Classic Actor Spotlight: Jack Lemmon Part II… Something Old, Something New

Greetings, all and sundry! After a rather fun first look at Jack Lemmon’s early career. I’ve decided to go a bit into those films of the 1960s that defined and reenforced the actor’s standing as a solid comedic talent. And slowly opened the door into an arena where he would stun and excel. To that end, allow me to introduce you to the next stage of of an astound career.

Jack Lemmon: Something Old… Something New.

After his winning an Oscar for his performance in The Apartment, Mr Lemmon took a brief sabbatical to hone his skills on the stage before taking on the lead in a 1960 service comedy that was received well enough for NBC television to spin the film off into a series five years later.

The Wackiest Ship in the Army (1960)

Under the direction of Richard Murphy from his screenplay. Mr. Lemmon find himself as Lt. Rip Crandall. Who is sent to Queensland, Australia without an assignment. In the middle of  the tide slowly turning towards the Allies in 1943. Little is known about Crandall, except that he was something of a yachtsman before the war. Which suits the Army Air Corps and later, the Navy just fine. Coast watchers are in short supply due to attrition. And a few are on hand with places to go, but no viable form of transportation to get them to their shallow, coral reefed islands and atolls.

Enter the ‘Echo’. An aged two masted schooner that has a crew, sort of. Who don’t know a Main Mast from a Cleat. All that’s needed is a Captain and an eager beaver Ensign as an XO. Nicely played by Rick Nelson. The guy who holds all the card is John Lund, as grandfatherly Lt. Commander Vanderwater. Who gives Crandall a week to get his ship and crew into shape. Done mostly by repetition, with the aid of always dependable Mike Kellin.

A week suddenly becomes two days with the possible substitution for Crandall in Richard Anderson’s Lt. Dennis Foster. The two do not get along to begin with and Crandall takes the Echo and his crew out of the harbor and on to Port Moresby. About three weeks before The Battle of the Bismark Sea…

Overall Consensus:

This is the film where Mr. Lemmon starts to refine and polish his trademark rapid fire delivery of lines. With changes in inflection, metering and tone. While getting used to large sets, rear projection and not a few long, on site scenes aboard the Echo while being dwarfed by larger Naval destroyers and cruisers in port. More a lesson in the bread and butter movie magic of the time. Though very well delivered by the lead actor and his crew of reliable misfits. Who would be seen in countless other service comedies and dramas and NBC’s later television re-make.

Days of Wine and Roses (1962)

Fresh off his win with Breakfast At Tiffany’s , Blake Edwards decided to collaborate with J. P. Miller and adapt his television screenplay from two years earlier for the big screen. Placing Mr. Lemmon solidly in the role of Joe Clay. A mediocre PR man in a San Francisco firm. Joe likes to have a drink and have a good time. When he does, his work suffers, but he doesn’t understand why. After one less than stellar day, Joe happens across secretary, Kirsten Armesen, magnificently played by Lee Remick. A teetotaler, she has some ambition and sparks do begin to catch. A date is agreed to and Joe introduces Kirsten to Brandy Alexanders, which she likes. More and more as time passes. They marry and have a baby girl, Debbie.

Joe tries hard to gather more clients and gets to more than like Two Martini Lunches. So much so that Joe is sent out of town more and more. While Joe is away,  Kirsten drinks. One afternoon, she passes out and their apartment catches fire. Thankfully, she and the baby survive, but Joe is fired for poor performance. Joe tries to find work, but his reputation precedes him. With nowhere left to go, Kirsten asks if she and her family can work for her father’s plant and flower nursery. The father, Charles Bickford reprising his role from earlier is cautious, but agrees. Life is good as the two dry out. Until Joe secrets a few pints of bourbon in flowerpots in the Green House. Joe and Kirsten get a buzz on during a thunderstorm and Joe goes in search of the other bottles. In a panic for not finding the buried treasure, Joe tears the Green House apart.

