#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)


#173. Gary Oldman

“You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.”

This quote from Harvey Dent in The Dark Knight (2008) is interesting because it can also be run in reverse. To prove this point are the roles performed by Gary Oldman. While his recent work has been portraying characters who are closer to hero than villain, much of his success started with portraying villains. In the aforementioned Batman film, Oldman takes on the role of James Gordon, which he carried throughout the trilogy. Another character he portrayed was that of Sirius Black from the Harry Potter series. Sirius started out as a villain, but became more of a hero as the films progressed. Of course, when it comes down to it, he really understands the role of the villain and excels in it. This week’s two films highlight some of Gary Oldman’s villains.

The Book of EliThe Book of Eli
Year: 2010
Rating: R
Length: 118 minutes / 1.97 hours

One of the more interesting villain archetypes is that of the man in political power. There’s an amount of protection that covers the villain when he is an elected official or even someone whose job it is to control the justice of an area. Many consider Gary Oldman’s performance in Léon: the Professional (1994) to be one of his most memorable. In the film, he becomes the character of Norman Stansfield, a corrupt DEA agent with a penchant for pills and a love for Ludwig van Beethoven (who Oldman also portrayed in 1994 in the film Immortal Beloved). Because he is an agent of the DEA, Stansfield has many resources at his disposal to ensure he doesn’t get caught in his corruption. However, as was the case in The Book of Eli, Gary Oldman’s villain was eventually thwarted by a lone vigilante who was just trying to maintain the greater good.

The vigilante opposite Oldman’s character of Carnegie in The Book of Eli is none other than the titular Eli (Denzel Washington). Carnegie runs a small town in an apocalyptic wasteland, controlling water and other resources, but really looking to branch out into establishing more settlements under his rule. In order to do this, he is looking for a very specific book, which he believes Eli has in his possession. This book is the Bible, which he believes he can use to control people to do his bidding. After trying to take it by force and failing, Carnegie eventually is able to make a trade for the book by threatening the life of Solara (Mila Kunis), a girl who has befriended Eli. Unfortunately, once Carnegie opens the pages of the Bible, he finds that it is entirely in braille, and his blind mistress cannot read any of it.

Air Force OneAir Force One
Year: 1997
Rating: R
Length: 124 minutes / 2.07 hours

When it comes to the worst villains, those who assassinate the rulers of countries are often at the top of the list. Presidential assassins become instantly infamous, even if they are killed shortly after committing the atrocious act. Aside from John Wilkes Booth, the man who assassinated Abraham Lincoln, the best known Presidential assassin is Lee Harvey Oswald: the man who killed John F. Kennedy. With this role in the 1991 film, JFK, Gary Oldman started on his path of portraying villains, the short list of which includes Count Dracula (Bram Stoker’s Dracula (1992)), Jean-Baptiste Emmanuel Zorg (The Fifth Element (1997)), Dr. Smith (Lost in Space (1998)), and Lord Shen (Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)). Of course, one additional attempt on the President portrayed by Gary Oldman was with Egor Korshunov in Air Force One.

After the collapse of the Soviet Union, many of the former Russian states are in turmoil as despots take over control. One such despot is General Ivan Radek (Jürgen Prochnow), the dictator of Kazakhstan who is taken out by U.S. troops. On his trip home from a diplomatic visit to Moscow, President James Marshall (Harrison Ford) and his family are flying in Air Force One when Egor Korshunov and a group of terrorists sympathetic to General Radek hijack the jumbo jet, demanding he be released. Even though the Secret Service think they have let the President get away in an escape pod, he remains on board, using his former military skills to thwart Egor’s plans and to rescue the hostages held on board. Unfortunately, Egor is shrewd and uses the President’s family to control the Commander-in-Chief. Will everyone survive, or will the terrorists win?

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 great Gary Oldman villains

Bacon #: 1 (Criminal Law / Kevin Bacon)