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I'm Not Rappaport
Hollywood lost one of the great ones this week. Walter Matthau achieved fame and fortune the old fashioned way - he worked for it. Walter Matuschanskavasky, the son of Russian-Jewish immigrants, grew up on New York's impoverished Lower East Side. At the age of 11, he started working in a Yiddish theater, eventually, taking small acting roles. Walter served in the U.S. Army in World War II and went straight to the New School's Dramatic Workshop.
Walter found fame on the Broadway stage, which led to a lucrative career in television and movies. In 1965, he took the Broadway role that would define his career, when Neil Simon penned the role of Oscar Madison for him. The rest is history.
It's difficult to find some of Matthau's greatest performances on video. When I went to a few local video stores, I couldn't find Fortune Cookie (for which he won an Oscar) or Kotch or The Sunshine Boys. However, I found one movie that personified his later career as a grumpy old man.
In 1996, Matthau starred as Nat in the big screen adaptation of I'm Not Rappaport. Nat is an 81-year old man constantly looking for a battle. A labor union supporter, maybe a communist, Nat constantly tries to fight for the little guy in an attempt to make him feel better about his own life. Recently, he has taken to sitting in the park and annoying Midge (Ossie Davis), an 81-year old building superintendent.
Midge has a different take on life. Where Nat wants everyone to pay attention to him, Midge wants to slowly fade away. He knows his job at the apartment building will soon be taken away, but he avoids the fateful meeting by wandering into the park everyday. He figures that he is the only one who knows how to run the ancient boiler, so he is safe for a short time.
In the park, Nat's spends the day spinning tall tales, and Midge keeps falling for them everytime. However, Nat's starting to get the twosome into trouble with local tough guys and Midge's boss.
Will the two of them get in over their heads?
The movie is very entertaining when focusing on the relationship between Midge and Nat. Davis and Matthau have a great chemistry together and display the type of performance that comes from years of experience. Unfortunately, the film goes down a path towards a weak story line about their efforts to protect a young woman from a drug dealer. This adds a violent and melodramatic tone to the film that detracts from the great, sweet relationship between the two leads.
Rent this film to see Matthau and Davis put on an acting clinic. The first half and the ending are wonderful.
Directed and Written by Herb Gardner
Walter Matthau .. Nat
Ossie Davis Midge
Craig T. Nelson . The Cowboy
Amy Irving Clara
Martha Plimpton Laurie
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