Joe winds up institutionalized in time for a record case of the DTs. Dries out, hits bottom and then finally goes to an Alcoholics Anonymous meeting. Joe’s sponsor, Jim Hungerford, quietly played by Jack Klugman has been down Joe’s path and helps Joe gets his life slowly back together. Through Joe falling off the wagon, twice. Once, deliberately. To try to get Kirsten to give up drinking, but she likes it too much…

Overall Consensus:

This is the film where Mr. Lemmon taps deep into his talent for drama. Grasps the reins firmly, rides and delivers in ways never imagined. From his too quick excuses to the sadness in his face early on when passing a store window on the way home. And seeing a shabby bum looking back. To the drunken panic and rage at not being able to find the other hiding bottles in the Green House. Mr Lemmon goes places inside that few would have the ability to do today. Yet, his Joe is a oddly sympathetic character. Who has to see his own image staring back from the abyss before admitting his problem and seeking help.

Where Lee Remick’s Kirsten quickly adapts to her relationship, the marriage to Joe as a ‘Threesome’. She, Joe and booze. She likes it. Wants to keep it. And knows what buttons to push and what to say to keep Joe close by. Then lets her tongue become razor sharp, acidic and scathing as Joe pulls away to seek salvation. It’s not pretty, but it is mesmerizing to watch!

In a complete break from what everyone thinks a Blake Edwards movie should be. Certainly not lighthearted or in need of a happy ending. Sometimes raw and in your face. The B&W cinematography by Phil Lathrop is superb. Both indoors and along the steep streets of San Francisco. Art and Set Direction by Joseph Wright and George Hopkins seems to get grainier and shabbier. Aided by Henry Mancini’s bittersweet soundtrack as Joe slowly spirals downward. Hitting the bottom during the final scenes of the film.

Well worth seeking out for Mr. Lemmon’s and Ms. Remick’s Oscar nominated performances. And Henry Mancini’s win for Best Music and Original Score.

How to Murder Your Wife (1965)

This is the film that puts Mr. Lemmon at the top of the Pyramid of smartly written, adult, not quite screwball, farcical comedy. Once again under the adept touch of Richard Quine and shot for a large part in Manhattan.
Mr. Lemmon makes the absolute most of playing cartoonist, Stanley Ford. A bon vivant bachelor with an aversion to marriage. A more or less open door policy for many lovely women to his rather plush Brownstone apartment on 75th, between Lexington and Third. And a penchant to test out all of the adventurous journeys and predicaments he puts his cartoon character, super-spy, ‘Bash’ Brannigan finds himself in. All dutifully photographed by Ford’s butler, Charles. Wondrously played by Terry Thomas.

To say that Ford’s character isn’t popular in the newspapers would be anathema. His strip is responsible for a sizable chunk of his paper’s profits. So, his comic strip character can be as licentious and daring do as he wants in the swinging 60s. Until Ford attends a bachelor party for his friend, Tobey Rawlins. Has a few too many and in a very out of character moment, proposes to Virna Lisi. The stunning Italian girl who pops out of the celebratory cake clad in a very revealing bikini. A judge, also very drunk, performs an impromptu wedding ceremony and Stanley awakens the next morning, hung over, feeling miserable and… Married!

This can’t be! Stanley calls his lawyer, Harold Lamson. Stuffy and somewhat hen pecked. Played to scene stealing perfection by Eddie Mayehoff, to arrange a divorce, but legal justification is needed. And there is none. Virna Lisi’s Mrs. Ford is gorgeous, cheerful, affectionate, loving and outside of her not knowing a word of English, is as close to perfect as man can hope for. Things change and Stanley adapts. Badly. As Charles leaves to work for the jilted Tobey. Mrs. Ford starts hanging out with Harold’s near shrewish wife, Edna, who speaks Italian. Then stays up late at night to watch television and learn a new language. And Ford’s once glorious Man Cave is introduced to feminine finery and damp stockings and lingerie hanging on the bathroom’s shower curtain rod.

Something’s got to give! Stanley’s kept up by the television and the constantly churning cement mixer (The ‘Gloppitta~Glopitta Machine’) just outside and stories below his drawing room window. Some surcease is found in real life. Changing his comic strip’s tone from daring do and dames to domestic comedy, but a more solid solution must be found!

A theoretical, sub rosa one is tossed about in the steam room of an all male health club. Whose attendants are married and share to some extent, Harold’s less than Alpha male life. A doctor (Jack Albertson) with access to ‘goofballs’ describes their effect and the nugget of a plan is hatched. Sadly. Stanley lays out his scheme in his daily comic strip.  Charles returns to photograph Stanley as the host of a cocktail party after Mrs. Ford has seen it. Stanley excuses himself for a few moments. Drugs Mrs. Ford and replaces her with a department store mannequin, which he buries under an ocean of glop from the Glopitta~Glopitta Machine. As Mrs. Ford comes to and splits for parts unknown. Needless to say, the NYPD have been reading the comic strip. Put two and two together. Arrest Stanley for murder and the real fun begins!

