AFI Catalog of Feature Films
Movie Detail
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Director: Jack Lemmon (Dir)
Release Date:   Oct 1971
Premiere Information:   New York opening: 30 Sep 1971
Production Date:   19 Jan--19 Mar 1971 at CBS Studio Center and Samuel Goldwyn Studios
Duration (in mins):   113-114
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Cast:   Walter Matthau (Joseph P. Kotcher)  
    Deborah Winters (Erica Herzenstiel [also known as Ricci])  
    Felicia Farr (Wilma Kotcher)  
    Charles Aidman (Gerald Kotcher)  
    Ellen Geer (Vera Kotcher)  
    Donald Kowalski (Duncan Kotcher)  
    Dean Kowalski (Duncan Kotcher)  
    Arlen Stuart (Mrs. Fisher)  
    Jane Connell (Miss Roberts)  
    James E. Brodhead (Mr. Weaver)  
    Jessica Rains (Dr. McKernan)  
    Darrell Larson (Vincent Perrin)  
    Biff Elliot (Motel manager)  
    Paul Picerni (Dr. [Ramon] Caudillo)  
    Lucy Saroyan (Sissy)  
    Kim Hamilton (Receptionist)  
    Tamar Cooper (Nurse)  
    Amzie Strickland (Film narrator)  
    Paul Fierro (Pablo)  
    Larry Linville (Peter [Stiel])  
    Penny Santon (Mrs. Segura)  
    Janya Brannt (Mrs. Pugh)  
    Jack Lemmon (Bus passenger)  
    Dee Carroll (Dorothy Ballinger)  

