Reviewed by Glenn Erickson
A thoughtful and well-meaning drama, Kotch suffers from some uninspired direction and leans
too heavily on Walter Matthau's winning performance. Career pal Jack Lemmon's first directorial
effort falls back on the obvious and tries to punch up the comedy elements, but the basically
downbeat story defeats them. What's left are some clichés that only occasionally rise
above the norm.
Joe Kotcher (Walter Matthau) is a retired hardware retailer who is driving his
daughter-in-law crazy. His communication disconnect leads her to believe he's senile, and she's
afraid to have him alone with her baby, giving babysitter Erica (Deborah) orders to avoid him.
Kotch's son eventually tries to put pops in a home, but he instead takes a bus tour around the
country before finally settling in Palm Springs. Erica is there too; she's been booted from
school and her family because of an unwanted pregnancy. Erica reluctantly moves in with him when
her pregnancy can't be disguised, and they
form a friendship as her baby nears term.
Kotch is one of those movies that takes a naturalistic story and can't help but make it
seem false. That's a shame, because the kind of universal human problems presented here need more
exposure. The standard Hollywood way of making movies doesn't lend itself to
the kind of honesty that's required. Kotch resembles a spinoff of De Sica's
Umberto D., the Italian neorealist
landmark where a lonely old pensioner loses his lodgings and has to part with his beloved dog. He
befriends a young pregnant girl before being thrown out onto the streets.
Screenwriter John Paxton
(Murder, My Sweet) hadn't written
a movie since On the Beach. If it was his hand that applied the light touch to Kotch,
the effort didn't work.
Joe Kotcher confuses his son Gerald (Charles Aidman) and his daughter-in-law Wilma (Felicia Farr of
Kiss Me, Stupid and the director's
wife), mostly through a series of
misunderstandings. Kotch pats a girl in the park and is accused of child molesting (which would
surely become a bigger issue today, when even talking to a stranger's child is a very bad idea).
He devotes himself to his grandson Duncan (played by twins Donald and Dean Kowalski) but Wilma is
afraid he's a menace. And the babysitter is downright hostile until she becomes an outcast as well.
The differences between Kotch and De Sica are many, starting with the fact that Kotcher is
more or less independently wealthy and quite able to work again - he in fact is entertaining an
offer at the end of the story. Likewise we really don't see exactly what the unwed mother Erica
is up against - she never seems as destitute or desperate as she ought to be. Her final decision
regarding her unborn child is resolved in the conventional way for stories of this sort -
she has a wealthy couple waiting in the wings to adopt, etc.. People face the consequences of
their actions but the whole world is softened in a way not in keeping with movies in 1971. Lemmon's
idea of a gritty scene is the old standby of the panicked baby delivery under awkward conditions.
Deborah Winters comes off the best but is still trapped by a production that refuses to let her
break out in a sweat while delivering her baby. Lemmon's direction results in her behaving just
as Jack Lemmon used to in various farces, snapping out her lines and making erratic entrances and
exits. A toy salesman also behaves as if doing a poor Jack Lemmon imitation, punching the "plushies"
(stuffed animals) that are crammed into his station wagon.
Lemmon's obvious cameo sleeping on a bus was hardly necessary as we already see him
in most of the performances.
Industry affection for Lemmon and Matthau was such that both were praised highly, and Matthau
was Oscar-nominated for this role. But the fact is that Matthau's character lacks focus and
consistently falls back on cute schtick. The story's comedy touches are surprisingly flat,
including a "funny" reckless car ride and a weak montage of Matthau attempting to assemble a
baby's bed. When Kotch returns home, he finds a costume party in progress just so his son can
stay dressed in his tiger costume to greet him, another false attempt to be cute.
Kotch does have a nicely judged ending, with the old duffer reading a letter from his
previous housemate before going out for a beer with his buddy from down the road. But just as the
later career of Jack Lemmon placed him in too many forced comedies, his directorial effort
is strained by his need to put a sentimental spin on a basically unsentimental story.
MGM's DVD of Kotch is another ABC DVD distribution acquisition where a flat master was
all that was provided. The transfer is fine but Richard Kline's bright cinematography would have
fared better with 16:9 enhancement. On the other hand, Marvin Hamlisch's cloying score sounds
great on the clear audio track. There aren't any extras.
On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor,
Sound: Very Good
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 3, 2004
DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson