Classic Actor Spotlight: Jack Lemmon Part III… Defining Himself

Greetings once again, all and sundry. It has been my distinct pleasure to proffer two heaping helpings of the life, times and career of one of the true greats of the actors’ craft. Trying my best to keep each segment in chronological order to highlight changes and improvements in delivery and venue. Due to unexpected, though much appreciated feedback. I am going to have to warm up the Halden Collider~Way Back Machine in my basement and cheat a bit, though not much. I’m pretty sure you will be pleased with the end result. That said, allow me to introduce …

Jack Lemmon: Defining Himself


Well on his way to being a recognized name in both Comedy and Drama. It seemed that Mr. Lemmon needed a bit of well earned vacation and down time. And what better way to fill that time, than to sign onto another Blake Edwards project that latched onto the wave of boffo box office generated by Ken Annakin’s laugh out loud romp, Those Magnificent Men in their Flying Machines… With a few obvious and better changes, of course.

The Great Race (1965)

It’s the turn of the 20th century and those odd looking, smoking, choking ‘Horseless Carriages’ are starting to be seen more and more and appear to be catching on in popularity. Enter, The Great Leslie. Entrepreneur and often times daredevil in the vein of Harry Houdini, barnstormer Charles Lindbergh and wing walker Ormer Locklear. Played heroically to a fault and always in spotless white attire and sparkling eyes  by Tony Curtis. Who proposes an automobile race from New York westward, to Paris. Basically, to promote his own prototype, The Leslie Special. Lovingly tended to by engineer and sidekick, Hezekiah Sturdy. Deftly brought to life by always reliable, Keenan Wynn.

Now, anyone so handsome, gallant, clever and heroic NEEDS a villain of equal or greater reputation and stature. And Mr. Lemmon fills that bill with room to spare as Professor Fate. Sneeringly eloquent and often elegant in black greatcoat, suit and nearly always present stove pipe hat. The Professor has his own skin in the game with the ‘Hannibal Twin-8’. Complete with smoke generators, a huge boring drill bit and 3 pound cannon.
Contestants come from far and wide and are whittled down to six. One of note is Maggie DuBois. The beautiful reporter for the New York Sentinel assigned to cover the astonishing event. Delightfully played by Natalie Wood as an emancipated woman long before the sexual revolution. Drawing the attention of both Leslie and Fate during a soiree the evening before the flag drops. Though the principals may be otherwise involved. Night time is the right time for Skullduggery and sabotage. When Fate’s stalwart sidekick and henchman, Maximilian Meen; wondrously mastered by Peter Falk. Applies his trade craft to the three of the cars, one being Fate’s.

The drivers, associates and their machines line up the next morning and the flag is waved. Leslie takes the lead with Fate not far behind as two machines crash through store fronts and assorted street and roadside obstacles. Leaving Leslie, Fate and Miss DuBois in the running. Until her car breaks down and she rides with Leslie and Heekiah. Through the Wild West, encounters with a gunslinger (Larry Storch) and an overblown barroom brawl, courtesy of singer, Lily Olay (Dorothy Provine).

Things only get funnier as the Bering Strait as true love wings its way during a snowstorm and fate kidnaps Miss DuBois. Only to have things kick into high gear when Fate and company arrive in Potsdorf. A small Duchy in the midst of a quiet coup, whose Crown Prince Frederick is under arrest and who also bears an uncanny resemblance to Professor Fate. I’ll let you connect the dots from there as the Duchy is left in a shambles and the racers head towards Paris and the Eiffel Tower…

Overall Consensus:

Though not mentioned as prominently as in earlier critiques. Mr Lemmon and his wily Professor Fate brings all four corners of this tale together quite nicely and delivers it wrapped in a bow. Reacting in ways clever, deft, though not completely thought out or tested. Creating a character who is one third Robert Walker’s Bruno Anthony from Strangers on a Train. One third Wile E. Coyote, Super Genius and one third Snidley Whiplash from the old Bill Scott Dudley Do-Right cartoons of the 1960s. Gleefully popping a child’s balloon one moment. Only to have his rubbery face scrunch up in evil schemes the next. His impersonation of the foppish and just a tad effeminate Crown Prince Frederick at the receiving line of an overly elegant ball is not to be missed! As the fawning crowd responds to upwardly raised hands to laugh. Then stop as they are chopped downward. Very shades of Ernie Kovacs and his dandy creation, Percy Dovetonsils.

In one splendid segment of what was to be one of the last great Hollywood slapstick comedy blockbusters. With many stops pulled out. Including an over the top pie fight between Fate, his handlers. Cooks, chefs, bakers, Miss DuBois, Hezekiah, Maximilian Meen and Leslie, who stays immaculately clean until the last moment.

Nicely rounded out with Oscar-nominated music by Henry Mancini. Between quick sight gags, prat falls and delightfully drawn out attempts at revenge that often blow up in Fate and Max’s faces. Very high kudos to cinematographer, Russell Harlan and editor, Ralph Winters. Who understood what TechniColor was all about and uses its advantages wisely. Also production design and art direction by Fernando Carrere. Set decoration by George James Hopkins and costume deign by Don Feld. For taking the audience on a stylized trip across the world. Without leaving the Warner Brothers Studios.

Which brings us to…

The Out of Towners (1970)

As mentioned briefly in an earlier comment, no one does exasperation as believably as Mr. Lemmon. And in this film the topic is given every opportunity to be toyed with, teased, stretched and pulled in all directions like Silly Putty. On what should have been an overnight vacation and second honeymoon in The Big Apple. With Reservations at the Waldorf Astoria. Dinner, dancing and a 9 a.m. interview for Mr. Lemmon’s  George Kellerman. Up and coming VP of a precision plastic machines in Ohio. Whose sister company is looking for someone like Kellerman to fill a lateral slot.

A journey that begins under sunny cloudless skies as George and his wide Gwen, magnificently underplayed by Sandy Dennis pack up the station wagon and make their flight with time to spare. Once airborne, George’s doubts seem to rise to the fore. Fixated on time and their evening reservations at The Four Seasons as the Boeing 737 buffets ahead of bad weather. A delay is announced from the flight deck and George and Gwen start to regret passing on their in flight meal. The weather doesn’t improve and the flight is diverted to Boston’s Logan Airport instead of JFK.

George is frazzled, though Gwen is upbeat. Until she discovers that their luggage is missing. Which sends them off to report the loss to Billy Dee Williams in the Lost & Found. Then off to find a cab to take them to the train station and then to Grand Central in NY. The ride leaves five minutes to spare. Three of which are wasted over 20 dollars (The only bill he has since his and Gwen’s NY money is in the lost luggage) for a 5 dollar can ride.

The train ride is one from Hell. Cramped, crowded, with no place to sit. And arrives in mid rainstorm over Manhattan. Leaving Gwen and George stuck in the rain amidst a sanitation strike. Near broke and following faulty directions the wrong way as one of Gwen’s heels breaks. Leaving them ripe to be robbed by a friendly man with an umbrella. At wits end, they walk to the local precinct and report their robbery to a desk sergeant (Dolph Sweet) who arranges for a unit to take the Kellermans to the local Armory to sleep for the night. En route, the unit responds to another robbery. George and Gwen are told to sit tight while the cops pursue, are eluded and the thieves hijack the police unit. Dropped in unfamiliar territory, they make their way to Central Park as the rain abates and George cracks a crown. Tired, hungry and fed up to here with the ill hospitality of The Big Apple. They fall asleep under a tree. Only to have Gwen surrender George’s watch to a caped mugger.

The morning comes bright and sunny. As shoeless George searches for Gwen who has found a half empty box of Cracker Jacks for breakfast. Only to lose it to an large, errant Dalmatian. Leaving them time for George to get caught up on current events in about as loud and long argument the two could have while sharing the remains. Before trying to get to the Astoria. En route, they are kicked out of a church. Gwen breaks her other heel. George tries to retrieve it in mid intersection and finally loses it. Screaming at the top of his lungs as pressured neuroses slowly brought to a seething boil throughout leaving Boston and Grand Central Station finally kicks loose internal relief valves. Professing loudly  that the city will never wear them down! Pausing briefly as he smells something strange and steps away from a manhole cover seconds before it blows. Shooting skyward and landing inches away….

