The film was successful with critics and audiences, grossing over $44.5 million, making it the fourth highest-grossing picture of 1968. The success of the film was the basis for the ABC television sitcom of the same name, starring Tony Randall and Jack Klugman as Felix and Oscar.
Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon) checks into a fleabag hotel near Times Square and attempts to kill himself by jumping out of the window, but he fails to open it and pulls a muscle in his back. Limping back on the street he tries to get drunk at a dance bar and ends up hurting his neck when he throws down a shot. He stands on a bridge, contemplating jumping into the river.
Meanwhile, in the frowzy Upper West Side apartment of divorced sportswriter Oscar Madison (Walter Matthau) on a hot and sticky summer evening, Oscar and his buddies Speed (Larry Haines), Roy (David Sheiner), Vinnie (John Fiedler), and policeman Murray (Herb Edelman) are playing poker and discussing their friend, Felix Ungar, who is unusually late for the game. Murray's wife calls and tells him that Felix is missing. Oscar then calls Felix's wife Frances who says that she and Felix have split up. As they are discussing what to do, and worried that Felix might try to commit suicide, Felix arrives not knowing that his friends already know that his wife has kicked him out of the house.
Felix eventually breaks down crying and his friends try to console him. Oscar then suggests that Felix move in with him, since Oscar has lived alone since he split up with his own wife, Blanche, several months earlier. Felix agrees, and urges Oscar to not be shy about letting him know if he gets on Oscar's nerves.
Within only a week, Oscar is going nuts. Felix is a neurotic, obsessive-compulsive nut, who runs around the apartment cleaning, picking up after Oscar, and berating him for being such a slob. He also refuses to have any fun, spending most of his time thinking about Frances. Felix at one point even telephones Oscar at Shea Stadium telling him not to eat any hot dogs at the game, because Felix is preparing franks and beans for dinner; this distraction causes Oscar to miss seeing a rare triple-play at the Mets game on which he is reporting. The two men are shown bowling, shooting pool, and walking the city streets. Felix has a sinus attack, making loud obnoxious noises while seated in a coffee shop. Finally, after Felix drives everyone at the weekly poker game crazy, Oscar convinces Felix to lighten up and join him on a double-date with two British girls who live in the building – the Pigeon sisters, Cecily (Monica Evans) and Gwendolyn (Carole Shelley), who actually "coo" when they laugh.
As the date commences, Oscar tries to get Felix to loosen up by leaving him alone for a while in their living room with the two attractive, and somewhat frisky, sisters. Instead, he winds up talking about Frances, and breaks down weeping. When Oscar returns from their kitchen, the Pigeon sisters, one a divorcee, the other widowed, are sobbing as uncontrollably as Felix. Oscar cheers them up and they invite the boys upstairs for what should be a wild night. Instead, Felix, who realizes that he is still too attached to his wife, refuses to go, opting to "scrub the pots and wash his hair" instead. Oscar joins the sisters in their apartment, but winds up spending the night drinking tea and telling them all about Felix.
Furious about Felix's ruining the date, Oscar resorts to giving Felix the silent treatment and torturing him by messing up the apartment as much as possible. Felix retaliates by just being himself, driving Oscar insane with his endless cleaning and neurotic behavior. Eventually, the tension explodes into an argument that results in Oscar demanding that Felix move out. Felix complies, but leaves Oscar with a major-league guilt trip for having abandoned his still-in-need friend.
