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.


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


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

Weekend Roundup: The Raid: Redemption and My Week with Marilyn reviews

Happy Tuesday folks, a bit late on the weekend roundup as I just wanted to get my Hunger Games review out of the way. Well, I managed to see four movies last week which to some of you is on the low side but it’s actually more than what I usually have time for. I saw Casablanca on Wednesday (which I still plan to blog about in the near future), a re-watch of Gregory’s second film (and his first Oscar-nominated performance) The Keys to the Kingdom, Hunger Games, and late Sunday night I finished the week with My Week With Marilyn.

This week we also have a special guest review from my Twitter pal Cecilia Rusli who saw the uncensored version of THE RAID (which I mentioned here) at iNAFFF (Indonesia International Fantastic Film Festival), the only genre film festival in South East Asia. She actually got to meet some of the cast, Iko Uwais, Yayan Ruhian, Joe Taslim, Tegar Satrya at the special screening!

So let’s get to the reviews, shall we?

THE RAID: Redemption

I was impressed on the first time I saw the fights between Iko Uwais and Yayan Ruhian in an Indonesian action movie directed by Gareth Evans titled Merantau. It finally put my expectation pretty high on The Raid: Redemption which has the same director and some same casts too. The Raid: Redemption basically is about a group of SWAT which are on a mission on raiding a drug lord on his safe house. They find out that they were trapped there and the only way out is by fighting those dangerous killers and drug lord floor by floor.

I’m personally not impressed by the storyline and it’s the kind of story I will forget in few weeks. However, Ray Sahetapy and Yayan Ruhian, the villains, are having strong characters which made me love them much than the other casts, even Iko Uwais could not beat my impression to their characters. They both managed to look real snob, but hilarious at the same time. I think I’m officially more into the villains of The Raid: Redemption.

The hype is true. The Raid: Redemption offers a  non stop action pack which hardly gives us room to breathe. The thing which I hardly find on the other action movies is the Indonesian martial arts known as Pencak Silat. They do use some guns, knives, and explosions. And I would prefer watching The Expendables if I’m into those things. But The Raid: Redemption managed to actually shows us how to kill people with hands, and only hands. Iko Uwais is brilliant on that point. Again, not only by his character, Yayan Ruhian steal my most attention on the action parts. Yes he looks small if being compared with most fighters on action movies who are tall and having big muscles. But his superb fights on The Raid: Redemption actually made me say “When will this guy be dead?”

Some people might say that The Raid: Redemption is just a video-game like. I personally amused by the violence. Blood and fights between tough guys have never been so much entertaining like this before.
/// 
4 out of 5 reels


Thanks again Cecilia for her wonderful review!


My Week With Marilyn

I don’t usually begin my review with a confession but I feel that I must admit that I have never seen a Marilyn Monroe film before seeing this one. But yet I’ve always been intrigued by her glamorous persona and this film offers a tiny glimpse of what’s life is like for Hollywood’s most iconic movie star.

The ‘my’ in the title belongs to an Englishman named Colin Clark, whose two books are the film’s inspirations. Despite his lack of experience, the 23-year-old Clark’s determination (and family connection) got him a seemingly thankless job as third assistant director in The Prince and the Showgirl’s British production, directed by Lawrence Olivier who also starred in the film. It doesn’t take long before Clark completely fell under Monroe’s spell, as she had such an effect on people. The British Press, the cast and crew and the townsfolk were all in awe of her beauty and movie star image, all except Mr. Olivier, who’s frustrated and infuriated by her work ethic, or lack thereof. Marilyn was constantly late to the set and always insisted on bringing her acting coach Paula Strasberg, though it didn’t seem to help as she constantly flubbed her lines.

Colin summed up the dilema between Monroe and Olivier perfectly… “It’s agony because he’s a great actor who wants to be a film star, and you’re a film star who wants to be a great actress…” 

Despite her beauty and fame, Marilyn had zero self confidence and Olivier’s no-nonsense attitude and blatant discontent only exacerbates her poor morale. At first I thought that Marilyn was such an irritating primadonna, but as the film went on, I felt increasingly sorry for her. When her husband briefly went back to New York, Marilyn turns to the warm and compassionate Colin. Though Marilyn’s name is in the title, Colin is arguably the heart of the film as he took us through a roller-coaster ride of pure euphoria and heartbreak, all in a week’s work.

Michelle Williams is sublime as Marilyn, offering us something more than just plain imitation of the iconic actress’ coquettish sensibilities. Her blond locks and voluptuous figure certainly look the part, but she also captured Marilyn’s emotional vulnerability and her desperate yearning to be accepted and loved. Now I can’t tell you if Kenneth Branagh‘s performance as Olivier is spot-on or not as I’m not acquainted at all with the late actor, but in the context of the film, I think his performance was excellent. Both he and Williams definitely deserve all the accolade, including their Oscar nominations, for their respective roles.

I’m also impressed by Eddie Redmayne as Colin, he’s got that earnest look about him that makes me immediately identify with his character. I noticed him in The Pillars of the Earth before this, but this is definitely a much more memorable turn from him and certainly don’t mind seeing more from this actor. It’s also nice to see Judi Dench, a welcome presence in any film, and her Dame Sybil is wonderfully sympathetic. The rest of the supporting cast including Emma Watson, Dominic Cooper, Julia Ormond and Dougray Scott as Arthur Miller also turn in a pretty decent performance.

The film doesn’t offer much depth into what caused Marilyn’s insecurities and even her marital troubles with Arthur Miller wasn’t adequately explored, hence it felt a bit superficial at times. I wonder at times if this story would’ve worked better as a miniseries instead. In any case, I did enjoy it for what it was and director Simon Curtis did a marvelous job capturing the mood of 1950s England, especially the stunning wardrobe. The music is also wonderful, I was especially dazzled by Nat King Cole singing Autumn Leaves as Marilyn and Colin enjoyed a blissful day visiting the Windsor Castle which ended with the two skinny dipping together.

It’s a worthy glimpse into the life of a movie star… and it certainly made me glad that I’m just a regular gal.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels


What did you watch this weekend? If you’ve seen either one of these films, I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.