Overall Consensus:

As with any Neil Simon play, the magic is in the dialogue. Sometimes overalpping. Often repeated with a slight change of inflection. Yet always clever and fresh. And this film is positively awash in dialogue and telling facial expressions from Mr. Lemmon and Ms. Dennis. As they put up with fate’s or God’s progressively worse ‘sickening factors’ of rain, darkness, piled garbage, stolen wallets and broken heels. And people on the opposite sides of desks or counters who have better things to do. In other words. Just another day or night in Manhattan. Whose names and badge numbers wind up scrawled on a crumpled scrap of paper. George’s growing ‘Who to Sue’ list.

Kudos to Mr. Lemmon for having the bravery to completely and concisely illustrate the ‘Slow Burn’ of running up against a deck of cards stacked so solidly against his meticulously detailed schedule of getting things done. Obstructed so nonchalantly by a city that has other ideas. Wondrously, yet creepily highlighted by locations so dark and foreign looking without landmarks, that you feel the plight of the principals. Equally high marks go to Ms. Dennis’ Gwen. Who lovingly holds her own. While somehow always seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.

Cinematography by Andrew Laszlo is exceptional. Especially at night. As is an early Quincy Jones’ soundtrack and the ever so brief appearances of secondary characters. Who add to the film’s wickedly dark comedy under Arthur Hiller’s less than subtle touch.

Save The Tiger (1973)

This is the film where Mr. Lemmon comes into his own as a legitimate and recognizable dramatic actor. Giving less than perfect life to Harry Stoner. An executive of an L.A. apparel company that’s come upon rocky, less than prosperous times. Whose recent trip to France to flog spring fashion brings back waves of guilt. For surviving a war begun on Omaha Beach on D-Day. Only to see its snow white sandy beach be the playground for the young, lithe bikinied bottoms and bare chests of those who could care less. Harry’s speech to introduce his company’s lines goes over less than well. Stopping in mid rambling sentence. As a belated mid life crisis stares Harry in the face. And Harry blinks.

Shuttling back to L.A., Harry picks up Myra. A hitch hiking twenty year old free spirit. Played with equal parts curiosity, naivete and ebullience by Laurie Heineman. Who becomes a companion and willing sounding board for Harry as he waxes nostalgic for the long forgotten days and treasured memories of his youth. The post coital scene where Harry and Myra compare cultural, musical, political and sports icons of their times is both melancholy and sweet. Well worth the price of admission or effort to seek out.

Refreshed, if not invigorated, Harry returns to the office and discovers that the company’s financial picture is far less healthy than he had first imagined. Money is owed. Loans are overdue. Designers are squabbling. Sewers and seamstresses aren’t happy with the quality of material. A simple solution would be to torch a company warehouse and collect on its insurance. Though after the idea is broached to a local arsonist. Due diligence is performed and the warehouse is found to be so far below code and standards that several thousand would have to be spent to disguise arson in the first place.

Discussions with Harry’s business partner, Phil Green. Wondrously underplayed by Jack Gilford only buy some time as Harry sees everything he’s been, done and worked for and held dear slip through his fingers. Wanting nothing more than another season….

Overall Consensus:

In what should have been a just over an hour and a half very low budgeted personal project for Mr. Lemmon. A near unknown classic evolved. Through initial viewing and then through word of mouth. Working from a first effort, solid story and screenplay by Steve Shagan. With John G. Avildsen’s deft direction and a prototype film system developed by Fouad Said (‘I Spy’). Cinematography by James Crabe is sharp and uncompromising. Creating a film that is a model of straightforward simplicity and economy of story telling. Aided by a soundtrack composed by a just being recognized Marvin Hamlisch.

