Walter Matthau - Rotten Tomatoes

Walter Matthau



Specializing in playing shambling, cantankerous cynics, Walter Matthau, with his jowly features, slightly stooped posture, and seedy, rumpled demeanor, looked as if he would be more at home as a laborer or small-time insurance salesman than as a popular movie star equally adept at drama and comedy. An actor who virtually put a trademark on cantankerous behavior, Matthau was a staple of the American cinema for almost four decades.

The son of poor Jewish-Russian immigrants, Matthau was born on October 1, 1920, in New York City and raised in a cold-water flat on the Lower East Side. His introduction to acting came during his occasional employment at the Second Avenue Yiddish Theater, where he sold soda pops during intermission for 50 cents per show. Following WWII service as an Air Force radioman and gunner, Matthau studied acting at the New School for Social Research Dramatic Workshop. Experience with summer stock led to his first Broadway appearances in the 1940s, and at the age of 28 he got his first break serving as the understudy to Rex Harrison's character in the Broadway drama Anne of a Thousand Days.

After having his first major Broadway success with A Shot in the Dark, Matthau began working on the screen, usually in small supporting roles that cast him as thugs, villains, and louts in such films as The Kentuckian (1955) and King Creole (1958). Only occasionally did he get to play more sympathetic roles in films such as Lonely Are the Brave (1962). In 1959, he tried his hand at directing with Gangster Story. In addition to his stage and feature-film work, Matthau appeared in a number of television shows.

Just when it seemed that he was to be permanently relegated to playing supporting and dark character roles on stage and screen, Matthau won the part of irretrievably slavish sportswriter Oscar Madison in the first Broadway production of Neil Simon's The Odd Couple (1965). Simon wrote the role especially for Matthau, and the show made both the playwright and the actor major stars. In film, Matthau played his first comic role (for which he won a Best Supporting Actor Oscar) in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie (1966).

The film also marked the first of many times that Matthau would be paired with Jack Lemmon. The unmistakable chemistry at play between the well-mannered, erudite Lemmon and the sharp-tongued, earthy Matthau exploded when they were paired onscreen, and was on particularly brilliant display in the hit film version of The Odd Couple (1967). Good friends with Lemmon both onscreen and off, Matthau starred in his directorial debut, Kotch (1971), and starred alongside him in The Front Page (1974) and Buddy Buddy, both of which did little for Matthau and Lemmon's careers. As a duo, the two again found success when they played two coots who were too busy feuding to realize that they were best friends in Grumpy Old Men (1993). They reprised their roles in a 1995 sequel and also appeared together in The Grass Harp (1995), Out to Sea (1997), and 1998's The Odd Couple II.

On his own, Matthau continued developing his comically cynical persona in such worthy ventures as Plaza Suite (1971), California Suite (1978), and especially The Sunshine Boys (1975), in which he was paired with George Burns. He proved ridiculously endearing as a grizzled, broken-down, beer-swilling little league coach with a marshmallow heart in The Bad News Bears (1976), and further expressed his comic persona in such comedies as 1993's Dennis the Menace, in which he played the cantankerous Mr. Wilson, and the romantic comedy I.Q. (1994), which cast him as Albert Einstein.

Though many of his roles were of the comic variety, Matthau occasionally returned to his dramatic roots with ventures such as the crime thriller Charley Varrick (1973) and The Taking of Pelham 1, 2, 3 (1974). In addition to his work in feature films, Matthau also continued to make occasional appearances in made-for-television movies, one of w

