Paramount continues to release several of their best films in their recent Centennial Collection. Some of their previous releases include, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Sabrina”, “Roman Holiday”, “Funny Face”, and “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”. Now they’ve released “To Catch a Thief” and “The Odd Couple”. Both films pair two unforgettable stars against each other in stories that hold up to this day as two of the more memorable contributions to film history.
In Alfred Hitchcock’s “To Catch a Thief,” Cary Grant stars as John Robie, a retired jewel thief who’s suspected of stealing jewels on the French Riviera. The recent burglaries are so similar to Robie’s past work, that the police are certain he’s behind them. So Robie joins forces with insurance agent, H. H. Hughson (John Williams, “Sabrina”, “Dial M for Murder”) to catch the thief by trying to stay one step ahead of the them.
While doing his best to deter blame, Robie meets Jessie Stevens (Jessie Royce Landis) and her daughter, Frances Stevens (Grace Kelly) whose family jewels are eventually stolen. Robie tries to convince daughter Frances that he’s not the burglar, despite growing suspicion that he might be. Hitchcock manages to keep the suspicion just enough on Robie to keep the viewer guessing. While the story is about catching the jewel burglar, it also focuses on Frances and her fascination with Robie. After all, Frances’ concern is mainly on catching Robie for herself. Together they spend the day overlooking the breathtaking landscape and trying to uncover just who - if not Robie - is responsible for the thieving.
While this film may not deliver Hitchcock’s most unnerving suspense, it certainly manages to be one of his most beautiful and engaging stories which is due to John Michael Hayes’ (“Rear Window”) script, and the stellar performances from Grant and Kelly. Of course, the marvelous cinematography and the mastermind behind the camera certainly didn’t hurt matters.
Where “To Catch a Thief” is a very glam picture, “The Odd Couple” is the opposite. One of Neil Simon’s finest works, “The Odd Couple” is set in New York City, and takes place mainly in Oscar Madison’s (Walter Matthau) apartment. Oscar is divorced and living on his own in New York where he spends his night playing poker with his friends and living on his own messy terms. Enter Felix Ungar (Jack Lemmon), whose wife just kicked him out and has nowhere to go but Oscar’s.
The minute clean, allergy-ridden, uptight Felix moves in with untidy, gruff, tell-it-like-it-is Oscar, everything goes brilliantly wrong. This is a perfect example of how wonderful Neil Simon is at creating characters who really are larger than life, but somehow unmistakably real. Oscar and Felix have very little in common and daily their differences stir up new aggravations and further escalade their living situation from somewhat bothersome to downright unbearable.
There is no better duo than Matthau and Lemmon, who play off each other perfectly, and both manage to deliver characters you sympathize with, despite their flaws. “The Odd Couple” is about two men who couldn’t be more opposite, or odd. Whether you love watching Felix who is always complaining about his muscle aches, and wanting nothing more than to show his appreciation to Oscar for taking him in, or Oscar who throws spaghetti (I mean linguini) on the wall and calls it art, it’s easy to say you’ll love “The Odd Couple”. Some of the best lead comedic performances are delivered here, and the supporting cast of characters are perfect. “The Odd Couple” is a story of two friends who learn a little too much about each other, but somehow manage to get through it - just barely.
Both titles are available separately.
VIDEO: "Thief" is presented by Paramount in 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen, while "Odd" is offered up with a 2.35:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation. "Odd Couple" looks quite good, with pleasing sharpness and detail. While the picture understandably doesn't appear crystal clear, it appears fresh and crisp for a film from this era. Some minor specks and marks are seen, but the majority of the film looks rather clean. No pixelation was spotted, and only a few slight traces of edge enhancement were seen. Colors looked spot-on, and flesh tones appeared accurate. "Thief"'s 1.85:1 anamorphic widescreen presentation did show some minor wear-and-tear at times and the picture did look a touch soft. However, much of the film looked clean and free of edge enhancement or other concerns. Overall, these were both quite nice transfers from the studio.
SOUND: "Odd Couple" is presented with a Dolby Digital 5.1 remix, while "To Catch a Thief" is offered with a Dolby 2.0 presentation. While audio on the films can sound somewhat flat and thin, given the age of the three films, audio quality does come in a bit above expectations.
To Catch a Thief BONUS FEATURES
Commentary with Dr. Drew Casper, Hitchcock Film Historian. Casper offers a lot of information throughout the film, from why the titles are slightly skewed, to the color palette used, the reasons certain events took place, to the overall story. Casper definitely seems to know a great deal about Hitchcock and “To Catch a Thief” and puts his knowledge to great use here by offering a solid commentary with a great deal of information that fans of the film and the director will surely appreciate.
“A Night with the Hitchcock’s” interviews with Alfred Hitchcock’s daughter and granddaughter give another view of the man behind so many suspense classics. They answer student’s questions at the University of Southern California and several interesting bits of information are shared including how Hitchcock wanted to make a Titanic movie, but couldn’t get the funding at the time. At 23 minutes this feature offers several memorable stories about Hitchcock as well as some thoughts from students who attended the interview.