Is there action in this film? No. Though there is great power in the spoken words, expressions and body language of a man pushed to his limits. While dealing with changing times, morals, attitude and culture. Well worthy of the Best Actor Oscar win for Mr. Lemmon and a Supporting Actor Nomination for Jack Gilford.

Missing (1982)

Though not a huge fan of Costa~Gavras. Sometimes he gets it right, as with ‘Z’, which was very of its time, external and seething with suspense. And with ‘Missing’. Which is the inverted. Post action packed coup. Pick up the pieces story of a father, Ed Horman. A conservative businessman. Marvelously played to tamped down perfection by Mr. Lemmon. Who fights a near vertical uphill battle with the U.S. State Department and Augusto Pinochet’s newly installed, corrupt fascist government in 1973. Aided by daughter in law, Beth, stoically delivered by Sissy Spacek. The two ask questions very few want to answer between sporadic gunfire and the all too familiar sound of Bell Huey and Jet Ranger helicopters.

Told with occasional flashbacks. We discover that missing son and husband Charlie Horman is a wide eyed naif whose political leanings are just slightly to the right of a 70s stoner hippie, minus the drugs. With dreams of writing either children’s books or the great American novel. Who asks too many questions of people he should have no business knowing. Taking too many notes while being seen by too many people. Making entirely too much noise in a country that is suddenly crawling with too many young Chilean soldiers given the power of life and death. Equipped with U.S. rifles, jeeps and other sinews of war. Charlie is played to ridiculous, near embarrassing perfection by John Shea.

Even with his dumb as a sack of hammers naivete. And stout belief that being an American citizen will get him out of any sticky or surreal situation. There is something noble about Charlie’s quest. Not really following leads, but doing the grunt and groundwork by accident that no US journalist would be able to touch. Even as he is slowly, unwittingly signing his own Death Warrant.

Worthy enough to send his father to his N.Y Senator who knows less than nothing and is quite lame at obfuscating and spouting non-answer answers. Dissatisfied, Ed flies down to Chile. Meets his daughter-in-law, Beth at the airport. And together are given the full press run around from many of the same people Charlie had met and asked questions of only weeks earlier.

Mr. Lemmon’s Ed Horman delivers in many subtle ways. Using all of the tools acquired years earlier. His posture, initially ram rod straight. His words, succinct and sometimes hurtful towards Beth. Who fires back with equal fervor as tiny streams of light, often as slow as molasses begin revealing a trail to dark places neither one really wants to go. Keeping fears under wraps. Never raising his voice as he sits opposite the Chilean liaison and tells him that he will initial, sign or authorize any and all paperwork if he can just see his son.

The absolute high point of the film and pinnacle of Mr. Lemmon’s vast talents. As his body and face seem to deflate while shoulders droop and body sags and shrinks inside its suit seconds before tears threaten to flow, but are stanched. To no real avail…

Overall Concensus:

Mr. Lemmon at the then top of his game delivering much more than required. In a role that would lure other actors into chewing all kinds of angry scenery. The principal projects inwardly in a tightly woven world of surreal external grotesques. Reacting jumpily at first to sporadic gunfire as a  reminder of how dangerous the land is. To almost ignoring or shrugging it off as his journey continues. Never losing hope. Even while trying to find his son’s body amongst hundreds awaiting autopsy. Until a final sit down with another journalist who obliquely lays events bare.

It is then that the old Ed returns. Rigid, robust, knowing just enough and speaking just a bit too loudly as he applies leverage to those who prefer staying in the shadows. Aided along his journey by a notable swath of then unknown, but soon to be known talent. Most notably, Joe Regalbuto and Keith Szarabajka as fellow writers Frank Teruggi and David Holloway.

High marks to Ricardo Aronovich’s cinematography. Also Peter Jamison’s production design in getting parts of Acapulco and its Federal Districts to fill in so believably for parts of Chile in upheaval. Notable for Oscar nominations for its Best Actor, Actress and Film. Not for the faint of heart, but definitely worthy of seeking out.