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Filmography

MOVIES

RATING TITLE CREDIT YEAR
No Score Yet Portrait d'un homme 'à 60% parfait': Billy Wilder (Portrait of a '60% Perfect Man': Billy Wilder)
  • Actor
2012
No Score Yet Slaughter On Tenth Avenue
  • Actor
2012
No Score Yet The Great Man W.C. Fields
  • Actor
2005
12% Hanging Up
  • Lou
2000
97% The Life and Times of Hank Greenberg
  • Actor
2000
No Score Yet The Marriage Fool
  • Frank Walsh
1998
21% The Odd Couple II
  • Oscar Madison
1998
38% Out to Sea
  • Charlie
1997
38% I'm Not Rappaport
  • Nat
1996
50% The Grass Harp
  • Judge Charlie Cool
1996
17% Grumpier Old Men
  • Max Goldman
1995
46% I.Q.
  • Albert Einstein
1994
No Score Yet Incident In A Small Town
  • Harmon Cobb
1994
65% Grumpy Old Men
  • Max Goldman
1993
23% Dennis the Menace
  • George Wilson
1993
No Score Yet How the Grinch Stole Christmas
  • Actor
1992
84% JFK
  • Sen. Russell Long
1991
No Score Yet Mrs. Lambert Remembers Love
  • Clifford
1991
No Score Yet The Incident
  • Harmon Cobb
1990
No Score Yet Il Piccolo diavolo (The Little Devil)
  • Maurice
1988
43% The Couch Trip
  • Donald Becker
1988
No Score Yet The AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards: Jack Lemmon
  • Actor
1988
33% Pirates
  • Capt. Thomas Bartholomew Red
1986
No Score Yet The AFI Lifetime Achievement Awards: Billy Wilder
  • Actor
1986
No Score Yet Movers & Shakers
  • Joe Mulholland
1985
9% The Survivors
  • Sonny Paluso
1983
No Score Yet I Ought to Be in Pictures
  • Herbert Tucker
1982
No Score Yet First Monday in October
  • Dan Snow
1981
62% Buddy Buddy
  • Trabucco
1981
No Score Yet Little Miss Marker
  • Producer
  • Executive Producer
  • Sorrowful Jones
1980
75% Hopscotch
  • Miles Kendig/James Butler/Mr. Hannaway/Leonard Ross
1980
55% California Suite
  • Marvin Michaels
1978
75% Casey's Shadow
  • Lloyd Bourdelle
1978
29% House Calls
  • Dr. Charley Nichols
1978
No Score Yet The Stingiest Man in Town
  • Actor
1978
96% The Bad News Bears
  • Coach Morris Buttermaker
1976
81% The Sunshine Boys
  • Willy Clark
1975
No Score Yet The Gentleman Tramp
  • Narrator
1975
73% The Front Page
  • Walter Burns
1974
35% Earthquake
  • Drunk
1974
100% The Taking of Pelham One Two Three
  • Lieutenant Garber
1974
58% The Laughing Policeman
  • Sgt. Jake Martin
1973
86% Charley Varrick
  • Charley Varrick
1973
80% Pete 'n' Tillie
  • Pete
1972
No Score Yet Awake and Sing!
  • Moe Axelrod
1972
67% Kotch
  • Joseph Kotcher
1971
50% Plaza Suite
  • Sam Nash/Jesse Kiplinger/Roy Hubley
1971
100% A New Leaf
  • Henry Graham
1971
No Score Yet Patton: Old Blood and Guts
  • Host
1970
44% Hello, Dolly!
  • Horace Vandergelder
1969
100% Cactus Flower
  • Dr. Julian Winston
1969
80% Candy
  • Gen. Smight
1968
100% The Odd Couple
  • Oscar Madison
1968
No Score Yet The Secret Life of an American Wife
  • The Movie Star
1968
67% A Guide for the Married Man
  • Paul Manning
1967
95% The Fortune Cookie
  • Willie Gingrich
1966
No Score Yet Mirage
  • Ted
1965
95% Fail-Safe
  • Groeteschele
1964
No Score Yet Ensign Pulver
  • Doc
1964
No Score Yet Goodbye Charlie
  • Sir Leopold Sartori
1964
92% Charade
  • Hamilton Bartholemew
1963
No Score Yet Island of Love
  • Tony Dallas
1963
No Score Yet Who's Got the Action?
  • Tony Gagouts
1963
90% Lonely are the Brave
  • Sheriff Morey Johnson
1962
No Score Yet Strangers When We Meet
  • Felix Anders
1960
No Score Yet Gangster Story
  • Jack Martin
  • Director
1959
No Score Yet Onionhead
  • `Red' Wildoe
1958
100% King Creole
  • Maxie Fields
1958
No Score Yet Sendas Torturosas
  • Judge Kyle
1958
92% A Face in the Crowd
  • Mel Miller
1957
92% Bigger Than Life (1956)
  • Wally Gibbs
1956
No Score Yet The Indian Fighter
  • Wes Todd
1955
No Score Yet The Kentuckian
  • Stan Bodine
1955
No Score Yet Mobs and Mayhem
  • Actor
1955
No Score Yet Mob Movies
  • Actor
1955
No Score Yet Suspense
  • Actor
1952
No Score Yet Mob
  • Actor
1937

TV

RATING TITLE CREDIT
No Score Yet American Masters
2001
  • Narrator
No Score Yet Saturday Night Live
1975
  • Guest

Quotes from Walter Matthau's Characters