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MGM Studios DVD presents
Gerald: Pop, you know Wilma and I... We, uh, made a quiet survey this week of the kind of places available. Well, we find that this place, it just comes out head and shoulders above anything in the way of... a retirement village.
DVD ReviewJack and Walter. Lemmon and Matthau. Mention this combination of names to your above-average film nut and a whirlwind of cinematic memories come forth in the Bijou of their minds.
Once civil roommates pitted against one another in The Odd Couple. A shyster lawyer who lands a potential meal ticket of a client (Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie). Two Grumpy Old Men battling it out for the hand of Ann-Margaret.
However, unless you're a hard-core fan of both of these legendary actors, you'd be hard pressed to name the film that some are inclined to say represents their best work as a team; a project in which one of the team barely appears (and in true "blink and you'll miss it" fashion, you'll have to look fast).
In 1971, Jack Lemmon directed his long time pal in Kotch, a disarmingly sweet and charming character study of a lovable senior citizen who bypasses the golden years ritual of nursing home residency to go it alone, only to wind up with an unlikely kindred soul at his side.
Joseph P. Kotcher (Matthau) is an adorable, intelligent, sometimes long-winded, well-meaning old codger who dotes on his grandson, giving impromptu editorials on life's everyday travails to anyone that will halt to listen, and indulging in passions ranging from classical music to watering the grass on son Gerald's (James Aidman) front lawn. Unfortunately, he also has a tendency to accidentally break dishes, leave the toilet seat up and the refrigerator door open; constantly repeating quirks that drive daughter-in-law Wilma (Lemmon's real-life wife, Felicia Farr) to her daily breaking point. So, like many couples in similar predicaments, they make the painful decision to place Joseph in an old folks' home (or as he sarcastically dubs such a facility, "the laughing academy").
Unwilling to live out the rest of his days in an environment where playing checkers and passing the time in front of a lobby TV are often highlights of a typical 24-hour period, Kotcher stays true to his character as an individualist, striking out on his own. Not long after renting a house just outside Palm Springs, he crosses paths with Erica (Deborah Winters), a familiar face from the past. A one-time babysitter for Gerald and Wilma, the high-strung teenager is expecting her own little bundle of joy, a blessed event marred with a bittersweet aftertaste: the would-be-father has deserted, forcing her to take an underpaying gig as a hair stylist. So begins an unlikely alliance set in the post-1960s generation gap, the "don't trust anyone over 30" period of youth/elder relations between a soon-to-be single parent and an eclectic old man, both in need of mutual understanding and, more importantly, to be listened to and appreciated on their own terms.
Touching without being cloying and often very funny, Kotch wins your approval from its fuzzy, Kodak moment freeze frame opening montage, and like the best grandfathers, it never loosens its gentle grip. One of the joys of working your way through a filmography as vast as Matthau's is discovering a movie that actually supercedes or holds its own against better known, more prominent roles like the ones referenced earlier; its just that good. Placed against the likes of memorable characters like Oscar Madison, Willie Gingrich, and Max Goldman, that's high praise indeed. In addition to the Academy Award-nominated turn of its lead, Lemmon's direction is equally superb, capturing the passionate zeal of his acting to such a point that it's a wonder this marked his sole stint behind the lens. Then again, I can just see his trademark exasperation after a long day's work, most likely saying something to the effect of "Next time, I think I'll leave the shot-calling to the Billy Wilder's and Blake Edwards' of the world."
Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: A
Image Transfer Review: MGM's track record for catalog efforts are hit and miss, but boy, did they ever luck out with this one. Taken from a nearly perfect print, there are practically no blemishes to note and cinematographer Richard H. Kline's luminous visuals come off wonderfully. Frankly, I can't think of anything negative to say about a piece of product that gets everything right.
Oh, wait. Can you say nonanamorphic? Darn, we were so close to that "A+". But since the majority of us still can't afford those big fancy feature loaded wide-of-screen TVs, Kotch's shortcoming in this area is forgivable (to me, at least). Still, in deference to our 16x9 readers, I'm gonna have to dock my original A- grading down a notch.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: Surprising, effective clarity for a '70s era film; nice low end and crystal clear dialogue. Though having Marvin Hamlisch's beautiful score in stereo would have been a treat, this well-rendered Dolby Digital mono track more than suffices.
Audio Transfer Grade: B+
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 16 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish, French with remote access
Packaging: Keep Case
Extras Review: Lamentably featureless. But what do you do when both the star and director are no longer amongst us?
Extras Grade: D-
Final CommentsIn danger of eclipsing the dead heat race between The Odd Couple and The Sunshine Boys as my favorite Walter Matthau movie, Kotch showcases the actor at his dry witted, endearing best. Despite the lack of anamorphic treatment and zilch in the way of extras, MGM's transfer is one of their more impressive catalog efforts as of late.
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