I am embarrassed to admit that I have never seen this film before. I feel like this is one of those movies that anyone just getting into movies would watch or even if they were interested in theatre and plays. I am even more embarrassed to say that I have never seen this movie, because I was an avid fan of Grumpy and Grumpier Old Men when I was a kid which were a result of their chemistry in this movie. (Do you have movies that you are scared to revisit because you know that they were not as good as they were when you were younger and your tastes hadn’t really evolved yet?) Seeing it stare me down in my watch instant queue for far too long, I decided to right my wrong and finally catch up with it. I am glad I did.
I’m sure you know this story. It is so iconic that I knew the story and the character names long before I watched the movie. But if you are not familiar at all with the plot, let me take a few moments to recount to you. Oscar is a messy, recently divorced sports writer. He has a couple of friends come over for a poker game every week. This week, one of their friends is absent which is not like him. Felix, the absent friend, is a fastidious and neurotic man whose wife just kicked him out. He has nowhere to go and nothing to do, so he decides to kill himself. But Felix is not the suicide type. He does everything wrong including sending his estranged wife a telegram. He fails epically, so he decides to show up at the poker game long after Oscar and his friends find out the reason behind him being late. They all comfort him and convince him to stay over at Oscar’s apartment for the night, so Oscar can watch over him. The next day, Oscar invites him to stay with him permanently. Their personalities clash almost instantly. This is where both the comedy and the plot derive from.
This is a delightful movie. Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon have innate chemistry that it is surprising that the play wasn’t written for them. Art Carney originally played Felix with Walter Matthau originating Oscar on Broadway. It wasn’t until it came for the film version did Jack Lemmon step in for the role of Felix. Not only did he step into the role, he seemed to have embodied it completely. The same can be said for Walter Matthau who floats through this movie with an effortless affability.
I did really like this movie, but I guess my one complaint about the film is the staginess of it. It seemed almost like I was watching a filmed version of the play, instead of a movie, if that makes sense. Most of the action takes place in Oscar’s apartment and it feels like they took the set from the Broadway play and moved over to a studio lot. In Roger Ebert’s review, he pointed out that even the same wall was removed of the apartment as it was in the play. The director should have opened up the camera movement a little bit more than he did. Of course this is a minor quibble. If you have two great actors, great dialogue and an interesting story, the staginess of the set can be easily overcome. Filmmaking 101 is done for the day. Please close your textbooks and I will see you tomorrow hopefully with an even better discussion of a movie.