Entire family: No
1968, 105 min., Color
Aspect ratio: 2.35:1
Featured soundtrack: English DTS-HD MA 5.1
Bonus features: B-
I grew up watching adult movies with my parents—and by “adult” I don’t mean racy content. I just mean comedies, dramas, or musicals that were made with an adult audience in mind, rather than kids or families. I want my own children to have broad tastes and interests, and if we only watch family films they’re going to have a gap. So when a classic comes out on Blu-ray that might be suitable for younger viewers, I ask them to give it a chance. With older movies we have a 20-minute rule: Watch for 20 minutes, and if you’re bored or really hate it we’ll play a game or switch to a different movie.
That rule was in effect when I popped in the 1968 film version of The Odd Couple, Neil Simon’s popular Broadway play about two divorced men—one a neat freak, the other a slob—who come to share an apartment. Unlike the TV series starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman that ran from 1970-75, the film is a “genesis” story that tells how Oscar (Walter Matthau) ends up accepting fastidious Felix (Jack Lemmon) as a roommate.
Although The Odd Couple is rated G, my wife and I looked at each other wondering whether we should pull the plug, because the opening sequences involve a despondent Felix wandering the streets of Manhattan and looking for a place to kill himself after finding out that his wife is leaving him. As the camera cuts back and forth between Felix’s half-hearted (and comic) attempts and Oscar’s apartment, the men there are playing poker, drinking, and smoking cigars.
But apart from Oscar’s complaint later in the film that Felix leaves notes all over the house and signs them FU—“It took me three hours to figure out FU was Felix Ungar”—The Odd Couple is pretty clean and the language safe. Even when Oscar tries to get Felix to accept his situation and double date with the Pigeon sisters he meets, there’s nothing much in the way of innuendo.
Neil Simon’s comedies depend on comedy of character and snappy dialogue, and The Odd Couple is a perfect example. Our ‘tween and teen laughed out loud during a number of spots, and clever writing makes it tough to take Felix’s suicidal impulses seriously. “I know him,” Oscar says. “He’s too nervous to kill himself. He even wears his seat belt in a drive-in movie.”
Murray: “A suicide telegram? Who sends a suicide telegram?
Oscar: “Felix the nut, that’s who. Can you imagine getting a thing like that? She even had to tip the kid a quarter.”
Later, when Felix tells them he took a whole bottle of pills, Murray shouts, “My God, get an ambulance!” But Oscar says, “Wait a minute, will ya? We don’t even know what kind. “What difference does it make? He took the whole bottle!” “Well,” Oscar says, “maybe they were vitamins. He could be the healthiest one in the room.”
By today’s standards The Odd Couple is fairly plotless, with few set changes. In other words, it’s staged like a play on film and depends on solid writing and acting. Surprisingly, both kids said they liked the movie and were glad to have seen it. In our house, I’ll often ask, after we’re finished watching a movie, “Keep it, or get rid of it?” And when they say “Keep it,” you know it was a hit.
Simon’s The Odd Couple is proof that smart writing and adult themes can still make for a fun evening at your family home theater, if your children are older than 10. Bonus features include a commentary by the sons of Matthau and Lemmon and brief vintage features with the stars.