There’s a wonderful Jack Lemmon moment in Gene Saks’ film of Neil Simon’s stage play”The Odd Couple” in which the suicidal news writer Felix Ungar (played by Lemmon) sits dejectedly in a sleazy (though overly lit) exotic dancer bar, despondent over his recent marital break-up, he catches a glimpse of the gyrating dancer (uncredited adult cult actress and Star Trek babe Angelique Pettyjohn) before him and he does a quick leering double take with his eyes; a lightning quick reflexivity which signals the greatest weapon in his acting arsenal as America’s greatest screen farceur for almost two decades: Lemmon was the alternate Cary Grant comic romantic, less the suave sophisticate than the absurdly giddy everyman; an explosively amusing and reactive symbol of the boyish- sometimes lecherously immature -side of the masculine id. This persona, initially whittled back in the “The Fortune Cookie” completely transmogrifies by the end of “The Odd Couple” into an exhausting and extended slide into a representation of the American male in menopausal crisis.
It’s as if the actor had belatedly discovered sadness as a master key to thespian respectability and ran with it to the exclusion of those facets of his talents which not only initially solidified his fame, but are in dangerously shorter supply. Comedy may be a serious business but it is also a deceptively rarefied field of expertise to which the loss of even one skilled practitioner is deeply felt, despite the fact that Lemmon was continually lauded for his subsequent dramatic portraits, even though his emotional repertoire tended toward an effective but nevertheless repetitively fatiguing bag of tricks that lacked the continuous invention of his comic persona. If Lemmon ceased to be fun, he also lost that quality of surprise which in his earlier years would literally explode off the screen; Lemmon the provocateur becomes Lemmon the acting statesman and who needs another singularly depressing monument? (His later humorous roles would find themselves overtaken with this application of seriousness as if to stress the tragic side of the character’s folly which often sucked the energy out of the proceedings as witness the already disappointingly inert “The Front Page”.) In “The Odd Couple”, Lemmon and Matthau’s second screen collaboration, we see the progression of what began in their previous encounter, “The Fortune Cookie” in which the possibilities of comedy in his role were submerged in an often uncomfortable layer of self-pity.
To read the complete review, click the following link to: https://chandlerswainreviews.wordpress.com/nights-at-the-langley-theater/