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Film version of 'The Odd Couple' a different view of Oscar and Felix

Date: 4/21/2009

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A comedy classic and a "Star Wars" documentary are the films featured in this week's DVD column.

The Odd Couple

No, this is not the venerable television show starring Jack Klugman and Tony Randall, but the original 1968 film adapted by writer Neil Simon from his successful Broadway play.

Although many people remember the television show from its five seasons in the 1970s -- and its many, many reruns -- I would submit that fewer people recall the 1968 film, which was a big hit in its day.

Paramount has re-released the film on DVD as part of its "Centennial Collection," giving "Odd Couple" fans a chance to see a substantially different story than the one presented on the television series.

Simon had much more control over the film and made sure that Walter Matthau reprised his role as Oscar Madison, the world's sloppiest sportswriter. Art Carney, though, as the DVD's "making of" documentary reveals, was not cast as Felix in the film, although he originated the role in the play. The studio wanted someone with more box office appeal and Jack Lemmon was cast as Felix, the neurotic clean freak whose wife had just thrown him out.

Simon's play took place completely in Madison's apartment. For the film version he and director Gene Saks created scenes to "open the film up" and take advantage of some New York City locations.

I had not seen the film before in its entirety -- I think I had caught snippets in television -- and I was surprised to see just how dramatic it played. Yes, there are laughs in it, but Lemmon's performance has plenty of drama. We are introduced to Felix as he attempts to commit suicide material not in the play.

Lemmon's Felix is a tortured soul who understands his propensity to clean all the time has driven away the woman he loves. He clearly regrets it.

Oscar also has some chinks in his emotional armor and Matthau plays him with some subtlety, although overall the performance is pretty broad.

The ending of the film comes as a bit of a surprise -- no spoilers here -- and I liked the production. For those who think of the television show as the definitive version of this property, the film should come as an interesting and pleasant surprise.

A Galaxy Far Far Away

I'm a fan boy and have been my whole life. I'm fascinated by examinations of fandom whether it's people who wear Red Sox shirts to work or the people profiled in this film who waited in line 42 days to buy tickets for the first showing of "The Phantom Menace" in 1999.

Looking at science fiction fandom is nothing new for documentaries, as the folks who made "Trekkies" came up with an intriguing look at "Star Trek" fans and how their interest in that show had molded their lives.

This film attempts to do something similar, only for "Star Wars" fans, but it is not nearly as successful or entertaining.

Director Tariq Jalil sets up his premise at the beginning of the film: he doesn't like "Star Wars" and is hoping to understand why people have been so affected by the film series. He also hoped to gain some insight into why fans were willing to camp out for weeks to ensure they would see the film on opening day.

So he visited some conventions, spoke to some fans -- the most wackiest he could find -- and chronicled the waiting period up to opening night. He even crashed a celebrity golf game to get Meat Loaf, Joe Pesci and Andy Garcia to talk about the phenomena.

The result is part snarky commentary, part pop psychology and a grudging conclusion that at least "Star Wars" fans believe in something.

Unlike "Trekkies," the film has a sloppy underground feel to it, which I wouldn't mind except the filmmakers seemed fascinated with dragging out the interviews with the worst fans. I've worked pop culture conventions for years and I've seen my share of obsessed fans, but a little can go a long way.

This 10th anniversary edition has a new commentary from the director and producer as well as a "making of" interview.

I think this film is best suited for hardcore completist "Star Wars" fans or for psychology enthusiasts. There is plenty of material here for a dissertation or two.