Can you see Walter Matthau as a rather grumpy member of the supreme court justice system?
Not really much of a stretch to see Walter play anything with a grumpy, sarcastic slant to it. Especially as we have the benefit of looking back and seeing him actually play a Grumpy Old Man in a couple of surprise hits at the box office.
Walter Matthau’s character here of Dan Snow was originated on stage by Henry Fonda who by this time was in rather frail condition so Matthau stepped into the role of a cantankerous Judge ( “You’re not bothering me, you’re interrupting me, but you’re not bothering me. “) who isn’t at all happy when Jill Clayburgh is assigned to take the seat of a recently deceased member of the Court.
The days of the old boys club have come to an end with changing times.
“Would you like tea or whiskey?” Walter’s response, “Both. No, skip the tea, I don’t want to overdo it. ”
For her part, Jill has to get tough but remain smart to swim in D.C. with the constant references to her sexuality when standing before the senate as they grill her about the job she has been appointed to and then the other seven Judges of the Supreme Court where Walter seems to carry much of the weight.
There are two cases that the pair will preside over and of course bicker about. First off is a pornographic movie titled The Naked Nymphomaniac and whether or not it can be shown theatrically. Things sure have changed as we look back to 1981 from our vantage point today so this actually forces the film into a time capsule through no fault of it’s own.
The other issue happens to be about an invention that has been stymied that could have been considered an alternative fuel thus putting the gas companies out of business. The status of this case is that Jill may be somehow connected to it thus disqualifying her from the bench.
There’s really not much more to this Ronald Neame film that I must admit to thinking was a battle of the sexes that led into an outright romantic comedy. Not the case.
Matthau is actually married to Jan Sterling in this one and though they have a rocky relationship it isn’t used as a catalyst to Walter and Jill getting together. The implication is there that it could happen but the film like a stage play mainly keeps them in the courts and their offices behind the courtroom.
Walter astutely points out to Jill that she has a male secretary thus completing the role reversal.
Not as laugh out loud funny as I expected though as a Matthau fan I can’t help but smile as he gives us some of his lines through a grimace.
“To you it’s a mess, to me it’s a wilderness of free association. Don’t ever straighten up my desk Mason, I’d never be able to find anything. I’ve always been suspicious of neatness. If there is nothing on top of a man’s desk, he probably shoved all the clutter in the drawers and if his drawers are empty, what the hell does he need a desk for? ”
Generally speaking a two part film with good work by the leads but yes, I wish it played out a bit differently and morphed into the rom-com which it threatened to do but couldn’t quite bring itself around to committing itself to.