Glengarry Glen Ross (1992)

This is the film most people remember and associate Mr. Lemmon with. And rightly so. Not as the lead player, but being a major part of a superb, A List cast. In a brilliant, yet gritty adaptation of David Mamet’s long running, cross country stage play about less than reputable real estate salesmen faced with a tightening economy. Less than stellar clients and poor prospects that must be sold before the much more lucrative, desirable and coveted Glengarry properties can be touched.

Delivered by sarcastic and evilly grinning Blake. Sent by the unseen, all powerful ‘Mitch & Murray’. Malevolently brought to Satanic llife by perfectly coiffed and adorned Alec Baldwin. Brought in a dark and stormy night’s pep talk. Focusing on the branch’s poor numbers with visual aids both standard and exotic. Offset by scathing dialogue that angers more than helps, before revealing the bundled, treasured Glengarry index cards of potential clients. That are to be locked up in Manager, John Williamson’s office vault until the present dross can be closed upon. In two days. Or people will be fired!

Not the most stirring motivational speech for four salesmen who have been around the block more than a few times. Led by the too smooth for his own good, top salesman Ricky Roma. Seamlessly fleshed out by rarely better Al Pacino. Who learned most of what he knows from the branch’s wise old man, Shelley Levene. Salesman, par excellence, who is starting to drop a stitch here and there and hasn’t closed a deal lately. Played with a hint of growing desperation and an ancient bag of tricks by Mr. Lemmon as hospital bills for his daughter continue to pile up.

With Ed Harris as slow and reliably steady, though loud mouthed Dave Moss. Who lives for the sale, but has a hard time closing. And Alan Arkin as quiet follower George Aaronow, who sometimes thinks he should be in another business. All overseen by the bespectacled and somewhat fastidious, milquetoast John Williamson. Marvelously underplayed by Kevin Spacey. Who understands that his neck could be out there as well.

Once the gauntlet has been thrown down. Shelley tries his best to cajole, con, threaten and bribe John out of some of the Glengarry leads. While Dave floats the idea of stealing them to George.To either use or sell to a competitor. As Ricky grudgingly dives in to re-work over plowed soil and possibly sift out a few new clients. Each finds a task and make far too many phone calls, cold calls and introductory offers. Watching Mr. Lemmon work the phones from a cold start. Then lying through his teeth to play on the potential client’s insecurity and greed would put many confidence men to shame. And is worth the price or effort of seeking out as same day appointments are made and the chance to close draws nearer.

Shelley focuses on a couple, the Nyborgs. Closes a questionable deal and arrives at the office full of bluster. Only to find that John’s office has been vandalized and is crowded with cops. Ricky is upset that his client, James Linkg (Jonathan Pryce) has gotten cold feet and wants his uncashed retainer check back. And dave and George are awaiting being questioned. Undaunted, Shelly regales Ricky with the thrill of the sale and closing. Only to have things turn ugly when John steps from his office and is caught in a crossfire of verbal abuse. First by Ricky. Then by Shelley. Who lets slip one tiny, revealing mistake about Lingk’s check that John latches onto. After telling Shelley that the Nyborgs are bankrupt and delusional and the deal has fallen through. Crushed, Shelley asks “Why?” Only to have Williamson reply coldly. “Because I don’t like you.” As the cops and detectives wait to talk to Shelley…

Overall Concensus:

A proven and superb cast in a near flawless film. Written by one of the masters of moody, often profane and sometimes melancholy dialogue. Where words define much more quickly and fully than a tailored suit, cheap watch or aged, washed out, rumpled trench coat. Spoken by men who are in involved in the cut throat world of sales and commissions. Knowing that their potential client is going to be stand offish at first. Until a flaw is revealed that can be exploited and worked on. And ‘Opportunity’ is sold in ways that may be immoral, but not illegal.

In this arena, Mr. Lemmon’s Shelley Levene reigns supreme. Coaxing and cajoling one moment. Then gently applying pressure to innate greed and later, pride in that soothing voice of his. To get names on papers to pieces of land unseen by either the seller or the buyer. Is there remorse afterwards? Possibly, but it is never revealed in the office.


