Shooting Grumpy Old Men On Location Was Especially Punishing For Walter Matthau

Growing up in Philadelphia, I've experienced my fair share of harsh winters. The blizzard of 1996 stands out, but there were a number of other rough years for a while too. Although, when I moved to Chicago a few years ago, I experienced a whole new level of frigid chills. It got even worse when a polar vortex delivered such sub-zero temperatures and precipitation that people were advised not to leave their houses since even the slightest bit of exposed skin could get frostbite within minutes. Seriously, despite this year being relatively tame in comparison (so far, though I probably just jinxed it), midwestern winters are no joke. And someone else who knew this was Walter Matthau.

By the mid-1990s, the award-winning star of the stage and screen had quite an illustrious career. He had become known for his roles in "Bad News Bears," "King Creole," and "Hello, Dolly!," but fans probably remembered him best from his many onscreen collaborations with Jack Lemmon including "The Fortune Cookie," "The Front Page," and, of course, "The Odd Couple." So when the duo was brought back together for 1993's "Grumpy Old Men," fans were excited to see Matthau and Lemmon together again. However, even though he looked forward to teaming up once again after about a decade, Matthau was less than pleased that their reunion would have to take place in Minnesota during the peak of winter.

Cold enough for ya?

In an interview with legendary film critic Roger Ebert to promote "Grumpy Old Men," Walter Matthau spoke a great deal about gambling. And though he would be open to gamble on just about anything, he and Jack Lemmon didn't take such chances with their careers and the projects they did together. After "Buddy Buddy" flopped in 1981, they didn't properly share the screen again until this project came along around 10 years later. 

While they had been offered a number of scripts in between, none of them seemed like the right fit until producer John Davis brought them Mark Steven Johnson's tale about two crotchety neighbors competing for the affection of a new woman in town. And even though Matthau was ecstatic to reunite with his friend, he resisted the film's midwestern setting and attempted to change it. Here's what he said:

"The only reason I did the movie was to work with Lemmon. [...] Now, the only thing was I didn't want to go to Minnesota in the middle of January, so I said to Lemmon, 'Listen, Lemmon, we have to fix this script up a little so let's rewrite it, and then we'll say OK.' But, I said, 'Maybe we can do this in Hawaii or Florida because one of us is not coming back if we go to Minnesota.' Because in Minnesota it gets so cold that the body wishes to retain the heat; otherwise, you die. In order to retain the heat, the coronary arteries are immediately constricted for retention of heat and as soon as you restrict the coronary arteries, you're subject to a heart attack; you're subject to a stroke; you're subject to double pneumonia. I got all of them."

A slip of the tongue

Luckily, both men survived the production and ultimately went on to make four more movies together, including a sequel titled "Grumpier Old Men," as well as a sequel to "The Odd Couple" that saw Oscar and Felix take a cross-country trip in order to see their children get married. But as the actor previously mentioned, they didn't escape Minnesota completely unscathed. In addition to all of Matthau's ailments, he described a situation where his co-star's tongue had gotten stuck to his gums.

"Lemmon, nothing happened to him at all. Just once. I stopped the shooting and I went over to the producer and I said, 'Better get him to a hospital; something's wrong with him.' His tongue — it was so cold, it was 40 below zero without the wind-chill factor — his tongue had stuck to his gums. That's how cold it was."

Eat your heart out, "A Christmas Story!" And yet after things like that, people still decide to live here. On purpose. 

Yeah, I don't get it either.