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Saturday, 17 April 2010

My Heroes (25): Walter Matthau

Walter Matthau (1920 - 2000) was one of those film actors who was always very watchable even in a bad movie. He had a long career and has a large body of work to his name. My personal favourites are:
The Fortune Cookie. Directed by the wonderful Billy Wilder, one of Matthau's dozen or so collaborations with Jack Lemmon. He played a shyster lawyer who attempts to gain exhorbitant damages for his reluctant brother-in-law, played by Lemmon, who gets 'injured' while working as a TV cameraman at a football game.

Charley Varrick. This time he is a crop-duster who robs a small town bank that just happens to be where the mafia keep lots of their cash. The twists and turns of plot as they try to get their cash back from a wiley Varrick (Matthau) is hugely entertaining.

The Sunshine Boys. This time Walter is paired with George Burns. They portray a pair of former vaudeville comedians who once had a famous double-act although they have not spoken to each other for many years. Matthau's nephew (Richard Benjamin) is trying to re-unite the pair for a TV special. Great stuff, scripted by Neil Simon. "Enter!" (You had to be there.)

The Odd Couple. Felix is a neurotic divorcee who moves in with his slob of a friend Oscar, (Matthau.... of course), after the breakdown of his marriage. The comedy ensues from the interplay of the two chalk-and-cheese personalities. The writer Neil Simon claims that he based his original Broadway play on stories told to him by Mel Brooks after his own divorce. Thirty years later they made a sequel excitingly called The Odd Couple 2.

Other superb Matthau performances were given in Hello Dolly, Little Miss Marker, The Bad News Bears, The Front Page, Plaza Suite and many others.
For me, he could hardly do any wrong and I feel good just talking about these films.


Tom Eagerly said...

Hey didn't that guy used to be an architect in Germany? I think he may have founded the Bauhaus movement.
No, wait! That was Walter Gropius.

Motley Rage said...

Hello Tom, I thought I would find you here mate. I thought you said this blog was sophisticated? It's rubbish!

bazza said...

Tom: You are a scoundrel!

Motley: How come your name is an anagram of Tom Eagerley?

Kelly said...

I loved Walter in the Odd Couple, Pelham 123 and the Grumpy Old Men movies. He was a great actor. Very underrated and very much missed by those who appreciated his acting chops and sense of humor.

bazza said...

Kelly: You, sir, are obviously a man of good taste and erudition. Not to mention refinement and multiple award-winning blogger!

Kelly said...

Why thank you, sir. I always strive to be refined and sophisticated. Heh heh.

David said...

Dear gazza,
I share your love of the brilliant Mr. Matthau. Although he is probably most famous for his roles with Jack Lemmon, particularly "The Odd Couple", I think my favourite film of his is Don Siegel's "Charley Varrick", which you also mention. To me, it is a near perfect thriller, although I believe Matthau himself was non too pleased with it.
One film you fail to mention, which is another one of my faves, is "The Front Page", also with Jack Lemmon and, I think, also directed by Billy Wilder. It was a remake of a 1930's "screwball" comedy starring, I think, Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in the Lemmon and Matthau roles, the title of which eludes me now. Perhaps you could enlighten me, bazza? Maybe it could even be another quiz question. I believe the original screenplay to it was by Ben Hecht, one of the most brilliant screen writers ever and, to my mind, another hero.
As you may have guessed, bazza, films are one of my favourite subjects, but I shall bore you no longer!
Yours with All The Best,

David said...

Dear bazza,
Apologies for calling you "gazza" in the above comment. I can assure you that this was just a typo and not a reference to your resemblance (or not) to Paul Gascoigne! God forbid!
Apologies once again,

David said...

Dear bazza,
Me again. Again I must apologise for another error in my original comment, as, of course, you do mention "The Front Page" in your blog.
Oh well, it is decidedly late, or early, whichever way you choose to look at it.

bazza said...

David: Thank you for your multiple comments. Don't worry; Gary called me 'Bob' the other day! (my 9th April post).
The Walther Matthau article was much longer so I had to shorten it because it read like a hagiography.
I agree about The Front Page being a great movie; I believe the film it was based on was His Girl Friday.

Jientje said...

I loved the Odd Couple!

bazza said...

Hi Jientje. The Odd Couple certainly seems to be the most popular of his films.
I'm looking forward to my annual trip to Belgium next month!
Your superb photo-blog makes it seem even more appealing.

klahanie said...

Hello bazza,
One of my all-time favourite actors. He also had a very expressive face.
I thought he was brilliant in his 'Grumpy Old Men' role.
Take good care bazza.
With respect, Gary

Bob said...

I've don't know any of those films.

Okay I need to broaden my horizons!

From the photo I imagine he's had plenty of practice at laughing at himself.

bazza said...

Gary: I am pleased and surprised to discover how popular Walter was.
He certainly had an expressive face. I think his face was his fortune.

Bob: "Heard of Walter Matthau have you?" (Private joke). You really must get out more Bob! One of his qualities was he didn't take himself too seriously.

Ursel said...

Yes, Walter Matthau is certainly someone who is unforgettable.
Bazza, thanks for the hint with the park and the Japanese Tea room in it. It gave me an idea what you could have meant: The garden is the Golden Gate Park and the ruins are the Sutro Baths, ruins of a bath right at the ocean.

bazza said...

Ursel: Hi, I'm glad that you are another of Walter's fans.
You are right about the SF location. I'll expect a picture soon!