Buddy Buddy (1981), the final film by the great American writer/director Billy Wilder, is based on a French play by the prolific Francis Veber. Veber specialized in farces about odd-couple pairings, usually a straight-laced professional thrown together with a chaotic, idiotic, or oblivious buffoon unaware of his own ridiculousness. This play was no different: a hitman checks in to a hotel as part of his assignment to silence a mob witness, only to be distracted by a sad sack who tries to commit suicide in the suite next door. That, naturally, brings unwanted attention his way, until he placates the staff by promising to babysit this guy. This, of course, leads to a whole new set of problems.
The original play has been turned into a French film called L’Emmerdeur (1973), retitled A Pain in the A– for American release (an accurate translation would have been unprintable in family newspapers at the time), with Lino Ventura as the no-nonsense contract killer and Jacques Brel as the suicidal schlub.
MGM thought it was prime material for a remake and offered it to Billy Wilder. The director tended to develop his own projects but agreed nonetheless, seeing possibilities in the set-up and roles tailor-made for his favorite buddy team. Jack Lemmon made six films for Wilder before Buddy Buddy and Wilder was the first director to pair him up with Walter Matthau. The Fortune Cookie (1966) launched one of the most resilient comic duos — and friendships — in Hollywood. They signed on before Wilder even had a script and the production was immediately put on the MGM slate.
Plays on Turner Classic Movies on Wednesday, August 22. Not on DVD.