Billy Wilder didn’t get to cap his careers with a film of Schindler’s List; it’s hard to imagine how the master-of-comedy’s version of that film might have looked, but probably for the best that Spielberg helmed that project. Instead, Wilder’s final film was this unloved black comedy, which holds up rather better than critics at the time would have you believe. Re-uniting Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, it’s a bit hit and miss, but has points of interest for cineastes.
Matthau plays Trabucco, a professional hit-man we see over a few early hits; disguises as a mail-man, he delivers a bomb, then disguised as a milk-man, he delivers poisoned milk. He’s a seasoned pro, preparing for a big hit on a testifying mob-boss. But his preparations are ruined by the accidental intervention of sad-sack Victor Clooney (Jack Lemmon) whose suicide bid in an adjoining hotel-room pairs the odd couple for an adventure that takes in a sex-clinic run by Klaus Kinski; I did say the story was strange…
Based on a film and play by French comedy expect Francois Veber, Buddy Buddy strains for laughs at times, and is bedevilled by some hideous process shots, but Matthau and Lemmon still strike sparks. Stepford Wife Paula Prentiss has a nice bit as Lemmon’s ex, and there’s some flashes of wit in LAL Diamond’s script. It’s neat that Trabucco’s desire to shut Clooney up is mis-interpreted as brotherly love, and also clever that way Clooney ends up being the patsy for Trabucco’s assassination attempt. Although the coda is a dud, the ending also draws the plot neatly together; it’s easy to see what attracted Wilder to Veber’s property.
Any film that features the great Billy Wilder directing madman’s madman Kinski has to be worth a look, if only for posterity, but Buddy Buddy doesn’t deserve to be forgotten. Lambasted for swearing at the time, it features a grand total of three f-bombs, hardly Mamet-ian by today’s standards, and probably plays better without the burden of expectations that Wilder’s reputation brought to it in 1981.