Friday, February 8, 2013

Happy Birthday Jack Lemmon!

Boy, I sure do love a birthday celebration, especially when the center of attention is a person as admirable and memorable and simply wonderful as Jack Lemmon. Seeing that today is his birthday--he would have been eighty-eight--truly sent my heart aflutter and my mind alert of the occasion. Tears rush to my eyes as I think that he could have been alive to this day, just as sprightly and amiable as he was even in his later years. Jack Lemmon was a genial man with the brightest smile in Hollywood; an actor who surpassed all others in both talent and personality. Unlike James Stewart and Humphrey Bogart, other well-known actors of the time, he had undeniable charisma and charm. (Both words have similar letters and connotations, nevertheless, each applies.) He was an actor of great appeal, showing not only skill but "personablility" as well, meaning that he seemed to be an overall friendly, delightful human being. And that's sought-after in actors, wouldn't you concur? Jack Lemmon was a man of talent, of humor, of amicability I am sure, and, of course, of heart. As corny as that all sounds. Here's a meager sample of what he attributed to film.

Some Like It Hot - The plot is simple enough: Two male musicians pose as women in an all-female musical revue to escape the Mob. You see, Joe and Gerald were just innocent bystanders to a mass murder committed by "Spats" Columbo and his gang; they was jus' trying to get to another gig as all! They figured that a week in sunny Florida would be a clever solution to their predicament, even if they had to be girls. Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon--perhaps the greatest screen pairing at that point--play the aforementioned Joe and Gerald, respectively, though, truly, they transform into Josephine and Daphne. (Why Gerald became Daphne rather than Geraldine proves to be one of the funniest scenes in the film, and even in all of comedic-film history.) Josephine and Daphne, then, encounter Sugar Kane Kowalczyk, who is played by the iconically voluptuous and ditzy Marilyn Monroe, and romantically amusing hijinks, logically, follow. What ensues from there is sensational humorous antics and an overall-in-every-way great film; indeed, the title of Funniest Movie of All Time by the American Film Institute (a declaration I can support) is well-earned and should be beheld by any interested viewer. If you are not curious to see Marilyn Monroe in action, the living sex symbol-slash-unreal icon that she is, watch for the humor that I am informing you of. While Tony Curtis is decent as the suave Joe/Josephine (and has a jolly good impression of Cary Grant), the main attraction, so to speak, is Jack Lemmon. As Daphne, Jack Lemmon is forced to portray an actual woman, while his buddy masquerades as a millionaire in the pursuit of wooing Marilyn Monroe. Daphne, on the other hand, is hunted by a fresher, older millionaire named Osgood Fielding III, where the film reaches a peak of hilarity as the two actors--Jack Lemmon and Joe E. Brown, that is--share timelessly amusing scenes of cheekiness and "romance". This was an era when homosexual humor was expressed in the humor of the scenario rather than leaning towards homosexual erotica. Once again, the humor between Daphne and Osgood is uproariously funny, not distastefully unappealing. Jack Lemmon received a well-deserved, indubitable Oscar nomination for Best Actor, mind you. Watching him here, in Some Like It Hot, as the hilariously unlucky Gerald/Daphne would be a fantastic introduction to Jack Lemmon's irrefutable skill as an actor of the trade (of acting), if you were not already aware of it. Please, for the sake of being learned in cinema as well as experiencing truly excellent cinema: Watch Some Like It Hot in the very near future. Or, better yet, watch it again. I sure will.

