Saturday, January 10, 2015

'Cause you asked for it

A lot of you have asked me to post some of the scripts from my TCM stint hosting the Neil Simon Film Festival.  Here's the first one.   In all, I did seventeen of these.  As you can see, I try to include a lot into a very short time.  Hey, I can't get by on just smoldering looks to the camera.   This was from last week.  THE ODD COUPLE.  This script was written by TCM producer Anne Wilson and me.  Try saying it out loud without screwing up.  If you can you're better than I am.   NOTE: Thanks to an anonymous commenter who changed the text from all-caps to regular. 


 INTRO

Hi, I’m Ken Levine – a playwright, tv writer and director and i’m thrilled to be TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight” host for January. this month, we’re saluting a Pulitzer prize and Tony winning playwright and a screenwriter I’ve always admired, Neil Simon – someone with an amazing work ethic and also a master at using humor to both enrich his characters and move his stories forward. trust me, that’s an art and no one can do it better.

On Broadway, Simon has been prolific but he’s also had great success in Hollywood, which we will showcase every Friday night this month.

We start with his work that’s probably had the greatest longevity, originating on broadway in 1965 but with countless stage, TV and film versions done over the years. it’s “THE ODD COUPLE,” our movie released in 1968, starring jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau – Matthau reprising his stage role.

Lemmon plays Felix Unger, a man despondent over splitting with his wife. with nowhere to go, he moves in with his best friend Oscar Madison – that’s Matthau. the two are polar opposites: Felix is a neat-nick, hypochondriac, TV newswriter. Oscar is a slob, a sportswriter with a “who gives a crap?” attitude. so the comedic possibilities are endless.

The idea for the story actually came from Neil Simon’s brother Danny – also a writer – who was, himself, divorced and rooming with a friend who just split from his wife. the two brothers agreed the situation was ripe for a comedy so Danny started writing. but after several false starts, he eventually told Neil to take the story and run with it – so he did – still giving Danny a percentage of the profits.

Neil had trouble writing the play as well. In out-of-town previews, the first two acts were hilarious but the last act just died. neither Simon nor the play’s director Mike Nichols could figure out how to make it work. It was a theatre critic in Boston who suggested the fix – that two characters who appeared early in the play, “THE PIGEON SISTERS,” be brought back to help tie the story up. That did the trick.

It was a huge hit and won four Tony awards, including one for Neil Simon. This film version -- with an Oscar nominated Neil Simon screenplay -- was also a smash. Here -- from 1968, “THE ODD COUPLE.”

OUTRO


As i mentioned before the film, Neil Simon did numerous rewrites for the play, but by comparison he felt the screenplay for this movie was one of the easiest he’d ever written. That’s because nearly all of the dialogue from the play went directly into the film.

I’ve seen the play and it is great, but I admit some sequences play better in the film because they could open things up on location. One example is that scene with Jack Lemmon clearing out his sinuses in the diner – it’s way funnier in a public place.

now, Lemmon and Matthau were both terrific in this movie and they are one of the great movie teams. and I know I may get in trouble for saying this – but to me, when I think of Oscar and Felix, I think of the two actors who played them in the 1970’s TV sit-com: Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

Maybe it’s a generational thing – you know, like the different answers you get when asking someone “who is ‘the real’ James Bond?” (Sean Connery) but to me, Klugman And Randall are “the real” odd couple.

Stick around for another Neil Simon treat. up next from 1970 -- once again starring Jack Lemmon.

17 comments:

MikeK.Pa. said...

Caught your intro to MURDER BY DEATH, but unfortunately I faded midway through the film and didn't see the extro or any other intros/extros. Sorry. Can't remember the last time I saw a James Coco movie. Has to be decades. I found a lot of the lines in MBD to be forced or just flat. The Alec Guinness/Nancy Walker joke (he was blind; she was deaf and mute) got old fast. Still was good to see the cast, especially Sellers. Maggie Smith was gorgeous.

Anonymous said...

Hi, I’m Ken Levine – a playwright, tv writer and director and i’m thrilled to be TCM’s “Friday Night Spotlight” host for January. this month, we’re saluting a Pulitzer prize and Tony winning playwright and a screenwriter I’ve always admired, Neil Simon – someone with an amazing work ethic and also a master at using humor to both enrich his characters and move his stories forward. trust me, that’s an art and no one can do it better.

On broadway, Simon has been prolific but he’s also had great success in Hollywood, which we will showcase every Friday night this month.

We start with his work that’s probably had the greatest longevity, originating on broadway in 1965 but with countless stage, TV and film versions done over the years. it’s “THE ODD COUPLE,” our movie released in 1968, starring jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau – Matthau reprising his stage role. 

Lemmon plays Felix Unger, a man despondent over splitting with his wife. with nowhere to go, he moves in with his best friend Oscar Madison – that’s Matthau. the two are polar opposites: Felix is a neat-nick, hypochondriac, TV newswriter. Oscar is a slob, a sportswriter with a “who gives a crap?” attitude. so the comedic possibilities are endless.

The idea for the story actually came from Neil Simon’s brother Danny – also a writer – who was, himself, divorced and rooming with a friend who just split from his wife. the two brothers agreed the situation was ripe for a comedy so Danny started writing. but after several false starts, he eventually told Neil to take the story and run with it – so he did – still giving Danny a percentage of the profits.

