Seen by Martin before? No
What did I expect? A sentimental drama.
What did I get? Kotch is a perky and ingratiating drama that lies in the middle ground between inoffensive and grossly incompetent, but it’s difficult to put my finger on why it’s such a lousy movie. It was directed by beloved actor Jack Lemmon, and despite the success implied by its #1 status it’s easy to see why it’s the only movie he ever directed. More intriguing would be speculations as to what made him think that this story of all stories, based on a 1965 novel by Katharine Topkins (sic) I’m perfectly fine with skipping, would make the ideal vehicle for his directorial debut.
The movie is about Joseph Kotcher, the sort of friendly old man who’ll talk your ear off about whatever pops into his fussy little head and whose well-meaning, meddlesome tendencies try the patience of those around him. Kotch is living with his ineffectual and affluent-seeming son and his carping, status-oriented daughter-in-law in suburban Southern California, which arrangement doesn’t go so well, so Kotch packs up and strikes out on his own. Inadvertently culpable for the dismissal of Erica, the family’s young babysitter, he ends up befriending her and supplying her with needed companionship once she gets knocked up and has no place else to turn.
Someplace or other I saw Kotch described as “heartwarming,” and if that isn’t a clue to the movie’s problems, I don’t know what is. In the hands of a neophyte director, “heartwarming” might well be the last thing to go for. A professional director may have been able to make something more substantial out of the material, but in Lemmon’s hands most of the scenes just lie there, limply landing a single obvious, sentimental and/or whimsical point and little else. The camera’s seldom in the right place, and nothing is paced well. Lemmon executes a pet conceit that sounds a lot better on paper, which is scoring certain key moments to well-known snatches of classical music; the effect is invariably an attention-seeking fizzle. For all I know this was some arbitrary generational dig against rock music or the like. It’s hard to tell, but really, who cares.
Matthau, at the time 51 years old or so, is quite good playing a fellow in his seventies, although for today’s audiences, already accustomed to seeing him as a “grumpy old man,” the stunt aspect of his performance is completely inaccessible (he was nominated for an Oscar, for whatever that’s worth). As I suggested above, the movie’s harmless enough, but its sprightly lifelessness pushes it in the direction of a movie you get actively annoyed over. Lemmon’s idea of good drama is to have Erica, who’s pretty irritating in her own right, more or less cap the movie with a letter explaining to Kotch that he’s awesome. The aptest descriptor for Kotch is “justly forgotten.”
What here smacks of 1971? The absence of Roe v. Wade.
IMDB score: 6.7
My score: 2
Director: Jack Lemmon
Writer: John Paxton
Starring: Walter Matthau, Deborah Winters, Felicia Farr, Charles Aidman, Ellen Geer, Larry Linville
IMDB synopsis: Joseph Kotcher, a retired traveling salesman, lives with his son Gerald and daughter-in-law Wilma in Los Angeles. He dotes upon his young grandson Duncan irritating high-strung Wilma to the point that she hires Erica, a high school student, as a regular babysitter to replace his efforts. However, Grandpa Kotcher still gets on her nerves, and she convinces Gerald to move him out. To humor his son he agrees to take an apartment at a retirement facility, but after being subjected to some psychological tests he opts instead to take an extended vacation, traveling up the coast by bus. Erica leaves town at the same time, for upon discovering she is pregnant, Wilma fires her and she is sent away to work in San Bernadino by her uptight older brother Peter, who is also her guardian. Grandpa Kotcher returns weeks later to find a Halloween party underway and his room full of Wilma’s sewing stuff. A waiting card from Erica explains that due to “serious difficulties” she cannot repay some money he gave her. After an abrupt reunion with Duncan, he immediately slips away to find Erica, finally tracing her to Palm Springs where he decides to stay and rent a small house. No longer able to work as a beautician as her size grows, Erica finally accepts an offer to stay with him by unexpectedly appearing at Christmas time.