Check out the first two parts of the Jack Lemmon series:
PART I and PART II



Well, what do you think on the third and final post on the Jack Lemmon series? Do share your thoughts about the actor and/or these films in the comments.

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.


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Classic Actor Spotlight: Jack Lemmon – Timing is Everything

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Greetings, all and sundry! Allow me a few moments of your time to wax nostalgic, elucidate and point out some of the finer performances of an everyman character actor who achieved Stardom the old fashioned way. By working his way up through stage roles. To small, bit parts in television and onto the silver screen. Where he stayed comfortably ensconced for decades. Yet, making and taking the time to keep his talents fresh in the theater.

Allow me to introduce, or re-introduce you to:

Jack Lemmon: Timing is Everything

Though Mr. Lemmon first caught my eye as a Documentary film maker opposite Judy Holliday and Peter Lawford in George Cukor’s It Should Happen to You. Where the first inklings of his comedic timing and delivery began to peek out for all to see. it was Mr. Lemmon’s role as Ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver in.

Mister Roberts (1955)

That really grabbed my attention. To be working with three proven heavyweights in Henry Fonda, William Powell and Jimmy Cagney. With John Ford at the wheel. And a very little changed Broadway stage screenplay by Joshua Logan and Frank J. Nugent. The film is tight. lean and sometimes spartan. Made for the stage. Describing the boring, mundane life aboard a aged. slow, stuck in the rear, away from harm’s way cargo ship stuck in the South Pacific of WW II, the USS Reluctant. “A floating delivery girl. Transporting its cargo from Tedium to Apathy and back again.”

With Mr. Cagney as the ship’s Captain, Lt. Commander Morton and Mr. Fonda’s Lieutenant Douglas Roberts as the ship’s XO and Cargo Officer. Who wants desperately to get into the war and shares a berth William Powell’s wise and cautiously calm, ‘Doc’ and Mr. Lemmon’s constantly scheming, yet overwhelmingly scared of the Captain, Ensign Pulver easily holding his own. While also managing to steal several key scenes. Especially when Pulver stutters an answer to Cagney’s Captain Morton asking how long Pulver has been aboard his ship. Rumor has it that Cagney and Lemmon had to rehearse the scene until it wasn’t funny and Cagney wouldn’t laugh. Though Pulver’s final confrontation after Mail Call with the Captain takes the cake. In a very early funny, frightened, yet humane role that earned Mr. Lemmon and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Keeping Mr. Lemmon well in the comedic vein for.

Overall Consensus:

John Ford must have seen something in Mr. Lemmon’s abilities to attach him to the brilliant adaptation of a popular stage play. That was written by Josh Logan with Henry Fonda being the only choice for the lead role. Which gives the film a comfortable and relaxed feel. Smooth, though not quite serene with Fonda’s Mister Roberts wanting to get into the war. Needing the Captain’s signature on any of many transfer requests. While Mr. Lemmon’s offers superbly timed comic relief between William Powell’s wise and sage ‘Doc’ and Fonda’s Mister Roberts. As a perpetual kid with big dreams of getting at the Captain. Though constantly hamstrung by fear of retribution. It isn’t until the final five minutes of the film that Mr. Lemmon’s Ensign Pulver finally grows up, becomes a man and confronts the Captain.

Well worth Mr. Lemmon’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Giving the young talent time to practice and hone his skills for.

Operation Mad Ball (1957)

With Mr. Lemmon as a supply clerk in a hospital unit in Europe after the war has wound down. Unfortunately, the unit has a stickler for Army regulations in charge. Catcher’s mitt faced Ernie Kovacs as Captain Paul Locke. Who catches Mr. Lemmon’s Pvt.Hogan while on Guard Duty trying to make time (Fraternizing) with a nurse, Lt. Betty Bixby. Flirtatiously played by up and comer, Kathryn Grant. Explanations don’t assuage Capt. Lock. Who confines Hogans to his barracks pending a Court Martial.