Overall Consensus:

One of the last and possibly greatest Battle of the Sexes comedies of the 20th century. Where the buildup is exquisitely detailed and meticulous under director Quine’s less than gentle touch and George Axelrod’s deft screenplay. Where the real payoff is in the trial. Mr. Lemmon’s Stanley Ford sits patiently as witnesses testify and unwittingly paint Stanley into a corner. Until Stanley calls his lawyer, Harold to the stand and unleashes a whirlwind defense after drawing a chalk circle. A Button. On the rail of the all male witness box. Pulling every trick out of his rapid fire delivery to get Harold to “Push the button!”

An adult comedy that lays bare all the Add ons and Apps that come with marriage. Mortgages, kids, the slow cessation of power to the wife, viciously, deliciously personified in Claire Trevor’s cunning Edna. Opposite a Rogues Gallery of male character actors doing some of their best work. Especially, Alan Hewitt as the D.A. between episodes of My Favorite Martian on CBS. Eddie Mayehoff as hen peck lawyer, Harold. And Jack
Albertson’s kindly, very hip Dr.Bently. But it’s Mr. Lemmon who rules the roost, since all things circle around him. Surrounded by some superb on location photography by Harold Stradling Sr. and William Kieman’s Set Design. Most notable in the courtroom and Stanley’s lush digs. Where the only thing missing is Dave Brubeck’s ‘Take Five’ being played on a constant loop.

The Fortune Cookie (1966)

The first and one of the best team ups with Mr. Lemmon opposite Walter Matthau. Under the assured eye and guidance of Billy Wilder in and around Municipal Stadium in Cleavland, Ohio. In glorious, washed out B&W during the fading, glory days when the city was still hog butcher to the world.

Mr. Lemmon finds himself as sports camera man, Harry Hinkle. Divorced in a marriage that hit rocky shoals. Harry covers a football game between the Browns and the Vikings. Harry is on the sidelines getting some film of Luther ‘Boom Boom’ Jackson as he closes on another player. Harry is hit and is knocked to tumble on his back. The game is stopped as medics put a cervical collar around Harry’s neck and take him off the field on a stretcher. Between the time Harry leaves the stadium in an ambulance and arrives at what is to be St. Vincent’s Charity Hospital, sleazy ambulance chaser and personal damages lawyer par excellence, Willie ‘Whiplash’ Gingrich is called. Ready to make whatever injuries Harry has suffered magnify ten fold. To apply pressure in his search of the mother of all out of court settlements.

Harry has some bruises, but that’s nowhere good enough. Harry soon finds himself in a neck brace and feigning paralysis as Willie prepares to do battle with the stadium, and perhaps later, NFL lawyers. And just as slimy insurance investigator, Chester Purkey. Deftly played by Cliff Osmond. Who sets up camera surveillance across from Harry’s room and wants desperately to plant some microphones. Harry goes along with all this. In hopes of getting his less than congenial wife, Sandi back. The gauntlet is thrown down and a game of wits ensues as Willie more or less scripts Harry’s life. How to behave. What to say. Between bouts for settlement figures and making Purkey look silly.

In the interim, Luther shows up and looks after Harry. As the monetary sword rattling continues and looks to pull Luther into its vortex. The situations become more and more silly as Harry learns that Sandi’s new and sudden affections are based on greed, not genuine. Which gently coaxes Harry over the edge to do the right thing.

Overall Consensus:

An unabashed, though comical look at the lengths some will go to seek a financial boon.Told in terse scenes that average 17 seconds. With the sublime aid of Wilder’s and I.A.L. Diamond’s screenplay. Allowing just enough time for Mr.s Lemmon and Matthau to trade quips and have Matthau come out on top. Even more so for Matthau’s gamesmanship with the stadium’s and higher lawyers. Well worth the effort of seeking out and savoring. For the teaming of two masters. And Matthau’s Best Supporting Actor Oscar winning performance and Joseph LaShelle’s subdued, shabby, Oscar nominated cinematography.

