Thursday, April 23, 2015

The Grumpier the Better

by Melissa Uhrin
I recently saw some stupid posting that someone had created on the Facebook titled: “Who would you bring back for one more movie?” In my three second glimpse, I noted that the person that had posted it had chosen Paul Walker and I don't know why, but it kind of pissed me off a little. It seemed like someone was profiting (popularity wise) on the loss of our beloved entertainers. I dismissed the posting and gave it no more thought... But apparently I have lost the capability to control which direction my thoughts (squirrel!) pursue... Damn ADD. Sometimes it proves to be for the best, though. At least in my case.

As I was thinking about what I was going to chat about for this piece, two names kept popping into my brainwaves: Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau. On their own they are fantastic actors, but together, there is something magical about them.
Having never watched the original film version of The Odd Couple, this was first on my list. I had known of the 1970 television spin-off, but until I had read into the origins of this film, I had been unaware that it was itself a spin-off from a Broadway play (created by Neil Simon in 1965 and also starring Walter Matthau). Now knowing this, I understood why the movie set had a somewhat familiar air to it, as it was essentially modeled from a stage set. What I loved most about my first viewing of this film, though, was the chemistry between Matthau and Lemmon. Laugh, cry, laugh again as we discover that sometimes opposites are just not attractive.

On the hunt for more, I began my research and discovered The Odd Couple was their second collaboration (although they give the impression they had been acting together for years), the first being Billy Wilder's Fortune Cookie (1966), for which Matthau won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. And try as I might, I came up dry in all my searches for an instant viewing copy of this. I definitely do not give up that easy, the hunt shall continue!!
Hello, Putz.
Hello, Moron.

The next logical step was the Grumpy and Grumpier Old Men movies. I hold these near and dear to my heart, as this just so happened to be one of my first remembered experiences of OLD PEOPLE being funny. HAHA! Aren't I an ass?! It does ring true though (for me at least), as up to this point, most of my movie experiences placed "older" actors in the caring grandparent role or the cantankerous old coot that sat in the corner and threw in a witty quip every so often, but they were never really the feature subject of any movie. These guys are nothing short of glorious together in the film that introduced them to a whole new generation of fans. Of which I was one! Yay! The original of the two films is by far my favourite -- there's really only so much you can do with the grumpy old man seeks wife premise -- but again the chemistry between Matthau and Lemmon is so wonderful that you can't help but love it for that aspect alone. How well a beautiful friendship translates onto the screen, even when they are hating on each other.

Side Note: To this day, when I smell something funky in anyone's car, my immediate thought is of the ever evasive rotting fish. But I've learned that you can't always comment on the smell in someone's car, as it may have been something that snuck out of their butt.

I searched and searched for Out To Sea, but the one copy we found was of poor quality and did not properly play. It has been added to my To Watch list along with The Fortune Cookie, Buddy Buddy, The Front Page and Kotch. Not content with my collection viewed for this piece, I struck out on a mission for more of Matthau and Lemmon and wound up watching them as individuals.
Another of my childhood favourites, 1976's Bad News Bears was my first introduction to Walter Matthau. Right off the bat (ugh -- inadvertent pun), we are introduced to Matthau's character, Morris Buttermaker, as a lazy, boozed up former minor-leaguer who takes on the role of coaching a bunch of no talent misfits strictly for the paycheque. As we watch him grow alongside the kids, we see a world of growth, both as individuals and as a collective team learning from their strengths and applying the lessons to better themselves.

The underlying theme is much more easy to see with my grown-up eyes, though. After doing some reading about it, I have a better understanding of it being a glimpse into competition in our societies. When I was 10 (maybe 11), my dad signed me up for a baseball team (we were living on the Canadian Air Force base in Lahr, Germany at the time). I knew I was not good, but that's what practise and coaching and teamwork are for right? Nope. Life lesson the first: As the only girl on the team, I stood out. As the worst player on the team. I was benched. When I eventually quit the team, my coach said I was doing the right thing. They were in it for winning, not for teaching kids how to be team players. Stupid adults. You know not what you do.
And lastly, my favourite Jack Lemmon film, Some Like It Hot (1959). What is not to love about it? Music, laughter, men in drag, Marilyn Monroe and, of course, Jack Lemmon in my favourite of his performances as Jerry/Daphne. This film is a go-to when I want to watch my version of a feel good movie where everything eventually turns out fine for everyone! It's damn near impossible to write anything more about this movie without going into my love of Marilyn Monroe. This was my introduction to her and I have been hooked ever since! Made for TV crap, films about her and, most importantly, starring her, I have gone through several periods in my life where I sought out anything and everything Marilyn.

But my getting carried away with Ms. Monroe shall be left for the next piece. Today is about this. Writers can write the wittiest of lines. Directors can direct the crap out of any performance, but it takes the magic that Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau had together that creates such endearing and unforgettable moments in film history.

“Did you win the lottery, dickhead?"
"Did you enjoy your shower, smartass?”

Ahhhh. Golden.


  1. I have seen a lot of people that I would consider non serious movie fans say that they wish Paul Walker could come back to make another movie. As much as I do miss him, its kind of a cheap answer. He was good, but If you could bring back ONE person would you really want it to be him? I really miss young Paul Newman. Heck, older Paul Newman would be great too. I feel like he would make a slightly better after life film than Mr. Walker.

  2. Coincidentally, Out to Sea is on HBO on Friday morning, I just noticed.

  3. Love this! They are quite a pair. Random Question related to Matthau: have you seen Cactus Flower? I gave quite the soft spot for it and not sure how many people have seen it (I wrote a 3, 000 word essay on Monroe, I too am a big fan and got a first for it. Proving if you write about what you love it works!)

  4. I had totally forgot about these Grumpy old men movies, I also have weird memory about this being the first film featuring old people that made me laugh, im sure it wasn't but in my memory it was, I guess im an Ass too, in my mind they were funny and I quite fancy a revisit now ;)

  5. My first introduction to Walter Matthau was Dennis the Menace 1993. At 6 years old I enjoyed him as Mr. Wilson but not nearly as much as I did once I became an adult.