old Men at middle-age. The story is so well known—largely due to the spin-off TV series with Tony Randall and Jack Klugman (1970–75)—that the movie is well worth revisiting and appreciated on its own merits.
The picture's engine takes a while to crank and start purring. The set-up—Oscar's slovenliness and Felix's suicidal depression—drags. When Oscar finally takes Felix under his wing and into this eight-room Manhattan apartment (who knew that sports writers lived so well?), things begin to hum. Bring on the Pigeon Sisters (Monica Evans and Carole Shelley) in Act III, and the movie hits its stride. The movie's stage-bound origin is manifest, but director Gene Saks does a good job of opening the action out into the city when it makes story-sense. Another highlight is Neal Hefti's infectious theme and upbeat score, injected at just the right places.
Beside Mss. Evans and Shelley, the supporting character actors who play Oscar's poker buddies—John Fiedler, Herb Edelman, David Sheiner, and Larry Haines—are all top-notch. Lemmon's neurotic Felix is a bit hammy for my taste, but Matthau's Oscar is never less than perfect. (I can't recall a movie in which Matthau wasn't perfect.) Typically, Neil Simon's script aims for zingers, not belly laughs, but Acts II and III drew a few of those out of me, too. Surprisingly, for a movie released in '68, this one holds up well. I think that's because of its simplicity: the characters and conflicts are still recognizable and have hardly dated. Something I had forgotten but recognized on returning to "The Odd Couple" is that it is genuinely a buddy film: not saccharine, but sweet in the way its two leads drive each other crazy but basically care about each other in their own crosswise, idiosyncratic ways. By the movie's end, a little of Felix has rubbed off on Oscar: a nice twist for an entertaining picture.