Neil had trouble writing the play as well. In out-of-town previews, the first two acts were hilarious but the last act just died. neither Simon nor the play’s director Mike Nichols could figure out how to make it work. It was a theatre critic in Boston who suggested the fix – that two characters who appeared early in the play, “THE PIGEON SISTERS,” be brought back to help tie the story up. That did the trick.

It was a huge hit and won four Tony awards, including one for Neil Simon. This film version -- with an Oscar nominated Neil Simon screenplay -- was also a smash. Here -- from 1968, “THE ODD COUPLE.”

Outro

As i mentioned before the film, Neil Simon did numerous rewrites for the play, but by comparison he felt the screenplay for this movie was one of the easiest he’d ever written. That’s because nearly all of the dialogue from the play went directly into the film.

I’ve seen the play and it is great, but I admit some sequences play better in the film because they could open things up on location. One example is that scene with Jack Lemmon clearing out his sinuses in the diner – it’s way funnier in a public place.

now, Lemmon and Matthau were both terrific in this movie and they are one of the great movie teams. and I know I may get in trouble for saying this – but to me, when I think of Oscar and Felix, I think of the two actors who played them in the 1970’s TV sit-com: Jack Klugman and Tony Randall.

Maybe it’s a generational thing – you know, like the different answers you get when asking someone “who is ‘the real’ James Bond?” (Sean Connery) but to me, Klugman And Randall are “the real” odd couple.

Stick around for another Neil Simon treat. up next from 1970 -- once again starring Jack Lemmon.

scottmc said...

I seem to recall Jack Lemmon saying that Billy Wilder was considered for the film version of The Odd Couple.He was to have directed and written the screenplay.However, Simon wanted to write the screenplay himself. Watching it again I wondered how it might have looked with Wilder, or Mike Nichols,directing.
I saw the introduction to Plaza Suite and was pleased to learn that Bob Balaban,Truffaut's translator in Close Encounters,was in the Broadway production. I have long been a fan of his work.

gottacook said...

Thanks for this - I hope we get to read them all.

Canda said...

Bob Balaban is one of those actors who will often do a piece of business (like playing with a rubber band) during a scene that will completely focus your attention to him, to the detriment of the scene.

I think what hurts Murder by Death and The Cheap Detective is that they were made at the time Mel Brooks was doing his spoofs like Young Frankenstein and High Anxiety, and they are so much better. There were definitely great moments in each of Simon's spoofs, but the plots and jokes tire quickly, and make it difficult for you to finish watching the film.

Wish you had selected After the Fox, where Simon rose above his usual comedy rhythms to write a film with Peter Sellers, playing a thief, who pretends he's an Italian Director making a film in a small town, in order to get all the people to help him unload stolen gold from a ship (which he claims is part of the film). Sellers is amazing.

Tim Rifenburg said...

Add my voice to the chorus of those that hope to read the other introductions and post film comments. If you post them on weekends or when your pressed for time during the week it will make for an easier day for you. Thanks for posting the Odd Couple comments.

Doug in Dallas said...

I'd love to read the intro and the outro to The Heartbreak Kid, one of my favorites!

vicernie said...

thanks, Ken.

Johnny Walker said...

Interesting! I never knew it was the pigeon sisters that helped save the script.

I recently re-watched The Odd Couple for the first time since I was a teenager, and I was surprised (and depressed) at how much I'd become less like Oscar Madison, and more like Felix Ungar, I'd become in the intervening 20 years.

More!

Jon88 said...

Incredibly trivial trivia known only to such as we who proofread crossword puzzles: In the play and the movie, Felix's last name is Ungar, but for television, it's Unger.

Jason75 said...

When I was watching m*a*s*h last night, I watched the first episode of the sixth season. When it finished, I was reading the credits and it said program consultant: ronny graham. Was he the person you all went to and consulted with before you began filming a new episode? Also, who had the last say on everything after the shows were filmed? I'm betting it was alan alda. Correct?

Casey C said...

Woot! Thanks!

Fred Nerk said...

R.I.P. Rod Taylor

Dixon Steele said...

Could never understand how MURDER BY DEATH could be so funny and its sequel THE CHEAP DETECTIVE could be so unfunny.

James said...

Ken: in a couple of recent posts you'd compared Lemmon vs. Randall as Felix Ungar. If I had a time machine, one of the things I'd like to do would be to see Art Carney play it in the original Broadway run. It's a shame we have no record of what that was like.

David Arnott said...

THANK YOU!

Years ago, Time Warner decided that I didn't need TCM anymore... and that in its place, I would greatly prefer The Golf Channel.

Pffft.

So thanks, again, for posting this. And hoping that you'll do all the others, as well.

-Dave

p.s. As a guy who's had to write stuff like this, very nice job. And I would say that even if you didn't post any of the others :)

Kenn Fong said...

I used to use "The Odd Couple" as the example when I talk to people who don't like to see black bars on their TV screen and couldn't wrap their head around the idea that while the area on their TV screen which displayed content was less because of the black bars, they actually saw more than they would if they were watching a pan-and-scan cropped version.

If you watch the poker scene in a letterboxed version, you'll see other players and you can tell they're actually listening and reacting to what the other characters are saying. On the pan-and-scan version, you see only closeups or two-shots.