Which puts a huge dent in Hogan’s plan for a wild ball and going away party for the reassigned Company Commander, Colonel Rousch. Endearingly played by fatherly Arthur O’Connell. Undaunted, Pvt. Hogan makes calls and deals with the black market, NCOs who run the Officers and NCO Clubs, musicians, procurers, purveyors and petty thieves as a location is staked out and divergent parts start coming together. Hustlers like Hogan connect and bring in Mickey Rooney as Master Sergeant Yancy Skibo (Pronounced ‘Skeee-bo!’). The darker, more lecherous, Southern Good Ol’ Boy side of a rhyming Andy Hardy. Who, with his cousin, Corporal Bohun. Well played by Dick York ages before ABC’s Bewitched. Go out of their way to feed Captain Locke faulty Intel on the upcoming events. Leaving more time for Pvt. Hogan to connect the dots while reintroducing himself to Lt. Bixby.

All the parts come together as Captain Locke is sent on a wild goose chase and Colonel Rousch is unwittingly, though gently kidnapped and brought to the secluded Mad Ball.

Overall Consensus:

Having been around the world in Active and Reserve uniform for decades. I have a soft spot for Service comedies and dramas. And Operation Mad Ball has the right look and feel of Tent City, just post-war Europe, even though it was shot on the back lots and sets of Universal Studios. Thanks to the Art and Set Direction of Robert Boyle and William Calvert under Richard Quine’s deft touch. Leaving plenty of time for Mr. Lemmon to work his near manic magic and almost letting the audience see the gears turn behind his eyes as the game changes from moment to moment. In a role that earned Mr. Lemmon top billing and a juicy, kind of oily role for Ernie Kovacs and a mixed bag of eager young and old solid talent.

Which brings us to…

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

As part of a stellar ensemble cast including James Stewart, Kim Novak, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester and once again under Richard Quine’s direction. In what is once again an adapted stage play moved to New York’s Greenwich Village during the Christmas season. Where modern day witch Gillian Holroyd. Beguilingly played by Kim Novak wants to break up with her fiance and get to know her neighbor, Shepherd Henderson. Well brought to life by Jimmy Stewart. While Mr. Lemmon cooly entertains and runs interference as Gillian’s warlock brother, Nicky. Who advises Gillian not to fall in love or she will lose her witching powers. When not startling passers by making a block of street light wink out and back on with a snap of his fingers.

Love takes the upper hand, of course. With the aid of Gillian’s familiar. A lovely Point Berman cat named Pyawacket. The spell is cast, almost needlessly. Sending Gillian and Nicky and occult writer, Ernie Kovacs seeking aid from Gillian’s aunt, Queenie. Sublimely brought to life by Elsa Lanchester. While Shep finds coven leader, Bianca de Passe, wondrous Hermione Gingold, for ways to break the curse. I’ll leave it right there and leave the door ajar. For a superior, smart, well written and executed comedy that shows love conquers all. And spawned the popular television series, Bewitched in
the 1960s.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Lemmon seems to be a cozy fit in another film adapted from a popular stage play. Well versed in the rhythms and sways of what the theater and later film could get to in the Greenwich Village world of coffee houses. Four and five piece post war jazz, poetry and Be-Bop. The cast and settings are definitely not Bohemian. Much more upscale and romantic.

Just the right, quirky environment for witches and warlocks living not quite in the shadows. Mr. Lemmon’s role is not big, but it is essential and the actor admirably makes the most of each scene. Building credentials and credibility for his next major step.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Who else, but Billy Wilder could take a fifteen minute Vaudeville Drag skit. Let out a seam here and tuck a few in there and turn it into iconic, character driven comedy? Taking a sleepless three thirty in the morning idea and fleshing it out well with a soupcon of Roaring Twenties Chicago. Rival crime gangs. Cops. Detectives. Bootleggers, speak easiest. Then filling those arenas with a Who’s Who of stalwart, A-List talent. Including George Raft, Pat O’ Brien, Nehemiah Persoff, and Mike Mazurki. Along with and two jazz musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Mr. Lemmon); who can’t seem to catch a break. Trudging through the raw wind and snow of a wicked Chicago winter from agency to agency to get a gig.

