Monday, January 9, 2017

The Five Best Jack Lemmon Performances

1. The Apartment (1960) - This is an obvious choice, but I can't think of a better Jack Lemmon performance than his turn as ambitious junior executive C.C. Baxter. It helps, of course, that Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond provide Lemmon with an extremely well-written character that allows the actor to showcase both his dramatic and comedic skills. His scenes opposite Shirley MacLaine are legendary, but his best acting in this Wilder gem may be his climatic confrontation opposite Fred MacMurray's heartless Mr. Sheldrake.

Lemmon as Daphne.
2. Some Like It Hot (1959) - He may be third-billed, but Jack Lemmon generates more laughs than anyone else in another Wilder classic. He plays a struggling bass player who witnesses a gangland massacre and goes on the lam with pal Tony Curtis--only they're disguised as members of an all-female band. As the blonde-wigged Daphne, Lemmon delivers many of the best one-liners and shines brightly in one of the funniest scenes: Daphne's tango with her wealthy suitor Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown).

3. The China Syndrome (1979) - In probably the best of his later-career performances, Jack Lemmon plays a shift supervisor at a nuclear plant who gradually realizes that the reactor is dangerously close to a meltdown. Lemmon brilliantly transforms his character from an unassuming, loyal employee to one willing to do anything to expose the truth and the danger of a large-scale disaster. The performance earned him the sixth of his eight Oscar nominations. His other nominations include both Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. He won a Best Actor Oscar for Save the Tiger (1974) and a Supporting Actor Oscar for Mister Roberts (1956).

4. Days of Wine and Roses (1962) - My wife doesn't like to watch this Blake Edwards film--not because it's not a fine picture, but because Jack Lemmon and Lee Remick are achingly good as a couple that ruin their lives through alcoholism. It'd be easy to overact in some of the more dramatic scenes--such as when Lemmon's character is confined in a strait-jacket in a sanatorium. Instead, Lemmon somehow elicits sympathy for a man who has brought on his own demons and introduced them to his wife.

Jack Lemmon and Juliet Mills.
5. Avanti! (1972) - One of Wilder’s last films stars Jack Lemmon as an uptight American businessman who journeys to a small Italian town to retrieve the body of his father, who died in a car accident. To his surprise, Lemmon learns that his father was having an affair—secretly meeting his lover in the same hotel every August for the past ten years. Furthermore, Dad’s mistress died in the same accident and her daughter (Juliet Mills) shows up for the funeral. After a very leisurely opening, this quirky love story turns on the charm…helped immeasurably by the scenic setting, memorable music, and incredible chemistry between Lemmon and Mills. It's the least known film on this list, but well worth seeking out.

Honorable Mentions:  Mister Roberts; Cowboy; and The Odd Couple.

19 comments:

  1. I would add "The Fortune Cookie".

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    1. I just watched it this weekend! While Matthau has the showier role. I agree that Jack Lemmon gives a fine performance.

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  2. All Goodies - but I would add his performance in the Costa-Gavras film, Missing.

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    1. Yes, it's very good. Also, among his later performances, I also like TRIBUTE. The movie is pretty good, but Jack is excellent.

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  3. I would add The Missing. He is deeply moving in that. Very memorable as a desperate father searching for his son.

    How could you leave off The Odd Couple?! Jack is hysterical as the annoying, yet loveable Felix.

    I found your blog a few months ago and it's quickly become a favourite. Keep up the good work! Madeleine

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    1. That's two recommendations for MISSING...so I'm thinking I need to watch it again. It has been a long time.

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  4. Avanti! is a film I've never even heard of. Has an interesting premise, though. Will have to look for it.

    I'm with your wife when it comes to Days of Wine & Roses. I could never watch that film again, even though it's well done in every way.

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    1. AVANTI! is one of those movies that makes you root for someone you really identify with. In this case, it's an adulterer.

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  5. Avanti! I did not expect to see Avanti! on the list, but I could not be more pleased. I was late to this one, but my appreciation is boundless.

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  6. I don't think I've ever seen a bad performance from Jack Lemmon...one that sticks with me is one of his later roles, in the ensemble piece by David Mamet, "Glengarry Glen Ross" (1992). Kevin Spacey has remarked (with awe) on working with Lemmon on the film.

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  7. Rick, Kudos for giving Lemmon's role in Cowboy an honorable mention. As strange as it may seem, Lemmon does a nice job in this Western. Your other choices are very good, I might add The Front Page,and The Great Race (though the movie loses its steam when his Crown Prince character shows up----great as Prof Fate however)

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    1. Randy, yes, THE FRONT PAGE is underrated and is another Lemmon movie I need to see again (ditto for his INHERIT THE WIND). He and Glenn Ford make a great pair in COWBOY.

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  8. This is such a great list. I love "The Apartment" and cannot imagine it being as powerful with anyone other than Jack Lemmon. "Avanti" is almost lyrical because of the relationship between Lemmon and Juliet Mills. I have realized a true respect for Lemmon's work the more I see it.

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    1. Toto, so true about THE APARTMENT. Glad to know that you're an AVANTI fan, too. I had never seen it until about seven years ago.

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  9. I've been a long time admirer of your site, which I think is terrific. I visit your site at least once a day. I also share your love of Jack Lemmon, especially in The Apartment. But I also love him in one of my other favourite movies, Bell, Book and Candle. He and Ernie Kovacks are just terrific in that movie.

    Betty

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    1. Betty, I've become a bigger fan of BELL, BOOK AND CANDLE as the years go by. Ironically, I've also grown to appreciate Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak more over the years. I can't imagine anyone else in their BB&C roles.

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  10. All excellent choices! Admittedly, I prefer Jack in comic roles and for a while had a hard time accepting in a dramatic role. I eventually got over it :). Avanti is an underrated film. Glad to see it on your list.

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  11. I love your blogs, Rick, and thus one is no exception. Avanti! truly stands out, and I'm always surprised to be rooting for their sweet love affair (I also LOVE Clive Reville, and Edward Andrews in it). Speaking of Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak, have you seen The Notorious Landlady? I love it, it's a truly unique old comedy and also features Fred Astaire in an unusual role. I love Jack with Judy Holliday, too and as a deliciously naughty ladies' man in Under the Yum Yum Tree, and lately have purchased Good Neighbor Sam, as it exemplifies 60's screwball as only Jack Lemmon can do it. I guess many of us are learning to appreciate all of Jack's sides (he's very effective in Missing) but he's too good at drama, so I stick to his comedies where he always adds a touch of depth, humanity and everyman. Thanks Rick, love your work!

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  12. I love your blogs, Rick, and thus one is no exception. Avanti! truly stands out, and I'm always surprised to be rooting for their sweet love affair (I also LOVE Clive Reville, and Edward Andrews in it). Speaking of Jack Lemmon and Kim Novak, have you seen The Notorious Landlady? I love it, it's a truly unique old comedy and also features Fred Astaire in an unusual role. I love Jack with Judy Holliday, too and as a deliciously naughty ladies' man in Under the Yum Yum Tree, and lately have purchased Good Neighbor Sam, as it exemplifies 60's screwball as only Jack Lemmon can do it. I guess many of us are learning to appreciate all of Jack's sides (he's very effective in Missing) but he's too good at drama, so I stick to his comedies where he always adds a touch of depth, humanity and everyman. Thanks Rick, love your work!

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