Summary: In Los Angeles, seventy-two-year-old retired salesman Joseph P. Kotcher has been living with his son and daughter-in-law, Gerald and Wilma, for several months and enjoying the companionship of his baby grandson, Duncan. One day Wilma, who resents that Kotch has moved into their house, decides to hire Erica "Ricci" Herzenstiel, an orphaned teenager who lives with her brother and sister-in-law, to baby-sit. Dubious of her abilities, Kotch joins Erica when she takes Duncan to the park, but when her boyfriend, Vincent Perrin, arrives in his car to pick up Erica and Duncan, Erica leaves Kotch behind. Having a keen interest in life, the loquacious Kotch tries to start conversations with strangers in the park, who politely ignore him. After seeing a little girl crying in the swimming pool, Kotch cheers her up, then pats her on the behind to send her on her way. Mistaking his intentions, Mrs. Fisher, the mother of the child, files a complaint that Kotch “indecently” touched her daughter and, that evening, she and Miss Roberts, a Parks Department employee, confront Kotch at his home. While defending himself, Kotch seems to digress, making it hard for the others to follow his logic, but Miss Roberts is amused and satisfied with Kotch's explanation. When Gerald and Wilma go out for the evening, Erica baby-sits, despite Kotch’s complaint that hiring her is a “damned extravagance.” He spends most of the evening listening to music on headphones, but later in the evening checks on Erica and the baby and realizes she and Vinnie are making love while the baby sleeps. Later that night, Kotch tells Gerald about the incident, but his rambling manner of speech causes Gerald to miss his point. Prompted by recollections of making out with his girl friend in a car many years ago, the next morning Kotch has second thoughts about reporting Erica's behavior and asks Gerald to forget about their conversation. Soon after, Kotch learns that Erica is no longer working as Duncan's babysitter and confronts Gerald, who informs Kotch that Erica left to take a job in San Bernardino. Wilma's numerous complaints about Kotch soon prompt Gerald to research retirement communities for his father. Without explaining where they are going, Gerald and Wilma take Kotch to look at a senior citizens’ village. He immediately concludes that the people are “too old” for him, but realizing that Wilma wants him out of the house, agrees to move there temporarily. Required by the home to undergo psychological tests, Kotch resigns himself to the humorless psychologist who administers them, but when he sees that she has written in his record that he is unimaginative and too literal, Kotch decides to make other plans. After kissing Duncan goodbye, Kotch first goes to Erica's high school to present her with a gift of money, as he feels responsible for her situation. Upon finding her clearing out her locker, Kotch learns that Erica is pregnant and moving to San Bernardino to work at a beauty shop. She complains about feeling betrayed by her sister-in-law Candy, who encouraged her to confide her problems and then made sure she was exiled to San Bernardino. At first she refuses Kotch’s money, but then accepts it as a loan. Kotch then embarks on a bus trip up the coast, all the while talking to the other passengers and reminiscing about his deceased wife Vera. When he returns home, Gerald and Wilma are holding a Halloween party and he discovers that Wilma has appropriated his room for her sewing. He receives a postcard from Erica bearing the address of a motel, which explains that she is unable to repay the loan due to "difficulties." When he goes to the motel to visit her, he learns that she has lost her job and moved. At the beauty shop where Erica had worked, Kotch learns from Erica’s co-worker Sissy that she was fired because she was unlicensed to shampoo hair and took another job in Palm Springs. Concerned about Erica, Kotch asks around at Palm Springs beauty shops until he finds her and then takes her to lunch. When Erica tells him that she is having difficulty with her landlady and will soon lose her current job because her pregnancy is "showing," Kotch invites her to share a house that he has rented in nearby Cathedral City, but she declines. On Christmas Eve, as Kotch finds himself alone and reminiscing about happier holidays, Erica arrives and moves in, having found his house because he told her it was next to a bowling alley. They get along well together and, in anticipation of her doctor visits and the trip to the hospital for her delivery, he buys a decades-old car, which he considers more dependable than the newer ones. She confides that she never told Vinnie about the baby and that her parents died in a car accident, leaving her to be reared by her cold older brother. Kotch tells her about Vera and how they had wanted a daughter, and attends Erica's hospital child-bearing courses. After informing Kotch that she is giving the baby up for adoption to a couple her doctor, Ramon Caudillo, knows, Erica goes to a country club to meet them. Kotch, hoping she will keep the child, remains silent, but buys a crib and spends the evening putting it together. When Kotch becomes ill with a virus, Caudillo arranges for Erica to stay a few days with the adoptive parents and for a local man, Pablo, to take care of Kotch. Later, after Kotch recovers, Erica’s brother and guardian, Peter, brings some papers for her to sign. More interested in the “plushy” toy dogs he sells wholesale than he is in Erica, Peter leaves the papers for Kotch to deliver. Kotch drives to the home where Erica is staying and learns from the Spanish-speaking housekeeper that she has gone to the couple’s cabin to be alone and think. After arriving at the cabin late in the day, Kotch plans to drive Erica back in the morning, but during the night, she starts to have labor pains. They begin the long drive down a steep mountain road to the hospital in town, but must stop at a gas station, where Kotch delivers the baby on the ladies room floor. Later, while recuperating at Kotch's home, Erica writes a letter to her son, whom she still plans to give up, that she hopes will be presented to him when he is older. Frustrated, she crumples up the letter and calls Vinnie, intending to tell him about the baby. However, when they quarrel, she hangs up on him. The next morning, Kotch finds a letter from Erica explaining that she has decided to keep the baby, whom she has named Chris, and has returned to Los Angeles on an early morning flight. Soon after, Gerald and Wilma arrive, and Wilma, who has had a change of heart, apologizes and invites Kotch to come back. He declines, explaining that he plans to buy the house he is renting and has been offered a job running a small shop, adding that they will always be welcome to visit him. Later, while cleaning the house, Kotch finds Erica's crumpled letter to Chris. In it, she tells Chris how much they owe "old" Kotch and that he would have made Chris a great grandfather. When a friend drives by and invites him out to drink, Kotch is happy to go along. 

