Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (March 6, 2009)
Many movies have been adapted into TV shows, but few have been genuinely successful in this regard. M*A*S*H stands as the champion in this regard; not only did the show live up to the film, but it probably exceeded it as it ultimately became one of the most popular and acclaimed TV programs in history.
The Odd Couple never achieved the success of M*A*S*H, but some people think of it as the better TV show. Actually, itís hard to compare the two simply because M*A*S*H aired for so many more years than did The Odd Couple; the latter managed a five-year stint while M*A*S*H stuck it out for a whopping 11 years. Inevitably the quality decreases with that length of a run, so itíd be more appropriate to compare the two in a briefer period of time.
In any case, The Odd Couple made for a terrific show. Iíd always thought the TV program bettered the 1968 movie, but since itíd been quite a long time since I saw the latter, I was curious to watch it again and determine if my opinion changed.
Nope. The TV version of Couple remains the perfect rendition of the story, mainly due to the performances of its stars. Yes, Tony Randall and Jack Klugman seem to have an unfair advantage since I grew up with them as Felix and Oscar, respectively. However, just because Iím accustomed to certain performers in various roles doesnít mean that I canít change my mind. For instance, I thought Roger Moore was the best Bond for quite some time before I realized the idiocy of my ways and changed my vote to Sean Connery.
However, nothing that I saw in the film version of Couple gave me reason to alter my opinion: Randall and Klugman are it. If one wanted to argue about it, youíd have a better shot championing the virtues of Walter Matthauís Oscar, as itís a much closer competition between him and Klugman. Actually, Matthau probably offers the better portrayal of the role; his laissez faire attitude seems a little more convincing and he makes Oscar less of a grouch. Klugman could over-emote at times and demonstrate inappropriate histrionics as Oscar.
However, his chemistry with Randall was outstanding, so thatís why he remains my choice. As for Randall and Jack Lemmonís Felix, there is no comparison. Lemmon is a terrific actor but I didnít care for his spin on the character. Frankly, he made Felix much too aggressive and unlikable. Granted, Felix can be awfully annoying and hard to embrace, but there need to be some redeeming characteristics at work. I didnít see that in Lemmonís performance; he creates an irritating jerk who seemed much too strident.
Randall excelled for a number of reasons. First of all, he made all of Felixís quirks appear natural, and we saw a range of emotions in the character. Yes, Felix was and always will be a caricature, but Randall brought out the humanity in the role. We loved his Felix in spite of his behavior.
Randallís impeccable comic timing didnít hurt either, and Felix works better as a martyr than as an abrasive nuisance. As much as you want to swat Randallís Felix, you could always empathize with him to a degree, and Randall really know how to push the characterís buttons in just the right proportions.
My strong preference for the TV edition of Couple aside, I still find the film to be a mildly interesting experience. Itís a fairly witty flick that has held up reasonably well over the years. However, I really find it tough to get beyond my fondness for the TV show. I continually thought how much better it would execute gags, and how much funnier the acting would be.
As such, I donít know how objective I can be about The Odd Couple. I grew up watching the TV show, and as Iíve learned through continued reruns and the DVDs, I still think itís a fantastic piece of work. The movie provided able groundwork for it but simply doesnít stand up well in comparison with the TV seriesí delights. I enjoyed the time I spent with the movie of The Odd Couple but still would rather have watched the TV show.
One trivia note: only two actors continued their roles from the movie into the TV series. That would be the Pigeon sisters, played by Monica Evans and Carole Shelley. However, they werenít the only performers from the film to appear on the show; John Fiedler - the movieís Vinnie - also made two separate appearances on the series as different characters.