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The Odd Couple (1968)

The second teaming of Mr.s Lemmon and Matthau is far more subtle and somewhat bittersweet. With Mr. Lemmon’s divorced  fastidious, hypochondriac Felix Ungar moving into the with fellow divorcee, uber slob and sports writer, Oscar Madison. What could possibly go wrong: Under the direction of Gene Saks and a screenplay by Neil Simon and his Broadway play…. Everything!

Felix is a neat freak with what would later be called Obsessive Compulsive Behavior. Who worries far too much and to the distraction of Oscar. Who’s fun loving, easy going and lives for sports. Particularly the Mets. And football. The two do not get along, but Felix has plenty to do in upgrading Oscar’s apartment from ‘Pig Sty’ to ‘Livable’. Arguments crop up over Oscar’s cigar smoking to the difference between ‘Spaghetti’, ‘Linguine’ and ‘Garbage’. To whatever indoor sports like pool or bowling, Oscar can best Felix at. Though they oddly call a truce when it comes to their new English neighbors, the Pigeon Sisters. Monica Evans as widower Cecily and Carole Shelley as divorcee, Gwendolyn.

Overall Consensus:

A well rounded, written execution of Simon’s famous, long running Broadway play. That could have had Walter Matthau playing Felix after so many months of playing Oscar. Even though Simon’s sights were set on Mr. Lemmon for the role. With Mr. Lemmon reacting more than acting to Oscar’s harangues and Felix rarely having the last word. It’s fun to watch during the second half of the film as some of Felix’s less annoying attributes seem to rub off on Oscar. And Felix dares to open up around the Pigeon Sisters. Before thinking of his ex wife and bursting into tears.

Progress, of sorts is made. And would be more deeply explored two years later. When ABC would make a long running series of the play and film two years later. With Tony Randall playing Felix and Jack Klugman fitting snugly into the role of Oscar. With occasional visits from the original Pigeon Sisters.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


Thoughs on Mr. Jack Lemmon and these films? Do share ’em in the comments.

Beauty is Forever: Happy Birthday, Mr. Gregory Peck!

The Hollywood icon would’ve turned 96 years old today. Though he has passed away for almost a decade, I do think his legacy lives on. I feel like I’ve been preparing to pay tribute to Mr. Peck for over a month now, but suddenly when the time comes, I find it ever so daunting a task as I feel like there’s so much to say I don’t know where to start!

Most of you who’ve read my Spellbound post knew I fell head over heels for him in that Hitchcock film. It really was like ‘lightning striking‘ when I first beheld the 6’3″ lanky then-29-year-old man with magnificent cheekbones, melancholy eyes, and THAT deep, rich voice that can be as commanding as it is soothing. Anna @ Defiant Success said in her email to me that the “Gregory Peck bug” didn’t bite you. It pretty much ate you alive. Ahahaha, well I can’t refute that. I mean how else would you explain the plethora of Gregory DVDs all over my basement, ordering multiple sheets of Atticus’ Forever Stamps, AND devote a Tumblr all to just to this one man? 😀

But really, can you blame me?

Peck in a promo pic from one of his early theater productions

Few actors possess the kind of charisma, looks and talent that Gregory had. But what makes me respect him more is that he never capitalized on his looks, far from it. After reading his biography by Gary Fishgall, which is such a fascinating read that I kept going back to it repeatedly, I’m struck by such a humble beginning he had, especially his years as a struggling theater actor trying to make it on Broadway. Theater work was really his first love, so much so that when Hollywood beckoned, he wasn’t easily swayed. He even made MGM’s famed producer Louis B. Mayer cry when Peck refused to sign his offer of seven-year contract  — promising the then unknown to be the next Clark Gable — as he wanted to fit in more theater work in between films. He was the first actor of that era who refused to be ‘bought’ by the studio. Clearly he didn’t need such a contract to succeed!

I have even more respect for his intelligence and exemplary work ethic. His preparation for every role was a labor of love, beginning with committing every line to memory, he then ‘assembled the character to the best of [his] ability.’ That dedication shows in every single film he did, and he continually challenged himself with every role in various genres, from drama, thriller to westerns. After reading every available articles on Peck known to man, as well as that biography, it’s clear that he’s a hero on and off screen. All the honors (both acting and humanitarian) and legacy he’s achieved, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Lyndon Johnson. Truly, a beautiful man inside and out.

