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BUDDY BUDDY (director/writer: Billy Wilder; screenwriter: from a play by Francis Veber/Francis Veber/I.A.L. Diamond; cinematographer: Harry Stradling Jr.; editor: Argyle Nelson; music: Lalo Schifrin; cast: Jack Lemmon (Victor Clooney), Walter Matthau (Trabucco), Paula Prentiss (Celia Clooney), Klaus Kinski (Dr. Hugo Zuckerbrot), Dana Elcar (Capt. Hubris), Miles Chapin (Eddie, the Bellhop), Fil Formicola (Rudy ‘Disco’ Gambola), Bette Raya (Mexican Maid); Runtime: 96; MPAA Rating: R; producer: Jay Weston; United Artists; 1981)
“Easy to sleep on.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Billy Wilder (“Avanti!”/The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes”/”Fedora”) directs his last film, another mediocre one of late signaling the end of the line for the talented filmmaker. The filmmaker said he would only be seduced out of retirement if he had final cut. The black comedy is based on Francis Veber’s play and was made into a French film in 1973 by Edouard Molinaro entitled L’Emmerdeur. Wilder and regular co-writer I.A.L. Diamond handle the screenplay for the remake but can’t get past the flat dialogue, its revolting amoral message and the picture killing third act, where any attempt to keep this stiff project from falling apart is stifled with a ridiculous climax that wasn’t funny or believable or socially acceptable. It wasn’t even up to the subpar standards of the original version.

Walter Matthau plays grumpy hardboiled hit-man Trabucco, who has just bumped off two witnesses in a Southern California fraud trial and has a contract from mobsters to knock off the third witness, a heavily guarded stool-pigeon gangster named Rudy ‘Disco’ Gambola, before he can sing. Trabucco sees this as his last big job, which will give him enough coin to retire to a tropical island. If he fails, Trabucco will become a marked man himself. Checking into the Ramona hotel room next door to Trabucco, that faces the court building where Gambola is to enter and where the hit-man plans to pick him off with a high-powered rifle, is the pesty suicidal Victor Clooney (Jack Lemmon). Victor, a censor for CBS, is depressed because his second wife Celia (Paula Prentiss) of 12 years, a bimbo and researcher for CBS-TV’s ”60 Minutes,” dumped him for East German sex therapist Dr. Hugo Zuckerbrot (Klaus Kinski), who runs a sex clinic a few miles from the hotel in Riverside.

The slight comic antics involve Victor’s suicide attempts interfering with Trabucco’s plans and forcing him to get involved with Victor, Celia and Hugo when he should be concentrating on doing the job. It’s all rather dull and tasteless, offering no redeeming qualities except to see the always agreeable Lemon and Matthau duo try to reprise their familiar shtick. This time around, a Wilder farce is easy to sleep on.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”