This week, the oddest DVD to appear on release lists is:
“The War Between Men and Women”
With the recent release of Ben Stiller’s adaptation of “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty,” Paramount has rushed to capitalize on newfound interest in James Thurber’s work with the issue of a slightly cranky 1972 Jack Lemmon comedy, “The War Between Men and Women” (due out on DVD Tuesday).
Thurber’s particular brand of whimsy, which was showcased primarily in his humorous writings and squiggly cartoon drawings in the New Yorker magazine, was largely informed by his progressively failing eyesight. That sad condition lent his work a certain caustic darkness, and it shows through starkly in this uneven and not terribly funny film adaptation.
Written and directed by Melville Shavelson, who also had a hand in “My World and Welcome to It,” the 1969 TV sitcom starring William Windom and based on Thurber’s work, the story features Lemmon as Peter, a very Thurber-like writer and cartoonist who is losing his eyesight. During a visit to the eye doctor, he literally bumps into attractive divorcee Theresa (Barbara Harris), and although they initially bicker and fuss, they eventually marry.
And the myopic, confirmed bachelor Peter finds himself thrust into the roiling domestic stew of Theresa’s family, which includes three hostile children and a dashing, globetrotting photojournalist ex-husband (Jason Robards). Naturally much domestic, comic and emotional turmoil ensues.
While Thurber’s style of whimsy bore a caustic edge and worked effectively in small doses, Shavelson layers it on thick in this comedy and too often descends into an uncomfortable mixture of misogyny and sappy sentimentality. It’s not surprising that, among the fine comedies of Lemmon’s career, this one is largely forgotten.
“The War Between Men and Women” is rated PG and runs 104 minutes. It’s being released by Paramount.
- Dennis King