For anyone who has been in a flat-sharing arrangement, particularly an unhappy one, ‘The Odd Couple’ will ring uncannily true.
Take two personalities that are polar opposites, add the genius of Neil Simon and the talents of two of Hollywood’s top comedy actors and the result is classic, timeless comedy.
Both Jack Lemmon as obsessive neat freak Felix Unger and Walter Matthau as slobbish sports writer Oscar Madison are in top form in a story that pitches them head to head when Felix moves in to Oscar’s apartment after the breakdown of his marriage.
Desperate and depressed with nowhere to go other than a seedy hotel, Felix is more than happy with the arrangement, but within a week is driving Oscar mad with his constant neurotic cleaning, tidying and criticism of his friend’s lifestyle.
He also refuses to have any fun, spending most of his time thinking about his wife. Felix at one point even telephones Oscar at a baseball match to tell him not to eat any hot dogs at the game, because he’s preparing franks and beans for dinner; the distraction causes Oscar to miss seeing a rare triple-play at the Mets game on which he’s reporting, to his frustration.
The final straw comes when Felix ruins a double date with two sisters who live in the same apartment building, and the mens’ relationship breaks down to the point that Oscar resorts to giving his friend the silent treatment and deliberately messing up the apartment to annoy him. Felix responds in kind by just being himself, which is guaranteed to drive Oscar mad. The two do sort out their differences, however.
The sheer joy of the film is Neil Simon’s script, adapted from his own stage play, delivered impeccably by Messrs Lemmon and Matthau who bring depth to the roles; the pair aren’t just good comedy actors, they’re great actors, full stop, and their performances both engage and convince.