[box cover]

Kotch

The 1971 directorial debut from Jack Lemmon, Kotch, was very well received, garnering four Oscar nominations. Looking back, it appears that the star-power of Lemmon and leading man Walter Matthau had a hand in the overabundance of praise. While there are plenty of moments of genuine emotion, specifically during the film's first and final acts, the tonal inconsistencies present in John Paxton's screenplay have the effect of dulling the thematic potential to a fairly run-of-the-mill comedic drama. Joe Kotcher, played with addled grandfatherly charm by Matthau, lives with his son Gerald's (Charles Aidman) family. Constantly talking about nonsensical details and babbling to anyone in earshot (whether they are awake or not is irrelevant), Joe gives off an impression that he's losing his mental faculties. His daughter-in-law Wilma (Felicia Farr) no longer trusts him to baby-sit his grandson Duncan, and certainly, spoon-feeding the infant beer on one of their walks around town didn't help. When Joe is seen giving a young girl a football-coach pat on the backside at the local public pool, drawing the ire of the mothers who witnessed the event, Wilma decides to hire a baby-sitter, Erica (Deborah Winters). Kotch can't help but tell Gerald when he catches Erica having sex with her boyfriend on the couch. However, he is wracked with guilt when the girl is fired and, after realizing that she's pregnant, is forced to move to San Bernadino to find work. With his babbling at an all-time high and Wilma turning to pills to calm herself down, Gerald decides to appease his wife by placing Joe in a retirement village. Still capable, if slightly cracked, Joe flees instead, taking a Greyhound tour of California for two months. Upon his return, realizing that his son's marriage appears to have flourished in his absence, he makes the decision to track Erica down and help her deal with her pregnancy. The unlikely bond formed between the two, as Joe deals with memories of his dead wife and Erica fights through her desire to give the child up for adoption, isn't given the amount of weight one might expect, but Matthau and Winters give performances that rise above the writing in many cases. By attempting to blend an oddball comedy style with high-saccharin levels of personal drama, Lemmon's film stays too close to the middle ground, never reaching a point of excellence in either category. The themes of usefulness during old age and familial abandonment are dulled by comedic scenes that seem misplaced or a tad lengthy, such as Joe's sputtering used car or his slapstick attempts at constructing a crib for Erica's baby. Marvin Hamlisch's choices for the score are a high note of the production — the classical tracks work quite well in context. MGM presents Kotch in a clean anamorphic transfer (1.85:1). The audio is loud, accenting the score, but at certain times the voices drop into inaudible whispers. Scene selection and subtitles titles round out the disc. Keep-case.
—Scott Anderson



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