Production Company: Kotch Company Productions (Frugal Films, Ltd.)
  ABC Pictures Corp. (American Broadcasting Companies, Inc.)
Production Text: A Kotch Company Production A Division of Frugal Films, Ltd.
Distribution Company: Cinerama Releasing Corp.  
Director: Jack Lemmon (Dir)
  Harry Hogan III (Asst dir)
  Charles Dismukes (Asst dir)
Producer: Richard Carter (Prod)
Writer: John Paxton (Scr)
Photography: Richard H. Kline (Dir of photog)
  Tim Griffith (Gaffer)
  Kenneth Adams (Key grip)
  Jim Connell (Cam op)
  Eric Anderson (Asst cam)
  Hal Shiffman (2d asst cam)
Art Direction: Jack Poplin (Art dir)
Film Editor: Ralph E. Winters (Film ed)
  Irving Rosenblum (Asst film ed)
Set Decoration: William Kiernan (Set dec)
  Richard M. Rubin (Props)
  Susan Dupinsky (Spec props)
Costumes: John [A.] Anderson (Cost)
  Connie Anderson (Ladies ward)
Music: Marvin Hamlisch (Mus)
  Leo Shuken (Orch)
  Jack Hayes (Orch)
Sound: Jack Solomon (Sd)
  Richard Portman (Re-rec supv)
Special Effects: Jeremy Lepard (Titles, mont and optical des)
  Pacific Title (Title eff)
  Frank E. Warner (Spec eff)
  Jack Erickson (Spec eff)
Make Up: Harry Ray (Makeup)
  Jean Austin (Hairdresser)
Production Misc: Leon Chooluck (Prod supv)
  Ray Green (Prod asst)
  Alan DeWitt (Dial dir)
  Joe Mazzuca (Scr supv)
  Sarah Jane Paxton (Scr [supv])
  Maria-Luisa Alcaraz (Prod coord)
  Ruth Carter (Loc)
  Cinemobile Systems (Loc by)
  Ed Fitzgerald (Loc mgr)
  Barbara Gallagher (Casting)
  Henry L. Jaffe M. D. (Obstetrist)
  Rick Carter (Crowd control)
  Gershenson & Dingilian (Pub)
  Art Sarno (Unit pub)
  Jack Erickson (Asst unit mgr)
  Carl Skelton (Auditor)
  Barbara Gallagher (Prod secy)
  Bob Edwards (Teamster capt)
MPAA Rating: GP
Country: United States
Language: English

Songs: "Life Is What You Make It," music by Marvin Hamlisch, lyrics by Johnny Mercer.
Composer: Marvin Hamlisch
  Johnny Mercer
Source Text: Based on the novel Kotch by Katharine Topkins (New York, 1965).
Authors: Katharine Topkins

Copyright Claimant Copyright Date Copyright Number
ABC Pictures Corp. 30/9/1971 dd/mm/yyyy LP43606

Physical Properties: Sd:
  col: Metrocolor

Genre: Comedy-drama
Subjects (Major): Adolescents
  Aged men
  Family relationships
  Unmarried mothers
Subjects (Minor): Adoption
  Babysitters and babysitting
  Beauty operators
  Christmas Eve
  Gas stations
  Los Angeles (CA)
  Mexican Americans
  Palm Springs (CA)
  San Bernardino (CA)
  Traveling salesmen
  Voyages and travel