Just yesterday I read that President Obama will introduce a screening of To Kill a Mockingbird, both at the White House Family Theater and also on the USA network airing on April 7 as part of the 50th Anniversary celebration of that iconic film (per THR). I do think that Atticus Finch — voted by AFI as the greatest hero in American film — is a rare occasion where the actor and the role meets. Just as effortlessly he had fought against anti-semitism in Gentleman’s Agreement, Peck championed for racial equality with such integrity and grace.

“…[Peck] embodied the best in all of us… He gave idealism a good name, made it seem possible in the flawed state of this human condition,” stated this msnbc article titled Gregory Peck, the last noble breed. On the year he died, TIME magazine ran this article citing “…Peck was the sonorous pitchman for movie humanism. He showed how a strong man could also be a gentle man.”

No doubt he earned the respect of not just critics, moviegoers, but also his peers. Liza Minnelli called him “the ultimate movie star.” His co-star in Designing Woman, Lauren Bacall, said it best I think:

“His values and his standards are very high, which is why Bogie respected him so much. You don’t meet many people, much less actors, who have that kind of character.”  (per Films42 tribute post)

His Forever Stamp inauguration was attended by the likes of Sidney Poitier, James Darrin, Morgan Freeman, and hosted by Sharon Stone. It’s Freeman’s story of meeting Peck that made me grin ear to ear, “… he told of sitting in the very same Academy theater, seeing Peck walk up the aisle and jumping from his seat to stop him dead in his tracks as Freeman dropped to knees in front of him and mumbled something about the honor of being in presence of Captain Ahab.” Oh my, would I love to be a fly on the wall at that moment!

What few people know though, that this regal and elegant man has a dry wit and great sense of humor. “He can be funny,” said Peck’s Paradine Case costar Louis Jourdan, “which is fortunate. Otherwise, such perfection would be unbearable.” (per Peck’s Kennedy-Center bio) If you’ve seen Designing Woman, you too would wish he had done more comedic roles. The scene where his ex-girlfriend dumped a plate of ravioli on his lap, his deadpan expression made the scene even more hilarious, especially as he calmly asked the waiter for a pair of pants! “George Burns used to call it the funniest take he ever saw on the screen,” Peck told the msnbc writer.

Need proof? Check out this clip of Peck appearing on the Jack Benny show with the host himself and George Burns!


For his birthday festivities, I invited a few of my friends to participate by sharing their posts on Mr. Peck, be it a tribute or reviews of his films. As you can see below, this ever so versatile acting legend covered pretty much any genre and he’s always convincing in every one of them. That’s why I picked him as one of the Then Best Actor of All Time in this relay race blog-a-thon.

So to those of you who have NOT seen any Gregory Peck movies, you no longer have any excuses not to watch at least one or two. We’ve got all kinds of suggestions out the wazoo here! 😀

To Kill a Mockingbird

Front Room Cinema (includes interview with Mary Badham)

Inspired Ground
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The Guns of Navarone

Paula’s Cinema Club

Duel in the Sun

Cinema Romantico

Musings on Duel in the Sun*..

On The Beach

Defiant Success


On The Beach Mini Review*
Birthday Tributes

It Rains… You Get Wet     |  The Focused Filmographer

I Think Therefore I Review    |   Via Margutta 51

A retrospective on Peck & Hitchcock 

I Luv Cinema


Top Five Favorite Scores from Gregory Peck Films

Peck and Hitchcock on the set of The Paradine Case
Beloved Infidel

Via Margutta 51

………………………
The Boys From Brazil


My Film Views

Roman Holiday

Inspired Ground

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Defiant Success

59 Reasons I Love Roman Holiday*
,,,
Spellbound
../
The Case of Being Spellbound*

Defiant Success



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Yellow Sky

I Think Therefore I Review

The Omen

Top 10 Films
Cape Fear
../
Jack Deth’s Guest review
*

Defiant Success

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Mirage

Ruth’s guest review @ The Focused Filmographer

Note: The one with the * (asterisk) is a FlixChatter post


I think I will forever be a Gregory Peck fan. You know that old saying ‘they don’t make ’em like him anymore‘? Well in the case of this one Hollywood icon, it’s not a cliché at all.


Please join me in celebrating this wonderful man by reading one of the posts listed above. What are your thoughts of Mr. Peck and his work? I’d love to hear ’em in the comments!