The Apartment - Another Billy Wilder film, this has a more gloomy undertone, for Jack Lemmon assumes a very heartrending situation here. Just like Some Like It Hot, one year later, Billy Wilder's new film is also black-and-white, though the ambiance of this film is notably darker and less cheery. Do not mistake it to be a depressing drama, for it has a certain element that enhances the film to be adorable; never fear, this picture has that awe-inducing effect that will bring you to your knees on account of how sweet it is. Allow me to elaborate. Jack Lemmon portrays corporate cog C.C. Baxter, an average employee at an insurance company who opens his apartment to the illicit behaviors of his superiors in hopes that he will rise in the corporate ladder. Of course, this pathetic attempt at appealing to higher powers is a dead end, for such scandalous assistance will surely lead nowhere but the position of "poor schmuck". And that is just what C.C. Baxter proves to be, a schmuck, and what a sad, unfortunate soul he is. Nobody but Jack Lemmon could portray such a sympathetic character as well and realistically. Not to say that he is a pathetic character by nature, but he is just that great of an actor to be perceived as such. Such, such, such. In between his foolish dalliances with the corporate demand, Baxter engaged in pleasant yet mild conversation with Fran Kubelick (played by a still-alive Shirley MacLaine), the elevator girl of the building. (Yes, they had girls employed to push the buttons of an elevator. It was just too time-consuming of a task for businessmen then, you understand.)
Although his crush for her developed, she had her own affairs to be concerned over, and this included the romantic one with Mr. Sheldrake, Baxter's boss; soon, when Mr. Sheldrake requests a spot on C.C. Baxter's guest list, the poor schmuck discovers Fran's state of affairs. What a sorry scene that turned out to be, and only Jack Lemmon could deliver it with the believably shocked and somber reaction of one whose hopes are crushed in front of him. I'm afraid we're out of time, before I give away the entire film. Trust me when I say that this is yet another Billy Wilder-Jack Lemmon film that is not to be missed. The director-actor pair "stands the test of time" whatever that means as one of the greatest duos the history of film has seen. (I nearly typed "scene". How silly.) It has become a habit of mine to declare all "things" to be "the greatest of history", which is something only the narrow-mindedly inane state, such as Americans. Ever notice how everything in America is the greatest in the world? Well, when I state such a statement, I mean it sincerely. Again, Jack Lemmon is a tremendous actor who validates his talent throughout his career, expanding even to his more elderly years in the trade. Of acting.

Glengarry Glen Ross - Peculiar title, indeed. Unless you are familiar with the intensely conversational film, based on a play by David Mamet, the typical viewer would have no idea whatsoever what this film is about. It could be anything, really, even if you have seen it. One could interpret it as a metaphor of some sort, relating to the actual meaning of the film while also having a deeper significance within. As for this particular blog, where interpretation is open for analysis and judgment, I shall provide the basics alone. In one of the greatest--there I go again--ensemble casts, Glengarry Glen Ross is all about dialogue and on-screen relationships. The tone of each conversations accompanied by the topic contributes to the film's generally incredible quality. The film is described as "an examination of the machinations behind the scenes at a real estate office". Quite frankly, there is no method more appropriate to describe the film without giving away major details; therefore, that is all there is to it for this post. What I can share, however, is the acting, one by one. Alan Arkin and Ed Harris provide a vivid background for the film, playing a perpetual real estate "loser" and a hot-headed conspiracist, respectively. They discuss how the bureaucratic shit taking place at their office, mainly the frustrated Ed Harris bursting with angry theories as Alan Arkin meekly sits in appeasing agreement. Al Pacino plays the intrepid, natural "hot shot", Ricky Roma, a performance expected of the fiery, animated actor though this typical factor does not at all undermine his terrific delivery. Oscar nomination, mind you. Alec Baldwin, also, makes a brief appearance as the top-of-the-food-chain corporate shark who makes his superiority known among the weak-in-comparison associates of the real estate company--another dynamite performance, just as worthy of recognition as Al Pacino was.
Now, Jack Lemmon's performance was, by far, the most impressive display, in my ever so humble opinion. Unlike the previously mentioned actively aggressive actors, Jack Lemmon embodies the (once again) pitiful, feeble Shelley "The Machine" Levene with a poignant soul that reaches beyond mere intimidation, deeper into the recesses of the human realm of heart and sympathy. In simpler terms, Jack Lemmon touched audiences in a way mere passion could never achieve: He had to act more, in a way, in order to caress viewers, such as myself, with his despondent disposition. Jack Lemmon, truly, entered a state of believable despair in this role, portraying a man of desperation so marvelously that it induces me to praise his demonstration of acting. Seeing him in an unadulterated confrontation with Kevin Spacey, then an unknown who acquired the role of his boss, was simply a treat for the cinephile and for the admirer of each actor. It is even sweeter to know that Kevin Spacey and Jack Lemmon became close friends (an affectionate mentor-pupil relationship, I imagine), and Mr. Spacey would, honorably dedicate his own Oscar to the legendary actor. Oh, what respect, what admirability for each man. Glengarry Glen Ross is open for interpretation, as I have already said, and certainly a film worth viewing for the compelling dialogue and, well, great quality altogether.