“Unacceptable Under the Code: Film Censorship in America” A look at how censorship played a part in Hitchcock’s work including his ability to work around the constant censoring of his films. The feature focuses on the progression of film censorship beginning in the 1920’s and on into the 1930’s when the first do’s and don’ts production code was drafted. This is a fascinating look at how censorship was put in place and the way films had to change in order to fit into the code. What makes this feature most interesting though is the look at how some filmmakers, including Hitchcock were able to work around it. This is definitely worth a look.
“Writing and Casting To Catch a Thief” Here, we get a look at how Alfred Hitchcock bought the rights to the novel and then had John Michael Hayes write the script. The feature then focuses on choosing Cary Grant and Grace Kelly for the lead roles. This is an especially nice aspect of the feature because it gives insight into Hitchcock’s respect for Kelly and the way they worked together.
“The Making of To Catch a Thief” A feature that covers everything from filming locations, costume design, editing, music composition, to where Alfred Hitchcock would appear in the film. Overall a great, informative making-of that nicely captures the film and those who made it.
“Behind the Gates: Cary Grant and Grace Kelly” Producer A. C. Lyle and Film Historian Richard Schickel discuss Cary Grant’s rise to stardom, including the fact that he never had an agent. They then talk about Grace Kelly and her charm on and off-screen. This is a brief piece, but one that fans should enjoy.
“Alfred Hitchcock and To Catch a Thief: An Appreciation” This is exactly what the title suggest; it’s an appreciation for Hitchcock and his work. Those who knew him, talk about his sense of humor off screen and his ability to incorporate it into his films. They also share some tidbits that might otherwise have remained unknown, like the fact that he hated eggs and used them in the film to display how much he didn’t like them. Overall a very nice look at the man behind so many great films.
“Edith Head: The Paramount Years” A look at costume designer Edith Head who designed costumes from some of Paramount’s films including: “Roman Holiday”, “Sunset Boulevard”, “Country Girl”, “Funny Face”, “House Boat” and “White Christmas” to name a few. This informative extra feature follows Edith Head’s long and award winning career with Paramount. This is a great look at a woman who had a huge impact on the fashion worn in films, with lots of pictures and interviews, as well as interesting tidbits about her relationships with the people she dressed and how she became the person she was at Paramount.
Also included here is the Original Theatrical Trailer, an interactive travelogue featuring France, and galleries for the movie, publicity, visitors to the set, and production
The Odd Couple BONUS FEATURES
Commentary with Charlie Matthau and Chris Lemmon. The sons of legendary Walter Matthau and Jack Lemmon give their take on the film. There are definitely moments where nothing is said, which is probably because they’re so absorbed in watching the film, but the two do manage to offer some wonderful memories. Charlie Matthau offers some humorous tidbits about his dad as does Chris Lemmon about his. It’s nice to hear how the two men remember their parents, as well as the friendship Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau had on and off screen. While not the most consistently fascinating commentary, there are so many nice bits of information here that you’ll definitely want to listen.
“In the Beginning…” Interviews with director Gene Saks, actors David Sheiner and Carole Shelley, as well as Larry King, Brad Garrett offer their point of view regarding the play, the film and Neil Simon. Jack Lemmon’s son, Chris and others talk about Jack Lemmon and how serious he was about acting, about who he was on and off screen. The feature also focuses on Walter Matthau, who Chris Lemmon says was Jack Lemmon’s “Favorite working partner and his very best friend.” Charlie Matthau, Walter Matthau’s son, as well as others talk about his character, his acting techniques, and his life off screen.
“Inside The Odd Couple” A look at the casting of the film and how although Walter Matthau and Art Carney starred in the Broadway Play, Jack Lemon landed the role as Felix Ungar. This feature also focuses how the cast rehearsed for three weeks before shooting, as well as director Gene Saks, Monica Evans and Carole Shelley as the Pigeon sisters, and all the men who played Oscar and Felix’s poker friends. A nice look at the people who helped make such hilarious film.
“Memories from the Set” This is one of the more enjoyable features on the disc. It offers a brief look at several moments from the film and the reactions and improvisations that went on behind the scenes and during various takes. This feature also offers a lot of information that might have otherwise gone unknown, like the fact that Walter Matthau broke his arm before shooting and had to work around that.
“Matthau & Lemon” a very nice look at how Walter Matthau and Jack Lemon were great friends in real life and their relationship on and off screen that lasted the rest of their lives. Definitely worth a look.
“The Odd Couple: A Classic” a look at what makes “The Odd Couple” a classic. There are several comments on who’s great and how great the writing is, and while in some features those comments feel more like nice for the sake of looking good, this is a film where clearly the writing is great and the acting is great. It just a matter of fact. A very brief look at what makes the film great. Not exactly a long or even necessary feature, but with or without the feature the truth remains the same: “The Odd Couple” is a classic.
Also included on this disc is a theatrical trailer and gallery of production and movie stills.
Final Thoughts: These two classic films get excellent treatment on these new Centennial Collection offerings, with each offering a set of terrific extras. Recommended.