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#320. Jack Lemmon

Comedy has many styles. From the wordplay of The Marx Brothers and slapstick of the silent comedians to the “gross-out” approach of modern comedians, very few entertainers have a comedic style quite like Jack Lemmon. If I were to put a label on it, his comedy would be “reactionary.” Life can be so full of ridiculous and hilarious situations that Lemmon’s reactions to them make his comedy relatable to the “everyman.” There are plenty of tools in this reactionary comedy toolbox, not the least of which are the double take, the sudden realization, and the moment of disbelief. Jack Lemmon is a master of all of them and more, mostly due to his incredibly expressive face. Granted, Lemmon has also had many dramatic roles, but most people remember him for his comedy. This week’s two films highlight the comedy of Jack Lemmon.

The ApartmentThe Apartment
Year: 1960
Rating: Approved
Length: 125 minutes / 2.08 hours

Sometimes an actor’s comedy is due to their collaborative work with the director of a film. The Apartment (1960) was only the second film Lemmon did with legendary director, Billy Wilder. By 1960, comedies were Wilder’s bread and butter and both he and Lemmon would go on to collaborate on five more of them. Even their next film after The Apartment, Irma la Douce (1963), brought back Shirley MacLaine since their combined chemistry worked so well in the Best Picture-winning The Apartment. Lemmon earned two Best Actor Oscar nominations for his work with Billy Wilder. He would earn another with Blake Edwards (another comedy director) for his acting in Days of Wine and Roses (1962), even if two more of their collaborations together wouldn’t produce another Oscar nomination.

Bud Baxter (Jack Lemmon) is shrewd when it comes to advancing his career. While he might not have any exemplary skills, he does possess one thing that can give him an edge toward a promotion: an Upper West Side apartment. Because it’s far away from the suburbs and close enough to their work, some of the managers at Bud’s job have been giving him glowing recommendations for the shared use of the apartment to conduct their extra-marital affairs. When Bud’s boss learns of this, he wants in on the action, putting Bud out of his apartment for the night but compensating him for the inconvenience. Unfortunately, Bud’s date for the evening stands him up, which is made all the more surprising when he goes home and finds her unconscious in his apartment. Being the gentleman he is, Bud nurses the woman to health, spurring them both to fall in love with each other, despite the gossip at work.

Some Like it HotSome Like it Hot
Year: 1959
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 120 minutes / 2 hours

A single year after winning the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor for his performance in Mister Roberts (1955), Jack Lemmon received his first Best Actor nomination for Some Like it Hot (1959), which was also his first film under the aforementioned Billy Wilder. Lemmon would not win the Best Actor Oscar until Save the Tiger (1973), at which point in his career he began earning nominations for his dramatic work, including Best Actor nominations for The China Syndrome (1979), Tribute (1980), and Missing (1982). In total, Jack Lemmon won two Oscars with eight nominations. Perhaps in his aging years, the comedy did not come quite as quickly in his younger exuberance. Of course, he used both to his benefit in Grumpy Old Men (1993) and in its sequel, Grumpier Old Men (1995). Still, I feel his best comedic performance came as a cross-dressing jazz musician in Some Like it Hot.

Jerry (Jack Lemmon) and Joe (Tony Curtis) need a gig and a quick ride out of town. Unfortunately, the only open positions in a jazz ensemble they can find are exclusively for women. Not wanting to be associated with the mobsters they used to play music for, the two men disguise themselves as women and head to Miami. While Joe manages to adopt a second disguise to woo their bandmate, Sugar (Marilyn Monroe), Jerry’s female persona earns the unwanted attention of millionaire Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown). As Jerry keeps Osgood occupied so Joe can maintain his disguise as a fake millionaire, this eventually leads to Osgood proposing. Jerry accepts the engagement in the hopes that he can get a lot of money during the divorce when his ruse is revealed. When the mob comes around searching for them, Jerry and Joe need to act fast to escape again. It’s at this moment that Jerry learns it won’t be easy to leave.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 laugh-filled Jack Lemmon roles

Bacon #: 1 (JFK / Kevin Bacon)


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