Feeling awful about throwing Felix out, and not knowing where he has gone, Oscar assembles his poker buddies to search New York City for Felix in Murray's NYPD police car, which he's not supposed to use for this purpose. After searching for hours, they return to Oscar's apartment to find out that Felix has moved in with the Pigeon sisters. Oscar and Felix apologize to each other, and realize that a bit of each has rubbed off on the other, with each being a better person for it. Felix agrees that next Friday night, he will be at Oscar's apartment for their poker game. The Once slobbish Oscar tells his friends to clean up their mess after the poker game is over, ending the film.Jack Lemmon as Felix Ungar
Walter Matthau as Oscar Madison
Herb Edelman as Murray
John Fiedler as Vinnie
David Sheiner as Roy
Larry Haines as Speed
Monica Evans as Cecily Pigeon
Carole Shelley as Gwendolyn Pigeon
Billie Bird as Chambermaid
Iris Adrian as Waitress
Angelique Pettyjohn as Go-Go dancer
Ted Beniades as Bartender
Bill Baldwin as Sports announcer
The Odd Couple was originally produced for Broadway and the original cast starred Art Carney as Felix and Walter Matthau as Oscar. For the film version, Matthau reprised his role as Oscar and Felix was portrayed by Jack Lemmon, who had never played the character before. At one point, Frank Sinatra (as Felix) and Jackie Gleason (as Oscar) were reportedly considered for the film version. Dick Van Dyke and Tony Randall were also among those considered for the role of Felix (the latter portrayed him in the TV series). Similarly, Jack Klugman (who aside from the TV series had replaced Matthau on Broadway) and Mickey Rooney were also to play Oscar. Most of the script from the play has been retained, although the setting is expanded: instead of taking place entirely in Oscar's apartment, Simon also added some scenes that take place at various outdoor New York City locations (such as the scene at Shea Stadium in Queens, New York).
Oscar's poker playing cronies were Roy (David Sheiner), Vinnie (John Fiedler), Speed (Larry Haines) and Murray the Cop (Herb Edelman). The film made its debut at Radio City Music Hall in 1968. It was a hit and earned Neil Simon a nomination for the Academy Award for Writing Adapted Screenplay. The film was also nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy and Lemmon and Matthau were both nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy.
The scene at Shea Stadium, which also featured Heywood Hale Broun, was filmed right before a real game between the New York Mets and the Pittsburgh Pirates on June 27, 1967. Roberto Clemente was asked to hit into the triple play that Oscar misses, but he refused to do it and Bill Mazeroski took his place.
One of the outdoor scenes in the film involved Felix shopping at Bohack, a Maspeth, Queens-based supermarket chain ubiquitous in the New York City area during the mid-20th century. The last Bohack supermarket closed in 1977.
The award-winning jazz instrumental theme was composed by Neal Hefti. The theme was used throughout the movie's sequel, starring Lemmon and Matthau and released 30 years later, and also adapted for the 1970 TV series and used over the opening credits. The song also has seldom-heard lyrics, written by Sammy Cahn.
The film garnered both critical acclaim and box office success. It grossed over $44.5 million in the United States, making it the fourth highest grossing film of 1968. The Odd Couple received universal acclaim from critics, earning a rare 100% "Fresh" rating on the review aggregate website Rotten Tomatoes.Neil Simon was nominated for the Academy Award for Writing-Adapted Screenplay
Frank Bracht was nominated for the Academy Award for Film Editing and for the American Cinema Editors "Eddie" award for Best Edited Feature Film.
The film was nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Motion Picture - Musical or Comedy
Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau were each nominated for the Golden Globe Award for Best Actor - Motion Picture Musical or Comedy
Gene Saks was nominated for the Directors Guild of America Award for Outstanding Directorial Achievement in Feature Film.
2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #17
2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
Oscar Madison: "I cannot stand little notes on my pillow! “We are all out of cornflakes, F.U.” It took me three hours to figure out F.U. was Felix Unger." – Nominated
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
The film spawned a television series spinoff in 1970, also entitled The Odd Couple which ran until 1975. As the series ended, a cartoon version called The Oddball Couple ran on ABC. Produced by Depatie-Freleng, it features a sloppy dog and a neat cat.
A sequel, The Odd Couple II, reunited Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau in their original roles and was released 30 years later, breaking the record for the length of time between an original movie and a sequel featuring the same cast.