DVD Reviews: “To Catch a Thief” and “The Odd Couple” Centennial Collections

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One of the things I enjoy about writing for Popdose is the opportunity to introduce people to classic films that they may have heard of but don’t know whether to rent or buy. Paramount Pictures has been re-releasing many of their classic films in their “Centennial Collection” series, adding new bonus features and remastering the films to fit into those newfangled 16X9 TVs. The latest two films to get this deluxe treatment are Alfred Hitchcock’s 1955 romantic caper, To Catch a Thief, and the Jack Lemmon/Walter Matthau 1968 classic screen adaptation of Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple. In addition to the crisp new pictures, these DVD collections come with a second disc of bonus features, some of which haven’t been released in previous DVD editions.

thiefBefore filming To Catch a Thief, Grant had been in a self-imposed retirement for several years when Hitch came calling for him to star in the film. What a great career move, because after To Catch a Thief, Grant then went on to star in such popular films as An Affair to Remember, Charade, Father Goose, and the quintessential action film, North by Northwest (also directed by Hitchcock). In the film, Grant is John Robie, a notorious, albeit retired, thief known as The Cat. Living in seclusion in the south of France, a string of new burglaries that match the Cat’s m.o. make him the lead suspect by the police. But Robie is innocent, and sets off to clear his name with the help of people he knew from the French resistance. Unfortunately for Robie, no one believes he’s innocent. He manages to get the name of an insurance man who provides the names and whereabouts of rich women touting expensive jewels in the hotels of the Riviera. Robie’s plan is to catch the thief red-handed. Robie takes on the guise of an American industrialist and meets one of the potential victims, Jessie, (Jessie Royce Landis) and her beautiful daughter, Francie (Kelly). Jessie takes a liking to Robie and invites him to hang out with them. At the same time, Francie immediately recognizes Robie, but plays along with his charade because she finds him attractive and interesting. By film’s end Robie discovers the real thief who has been framing him and plots to catch the thief. At the same time, Francie falls in love with the lovable rogue.

This isn’t one of Hitchcock’s all-time great thrillers. The plot keeps moving steadily, but there isn’t really much in the way of suspense or action. Instead, Hitchcock’s film is a breezy, witty movie with tight dialogue and great scenery. The real appeal here is getting to see Grant and Kelly work alongside each other, tossing off double entendres left and right. In fact, Hitchcock challenged Hollywood’s ratings system with the dialogue in the movie and a famous kissing scene in which fireworks are going off in the background, symbolizing the sex the two characters would be having if allowed by the censors. Still, with director as creative as Hitchcock, half the fun of watching his films is seeing how he handles the “sex” scenes. Another highlight of the film is the technical aspect, especially the cinematography and the costumes. Indeed, the film went on to win the Academy Award for Robert Burk’s camerawork (shot in Vistavision) capturing the beauty of the lush French countryside. Additionally, To Catch a Thief received nominations for Edith Head’s costumes and also the Art Direction by Hal Pereira, Joseph McMillan Johnson, Samuel M. Comer, Arthur Krams .

What I found more interesting on this special edition DVD set was the supplemental material, in particular the look at the Hollywood production code of the era and the manner which Hitchcock got around it. A pleasant appreciation of Hitchcock’s life featuring interviews with his daughter and granddaughter also highlight the second disc, which also includes The Making of To Catch a Thief; a featurette on Edith Head’s work at Paramount; and a featurette on the writing and casting of the film. If you’re a Hitchcock aficionado, or just want a leisurely movie to watch on a Sunday afternoon, To Catch a Thief is for you. Otherwise, I would check out some of his other classics before picking up this one. (If you’re in the mood for suspense and thrills, I recommend checking out one Rear Window or Shadow of a Doubt.)

Neil Simon’s The Odd Couple was a Broadway sensation when it closed, and its next stop was the silverodd screen. Walter Matthau, who had originated the role of “Oscar” on stage, came on board for the film, but the original “Felix,” Art Carney, turned the movie down. The film’s producers then offered the part to Jack Lemmon, who had previously starred with Matthau in Billy Wilder’s The Fortune Cookie. Lemmon accepted, and history was made. After the film, the hit TV series staring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman, and countless ripoffs, you should know the plot to The Odd Couple, but let me refresh your memory: Oscar Madison (Matthau) is a divorced bachelor living in New York. He works as a sports writer and is the world’s biggest slob. Felix Unger, an anal retentive neat freak, is Oscar’s best friend and a frequent poker buddy. When Felix is kicked out of his house and marriage, Oscar opens up his apartment and the two become roommates. In a short time, Felix has transformed Oscar’s garbage dump home into a clean, swinging place… just don’t forget to use a coaster!

The Odd Couple is light on plot and is all about character development, allowing these two veteran actors (who were already good friends to begin with) to play off of each other and to have fun on screen. As Chris Lemmon and Charlie Matthau (sons of the famous actors) say in their reflective and informative audio commentary, The Odd Couple could be considered the first bromance flick. Watching these Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau perform together is like watching great magicians work: You sit back, mystified, trying to figure out how they make their artistry, their slight of hand, work so effortlessly. But that’s not to say that the movie is just a filmed version of the stage play. Whereas the theater production all takes place in Oscar’s apartment, Simon and director Gene Saks opened up the story to give us a clear depiction of New York in the 1960’s. Furthermore, the fluid camerawork moves throughout Oscar’s pad, from the kitchen to the bedrooms and Saks and his cinematographer, Robert B. Hauser, utilized the wide screen to allow the actors room to improvise. If you watch The Odd Couple, you must make sure to see it in letterbox because there are many shots in which the camera is set up for a single shot and the actors are spread out all over the screen.

Still, it is the two leads of the movie that are the draw and Simon’s timeless writing that make The Odd Couple a classic. Consider the scene in which Oscar sets up a blind date with two sisters who live upstairs from him. He makes plans and Felix cooks dinner for the four of them. When Oscar comes home late for the date, Felix lays into him like a suspicious house wife. The scene begins like any of the two characters arguments, but slowly turns into a domestic squabble between two people who are close to their wits end with each other. Matthau and Lemmon work wonders with Simon’s dialogue and make this scene, one that we’ve seen copied a hundred times since, still seem fresh today. The measure of any great film, be it drama or comedy, is its ability to move the audience to tears and laughter (or tears from laughter) no matter how many years since its initial release. Forty-one years after its initial release, The Odd Couple continues to hold up.

In addition to the wonderful commentary by the sons of Lemmon and Matthau, the DVD set comes with several informative featurettes about the making and the history of this wonderful comedy.

To Catch a Thief – The Centennial Collection (1955/2009, Paramount)
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The Odd Couple- The Centennial Collection (1968/2009, Paramount)
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