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MGM Home Entertainment
1971 / Color / 1:85 flat letterbox / 116 min. / Street Date July 6, 2004 / 14.95
Starring Walter Matthau, Deborah Winters, Felicia Farr, Charles Aidman
Cinematography Richard H. Kline
Art Direction Jack Poplin
Film Editor Ralph E. Winters
Original Music Marvin Hamlisch
Written by John Paxton from the novel by Katherine Topkins
Produced by Richard Carter
Directed by Jack Lemmon

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, Kotch rates:
Movie: Good
Video: Good
Sound: Very Good
Supplements: none
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: July 3, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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