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The Jack Lemmon Bio

The Jack Lemmon Review –

by Nate Lee

Best Films:

Some Like it Hot / The Apartment / The Odd Couple

There may be more "best films" to choose from, or argue about, with Jack Lemmon than virtually any other actor. First, you have to acknowledge that there is no doubt that the comedies are clearly his best films. Then, it's not hard to see that there is a transcendent quality to the body of work that Lemmon did with, well, yes, Walter Matthau, but more than that is the work with director and writer Billy Wilder. The two seemed to convey the same world view as well as comic style. "Hot" is one of the best films of all time, as is "The Apartment," and both owe their success to Lemmon.
Great Performances You May Not Have Seen:
Bell Book and Candle (early Lemmon, as Kim Novak's warlock brother)
How to Murder Your Wife (a confirmed bachelor who suddenly finds himself married)
The April Fools (caught between boss Peter Lawford and his wife Catherine Deneuve)
Tribute (Oscar nominated performance as a dying Broadway press agent)
Dad (dying father of Ted Danson)
My Fellow Americans (with James Garner, an ex-President running for his life)
Tuesdays with Morrie (title mentor of sportswriter Hank Azaria)
Grumpy Old Men (one of the funniest pairings with Walter Matthau, as rivals for Ann-Margaret's affections)
Other Classics:
Mister Roberts (Ensign Pulver, the clever schemer working around and through the Army's bureaucracy)
It Should Happen To You (the boyfriend of Judy Holliday who becomes famous for being famous)
The Great Race (the evil Professor Fate, racing against the Great Leslie, Tony Curtis)
Under the Yum Yum Tree (very '60s apartment living as a landlord trying to seduce Carol Lynley, living with her boyfriend)
The Neil Simon Lemmon:
The Out-of-Towners (Golden Globe-nominated performance as a visitor going through hell in NYC with Sandy Dennis)
The Odd Couple (Golden Globe-nominated performance as fastidious Felix to Walter Matthau's slovenly Oscar)
The Odd Couple II (back with Walter, attending the wedding of their children)
The Prisoner of Second Avenue (with Anne Bancroft, an adman out of a job)
The Billy Wilder Lemmon:
The Apartment (Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning performance as a guy who lends his apartment out to his bosses for their illicit rendezvous in order to move up the corporate ladder, opposite Shirley MacLaine)
Some Like it Hot (Oscar-nominated and Golden Globe-winning performance as a musician in drag on the run from the mob, with Tony Curtis and Marilyn Monroe)
The Front Page (Golden Globe-nominated performance as ace reporter Hildy Johnson in the Hecht/MacArthur 1928 masterpiece, with Walter Matthau)
Avanti! (Golden Globe-winning performance as a tycoon who goes to Italy to collect his father's remains but falls in love with Juliet Mills)
The Fortune Cookie (a cameraman injured by a player in a football game, with Walter Matthau)
Irma La Douce (Golden Globe-nominated performance as a policeman turned pimp to be near Shirley MacLaine as Irma, the prostitute of Paris)
Buddy Buddy (suicidal guy bothering hit man Matthau)
The Serious Lemmon:
Save the Tiger (Oscar-winning and Golden Globe-nominated performance as a crooked garment manufacturer)
Days of Wine and Roses (Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated performance as an alcoholic adman, with Lee Remick)
The China Syndrome (Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated performance as a nuclear engineer and whistleblower)
Glengarry Glen Ross (over-the-hill real-estate hustler)
Missing (Oscar and Golden Globe-nominated performance as a father searching for his missing son, with Sissy Spacek)
Acting Style:
Genuine and innocent. Even his corrupt businessmen garner our sympathy and empathy. Though his specialty was the straight and narrow, he would wander off the path like a little kid, and find his way through a summoning of character. More often, though, Lemmon was a literal straight man, chastising Tony Curtis or Walter Matthau, or even the big boss Fred MacMurray for their foibles. And he could do it in a way to get laughs and, definitely, get the audience's vote.
Bits and Quirks:
Huge grin, often with a little stoop. Quick bursts of dialogue. Quick shake of the head, or sometimes very slow in the more serious parts. A high-pitched whine, usually for quick bits. Over the top reactions, with the fast talk and frenetic movement. A loose hunched-over saunter that could often convey the little guy or defeat, with eyes narrowed and the wide grin down to a pinhole of a mouth. Could really smile with his eyes.
Great Scenes:
Some Like It Hot

> The famous ending with Joe E. Brown in the boat
> Back in the room with the castanets, reliving his dancing experience
> In the train at night in his bunk with Marilyn
> The St. Valentine's Day massacre
> The appearance as "respectable girls" with Tony Curtis in the train station
> Complaining about his bra
> The famous line about Curtis's imitation of Cary Grant, "Nobody talks like that."

The Apartment

> The stomach pumping of Shirley MacLaine
> The chastisement by the landlord
> Making spaghetti with the tennis racket
> Playing gin with Shirley, particularly at the end
> Confronting Fred MacMurray over the key
> Cleaning his apartment after its being used

China Syndrome

> Trying – and failing – to make the most of his opportunity to tell the world about the dangers of the nuclear power plant in which he works

The Fortune Cookie

> Taking a stand by taking off his neck brace
> Talking with the football player, who is in a depression
> With Matthau in his hospital room

The Out-of-Towners

> The serious moment with Sandy Dennis coming back from the interview

The Odd Couple

> There's hardly a scene that isn't brilliant
> Clearing his sinuses in the restaurant, with a variety of sounds that make you feel Matthau's embarrassment
> Matthau throwing his linguine against the wall

The Front Page

> On the phone with Matthau
> Hiding Austin Pendleton in the desk
> With Matthau in the reporters'
Go to the... Jack Lemmon Bio