Grumpy Old Men - This film shall represent a collection of buddy-films involving Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, the greatest comedic pairing of all time. This, I affirm and acclaim. The two were seen sharing the screen as early as 1966, in Billy Wilder's The Fortune Cookie (another great film I highly recommend), and I have made it a willful task to experience each and every of their encounters. Jack Lemmon's generally finicky, no-nonsense persona contrasts that of Walter Matthau's inappropriate, immoral slob character; and the polar opposite factor here could not be more ideal for a comic situation. Every film I've seen with them, thus far, has been utterly sensational and amusing to the highest degree. From The Fortune Cookie to Out to Sea (a highly underrated film that I strongly recommend), the comedic duo has shined splendidly. In Grumpy Old Men, where the two actors have reached an age known as "elderly geezer", they portray two disgruntled neighbors in an everlastingly comical feud. Though, from their standing, it is anything but amusing: It's war, especially upon the arrival of a "hot, 'young' thing" named Ariel (played by Ann-Margaret, who I simply do not like). Aside from her, the couple ensues in a flurry of cantankerous pranks and mishaps that leave me, personally, enraptured by delight. While the scenario of two older men in a feud may sound drab and trite, I find it to be a wonderful film--wonderful. The warm, lovable element shared between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau--who remained friends throughout their lives, how darling--is enough to summon tears to my eyes, particularly because these men are no longer with us. Enough of that. The source of the characters' feud is irrelevant in context, for all that is of interest is the pleasantly spiteful correspondences between Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau, something in movies that is scarcely seen and should, subsequently, be cherished in all forms of their collaborations. I mean it, the greatest "odd couple" to ever grace the silver screen.

Before him, actors were a brand that severely lacked variety and, dare I say, talent. There may have been one actor that was truly talented and truly deserved any of the recognition he received--I am referring, of course to Clark Gable. Who else? I mean, really, among the actors of the golden era, who among them actually possesses remarkable acting prowess? If anything, they had a knack for "acting" in the sense that they abandoned that quality that made them a human being, and transformed into some hysterical or commercial-friendly machine. Of course, there were nuances of this typical array of actors, though there was absolutely nothing outstanding about any of them. Still isn't. Or aren't. Humphrey Bogart--who is listed as the greater actor in history by the American Film Institute, outrageously--managed to remain completely emotionless throughout his entire film career, keeping his monotonous voice that incoherent drone. James Stewart grasped that ridiculously warbly New England accent of his (or whatever that dialect was) as well as a perpetual expression of utter confusion. He's a fool, really. These were, basically, the two branches of acting that newcomers chose between in this so-called golden era of cinema. True, the films of the time period are simply timeless, embedded in history as glistening gems, It's just the male actors: Where is the passion, the amazing ability to act yet react also? Even Clark Gable, as much as I adore his classic good looks and irresistible charm, happens to be nothing wholly special, acting-wise. (Aside from Gone With The Wind, of course.) Indeed, the entirety of actors Hollywood had to offer then were either too much of one constant emotion, or totally absent to begin with. Enter Jack Lemmon. Although he has left the world more than ten years ago, his memory remains with every caring, respectable viewer, prolonged by the watching and rewatching of numerous films. This fact, I do declare, shall remain true until films can no longer be physically watched, which is something I doubt will happen soon. Even then, the sheer recollection of his films, of his gentle, congenial demeanor, will dwell within our minds. Gee, what a cheery, corny sentiment. Happy Birthday, once more, Jack Lemmon.

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