Walter Matthau did not receive an Oscar nomination, despite being nominated for a Golden Globe, for portraying Oscar Madison in The Odd Couple.
Walter Matthau plays Oscar Felix's messy friend. Matthau apparently wanted to play Felix as the character was far less like his own personality, but Neil Simon forced him to play Oscar. Although it certainly would have been interesting to see Matthau attempt to play a tightly wound guy like Felix, but Matthau simply fits the role of Oscar like a glove. From his first scene he just gets the style down of Oscar who really can't help but be a bit of a slob. In the moment there is not anything about what he does that seems to be reaching in Oscar's messiness Matthau makes Oscar a genuine slob.
Matthau takes a slight comedic pitch throughout his performance that he know how to handle in just the right way. Where Jack Lemmon (Who bests Matthau most of the time when it comes to dramatic roles) sometimes goes a little too far to be funny which he does in just a few moments in this film, particularly in the scene where he tries to clear his head, where is Matthau takes a more natural approach with Oscar. Where Felix is insanely active with his behavior that is fairly extreme whether it is his emotional troubles or his tendency to want to clean everything. Matthau is excellent by taking the easy approach and having Oscar just a laid back sort of guy.
In their first team up, which was The Fortune Cookie, I found that Matthau basically stole the whole movie from Lemmon. In this team up the pairing makes more sense. Although I still feel that Matthau is the one who is crowned best in show they both play off each other well. Where Lemmon takes the more manic approach Matthau knows exactly how to play around this to be effective himself but in a way allow Lemmon's performance to be the way he is. The two set up the dynamic between the two marvelously by showing what makes the two the odd couple in the film in both the way that they are the complete opposites in their manner but as well why exactly they stay together as well.
Where Lemmon makes Felix go on about his own way which fits as Felix is a self-indulgent sort, Matthau really is the glue of the Odd Couple. Matthau finds just the right tone for Oscar throughout the film. He puts just the right amount of heart in his performance to show why Oscar would bother with Felix at all, it is very subtle, but Matthau very nicely adds this important facet to Oscar. Of course he keeps this in line well as this is a mainly comedic performance and in the comedic sense Matthau is terrific in the way he knows exactly when to underplay his role as Oscar but as well he knows when he needs to get a little more flamboyant in the role he knows exactly how to deliver in the role depending on the situation.
Matthau is hilarious in both styles whether it is in his exasperated reactions to Felix or his very well earned moments when he more directly confronts Felix for his antics. Matthau is consistently funny in this role being very likable in his role well still bringing about the uncouthness properly. He fulfills the main function of this role, which is to be humorous, very well yet he does manage even more with his role. He easily inserts the weightier moments well into his portrayal of Oscar without compromising the fact that this is mainly a comic role. This is an entertaining work by Matthau that shows his comedic abilities particularly well and makes the film really work on his shoulders. This is not only in the sense that he brings the material alive in a terrific fashion, but I just can't see how Lemmon could have gone without Matthau in this film.