year: 1971 cast: Walter Matthau, Deborah Winters rating: ***1/2
One of the best Walter Matthau/Jack Lemmon collaborations, and they’re not even in the movie together. Instead, Lemmon’s behind the camera in his first and only directorial project: a quirky comedy/drama starring Matthau as an old man named Kotcher i.e. Kotch who has little importance to the world. His son, a successful businessman, provides his dad one benefit greater than a place to sleep and listen to giant headphones.
Kotch spends time babysitting his two-year old grandson, Duncan – but no longer alone. His son and irritated daughter-in-law hire a babysitter, Erica, a preoccupied teenager and Kotch isn’t pleased. Erica, played by the lovely and talented Deborah Winters (who stole scenes as Maxie, Eli Wallach’s rebellious daughter in the riveting counter-culture classic THE PEOPLE NEXT DOOR) is really no different than most flaky teens. Fooling around with her boyfriend while babysitting Duncan, Kotch gets Erica fired. But he’s no longer wanted around the house and is sent to be "interviewed" for a retirement home.
The film really begins after Kotch goes his own way – taking to the road after making amends with Erica who, now pregnant and living in Palm Springs, needs a place to stay. So while Matthau, hair dyed white as a man twenty years older with a delightfully rambling persona (he loves to talk and no one wants to listen), is the heart of the film, Deborah Winters provides the soul. Their friendship is natural and takes it’s time without being corny.
Winters doesn’t play for the camera or try to “steal your heart” like in many feel-good flicks. She portrays a determined young person the way they really are: with a one-track mind to remain on her own path, right or wrong; and her character-arc isn’t forced or overwhelming.
By all means not a perfect film – a few scenes drag and some of the dialog feels written for the stage. But whenever Matthau and Winters share the screen, learning through each other’s contrary personalities, it's tender and moving and truly a project of love.
|Walter Matthau, Deborah Winters|
I went in and read for Jack Lemmon: this is the only picture that Jack directed. You know, actors don’t usually end up liking to direct and the reason is it's extremely difficult to direct a picture. It’s very, very hard work and the work begins before you’re filming, and then of course during filming, and it’s long after filming: doing all the editing and post-production…
It’s too much work. They like to go in and memorize some dialog for the day’s shoot… The make-up man and the hairdresser makes them up and makes them look good, and then they shoot for one day and they go home, and when the picture’s over they relax.
It took Jack six years to get this film finally made… And I came in, of course, more on the tail end of it. Nobody would give him the money and he really loved the story and thought it should be made. So he kept working on it and working on it...
And it was something where I went in to audition and Jack felt I really understood "Erica Herzenstiel," and I was the one he wanted from the very beginning... It was a great compliment and I loved working with both of them. They were fantastic men, and characters, and very funny together.
Jack used to talk to me privately, and say, “You know I can’t tell Walt what to do. You know when he hasn't done the scene right. You make a mistake and I’ll have to yell cut and then it won’t be me, it’ll be you… You do that for me, okay?” He used to call me “Debs” and I’d say, “Okay, okay.” So then I would know when Walter got off track, or he would ad-lib too much… And I’d make a mistake and we’d have to start over.
Walter told me one time after he was nominated for the Academy Award, and the song was nominated as well. And I met him one day and he said, “Deborah, you should have been nominated too.” And I said, “Oh no,” you know… And he said, “No, you really should have been. The reason you weren’t nominated was they thought you were that girl. They didn’t realize you were doing an acting job.”
|Walter Matthau, Deborah Winters|
Listen to my Deborah Winters podcast interview to the bottom left