Note: Opening and closing cast credits differ slightly in order. During several brief flashbacks, "Kotch" reminisces about life with his wife "Vera." An onscreen acknowledgment thanks the Motion Picture Country Home and Hospital and their staff. According to company production notes, Richard Carter, Jack Lemmon's longtime public relations representative and the publicity and advertising director of Lemmon’s company Jalem, optioned the film rights to Katharine Topkin's novel, Kotch , and partnered with John Paxton, who spent several months writing the screenplay. According to production notes, Carter showed the script to Lemmon, who became interested in directing it.
       A 30 May 1972 Var news item reported that the project began as a co-venture between Jalem, Carter and Paxton’s Brier Productions and National General Pictures (NGP). Although Filmfacts stated that interiors were shot at the Samuel Goldwyn Studios, a 13 Aug 1969 Var news item reported that the production moved from the Goldwyn lot to return to the CBS Studio Center when negotiations with NGP broke down. The May 1972 Var news item explained that when negotiations with NGP broke down in mid-1969, Jalem and Brier unsuccessfully petitioned for financial support from the Canadian Film Development Corp. before going with ABC in 1970. According to a 22 Mar 1971 DV column, Lemmon felt that the team was having trouble getting backing because the script was considered too “soft for the market” until after the success of the 1970 Paramount film Love Story (see below).
       A modern source stated that Fredric March and Laurence Olivier were considered for the lead, but each turned down the role due to illness. According to the film's production notes, Carter and Lemmon sent the script to Walter Matthau, who was then in his early fifties. Actress Felicia Farr, who played "Wilma," was married to Lemmon from 1962 until his death in 2001. Deborah Winters is the daughter of film editor Ralph Winters and actress Penny Edwards. Lucy Saroyan, who played “Sissy,” was Matthau’s stepdaughter and the daughter of author William Saroyan. Twins Donald and Dean Kowalski played toddler “Duncan Kotcher.” Although their appearance in the completed picture has not been confirmed, according to HR and DV news items, others appearing in the cast are Lemmon’s five-year-old daughter Courtney, Matthau’s eight-year-old son Charlie, and Carol Bagdasarian, the daughter of composer Ross Bagdasarian. As noted in Filmfacts and other sources, Lemmon appears in a cameo, disguised with a moustache and glasses in the finale of Kotch .
       A 5 Feb 1971 HR news item added six actors to the cast: Chester Conklin, Carter De Haven, Babe London, Dot Farley, Edgar Dearing and Lilian Jenks. The actors, who were former silent and early sound film performers, were to portray senior citizens in the retirement home sequence that was filmed at the Motion Picture Country House and Hospital in Woodlands Hills, CA, where they resided. Their appearance in the film has not been confirmed. The onscreen credits of Henry L. Jaffe M.D. and Phyllis Coffey, who were listed with the production team, were not discernable on the viewed print. Portions of the film were shot in Palm Springs, according to HR production charts, and also, according to a 21 Dec 1970 Box news item, at Pacific Palisades, Glendale and Newhall in Southern California.
       Kotch marked Lemmon’s only directorial effort and was Richard Carter's only film as producer. The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actor (Matthau), Best Film Editing (Ralph E. Winters), Best Sound (Richard Portman and Jack Solomon) and Best Song (Marvin Hamlisch and Johnny Mercer, “Life Is What You Make It"). The Screen Actors Guild named Kotch the Best American Comedy Adapted from Another Medium. 

Bibliographic Sources:   Date   Page
Box Office   21 Dec 1970.   
Daily Variety   26 Jan 1971.   
Daily Variety   22 Mar 1971.   
Daily Variety   26 Mar 1971.   
Filmfacts   1971   pp. 546-49.
Hollywood Reporter   20 Jan 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   22 Jan 1971   p. 12.
Hollywood Reporter   28 Jan 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   5 Feb 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   4 Mar 1971.   
Hollywood Reporter   19 Mar 1971   p. 28.
Hollywood Reporter   22 Sep 1971   p. 3.
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   5 May 1971.   
Los Angeles Herald Examiner   13 Oct 1971.   
New York Times   1 Oct 1971   p. 34.
Time   11 Oct 1971   p. 81.
The Times (London)   23 Apr 1972.   
Variety   13 Aug 1969.   
Variety   21 Jan 1971.   
Variety   22 Sep 1971   p. 6.
Variety   30 May 1972.   
Village Voice   20 Apr 1972   p. 16.

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The American Film Institute is grateful to Sir Paul Getty KBE and the Sir Paul Getty KBE Estate for their dedication to the art of the moving image and their support for the AFI Catalog of Feature Films and without whose support AFI would not have been able to achieve this historical landmark in this epic scholarly endeavor.
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