One is gotten and is raided by the cops. Leaving Joe and Jerry on the run and looking for a place to lay up while their car is being gassed up in a warm garage. Only to hide when they recognize a local thug, ‘Toothpick’ Charlie in a shadowy card game. When what looks like a police sedan rolls in and a group of what look like uniformed cops shake the card players down and line them up against the wall for what has to be a sanitized version of The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Unfortunately, the gas nozzle slips from Joe’s car. The gangsters turn and looks are exchanged. Joe and Jerry are now eyewitnesses to the killing and they run for their lives amidst a hail of gunfire. Back to the booking agency, which happens to know an all girl jazz waiting at Union station. That is need of a Saxophonist (Joe) and a stand up bass player (Jerry) for their month long run through Florida. Backing up lead singer and Ukelele player, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. Stunningly and ditzi-ly played by Marilyn Monroe.

All stirred into a shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of working film. But it does! Magnificently. Especially when Tony Curtis channels his best Cary Grant as a playboy pursuing Sugar. And myopic Joe E. Brown’s Osgood falls for Mr. Lemmon’s Daphne. Their Tango is not to be missed. Nor, is their final scene! Garnering Mr. Lemmon an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor amongst many. Though the film’s only Oscar was for Best Costume Design.

Overall Consensus:

Give credit where credit is due to Billy Wilder sticking with his and I. A. L. Diamond’s idea and screenplay adapted from the 1935 French comedy, Fanfare d’Amour when many doors were slammed in his face. Though, through persistence MGM finally expressed and interest and fronted Mr. Wilder close to a carte blanche budget to give life to this classic, though not quite screwball comedy.

Dues are also given to Mr. Lemmon and Tony Curtis for succeeding in a selection process that included Anthony Perkins and Jerry Lewis, amongst others. In roles that could either make or break their careers. Not as women, but as men imitating women. In this arena, both Mr. Lemmon and Curtis shine, but Mr. Lemmon, even more so. Once the principals were locked in, filling out the rest of the cast must have been a dream. And the talent shows all the way around.

Which brings us to…

The Apartment (1960)

Yea, though I have written about this film on several occasions. This is where Mr. Lemmon starts showing a flair for drama. Playing an office drone in a massive New York insurance company. A passive, cubicle bound Dilbert without a cubicle. One of countless, near faceless number crunchers. With a desk, hand crank adding machine, notepads and an endless supply of pens and pencils. Though Mr. Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter has an in. His apartment is close to the office headquarters that he allows four different office managers to use for extramarital activities.

Four soon becomes five when a new manager, Fred Mac Murray’s ‘Superb Louse‘, Jeff Shelldrake is assigned to Baxter’s section. Offering tokens, trinkets and Talismans to Baxter, to be cut in on the deal. Mr. Lemmon’s Baxter concedes and advances up the ladder. Smitten by elevator girl, Fran Kubilek. A subtle, light hearted love story starts to evolve and Mr. Lemmon’s humanity starts to shine. Topped off when the Holidays come around. When secrets and near tragedy rear their ugly heads.

Overall Consensus:

It’s a treat to watch the consummate Funny Man being given free rein to be as silly as he wishes in so many memorable scenes. Yet, take his first experimental plucks and strums at the dramatic. Letting his face and eyes grasp the thoughts and emotions that his words haven’t quite mastered yet. Especially with his first dinner with Shirley MacLaine’s fragile Fran Kubilek and the impromptu use of a tennis racquet to strain pasta. Then turning the coin when returning to his apartment with a quickly picked up, post company Christmas Party date. Only to discover Miss Kublilek has found his sleeping pills. Then, setting the crowning touch by finally and succinctly confronting Mr. Shelldrake.

Well-worthy of its Academy Awards nominations for Mr. Lemmon and Ms. MacLaine for Best Actor and Actress. And wins for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Editing and Best Art Direction. Which may have laid the groundwork for Mr. Wilder remembering Mr. Lemmon and acquiring his service in later projects that will be covered in the next installment.


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What do you think of Jack Lemmon and what’s your favorite movie(s) from his illustrious career? Do share ’em in the comments.