Friday, September 28, 2007

Termite Television: Private Screening: Lemmon/Matthau

Just a note of praise for a fine show I watched on my DVR last night. It was an old episode of the infrequent Turner Classic Movies series Private Screening, where Hollywood legends sit down with TCM host Robert Osborne to discuss their career. This installment featured two guests: Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon. It was one of the best hours of television I've seen in months.

The show was taped in 1998, as a promotional vehicle for the release of the unwatchable film, The Odd Couple II (this show is, in retrospect, the film's only positive effect). And so while there is far too much back-slapping about how amazing their new movie is (including Lemmon making the absurd statement that other to Some Like it Hot, Odd Couple II is the best comedy script he's ever read...uh, no Jack.) there is still plenty of time for my favorite onscreen duo (you heard me) to kibbitz about their careers. The grumpy old men are even candid enough to share some honest criticism of their work — Lemmon, like most viewers, finds Buddy Buddy a little lacking — as well as some hilarious stories. My favorite involved Lemmon taking Matthau to a sneak preview of his film Alex & The Gypsy. The screening, like the rest of that film's release, was a huge disaster; as the audience angrily filed out they wouldn't even look at Lemmon was sitting there waiting for their approval! After enduring the entire film, Lemmon turned to Matthau and asked, "So Walt, what did you think?" Matthau's response: "Get out of the picture!"

Though I often find Osborne to be a little stiff in his introductions, this nearly ten year old show definitely finds him in finer, more lively form and really showcases his talents as an interviewer; doing a long-form interview like this, with two different subjects who need to be balanced throughout is far more difficult than Osborne makes it look. Now if he'd only show this sort of enthusiam when he's introducing Stagecoach for the thirtieth time.

If you've never seen their great collaborations with Billy Wilder, The Fortune Cookie or their vastly underrated (even by themselves!) take on The Front Page, do yourself a favor and Netflix them. And if this show is ever on again, watch it.



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