Perhaps best known and beloved for his portrayal of Felix Unger in the original Odd Couple film, Jack Lemmon has a long list of credits to his name. He’s appeared in 100 films and many stage and television productions as well. It was also a little known fact that he was an extremely accomplished musician and wrote music for a couple of his films. He was one of those actors who simply loved his job. He was known for uttering the phrase “It’s magic time” before a take on the set of almost all of his films. While primarily known for his comedy, Lemmon was actually not a bad dramatic performer and believed there was no reason the two couldn’t be combined. His role in The China Syndrome was far from a comedic one and showcased his ability to do drama.
Jack Lemmon might not be the most dramatic or even the most acclaimed actor out there. But there was something about him that defined him as an icon all the same. He was a very typically American actor. He brought to life characters that were instantly identifiable, but yet oddly eccentric enough to keep our interest. He always came off as genuine and was literally loved by the plethora of actors who always considered it an honor to work with him. He developed lifelong friendships with many of his co-stars, most notably Walter Matthau. The relationship you saw on the screen was what you got off the screen. Jack’s son Chris referred to him as Uncle Walter and claimed that if Matthau played golf, Jack would have married him. But this was just the kind of guy he was. In a day of angst-filled superstars who make more press outside of their roles, Lemmon is still a breath of fresh air. You might miss the man, but Sony and Chris Lemmon have gotten together to make sure you don’t miss some of the greater films.
The man won two Oscars and likely deserved more in his prolific career.
Here’s a breakdown of the films in the collection:
Robert (Lemmon) and Nina (Holliday) are divorced after 8 years of being married. Both try to get involved with other people but end up drawn back together. Much of the film’s comedy comes from Lemmon’s attempts at being a playboy.
In a rather highly publicized race of releases Phfft was a lot like The Seven Year Itch and also written by George Axelrod. Because of rights issues The Seven Year Itch was tied to its Broadway production and so was released after Phfft. This was one of Lemmon’s early films and his second starring with Judy Holliday.
Operation Mad Ball: (1957)
The 1066th General Hospital in France just after the end of World War II is the setting for this “service comedy”. Private Hogan (Lemmon) figures that the end of the war is just the time for a huge party for the men and women stationed at the medical unit. But Captain Lock (Kovacs) isn’t going to disrupt the unit. The rules don’t allow the enlisted men to cavort with the nurses, who are generally officers. Together with Sergeant Skibo (Rooney) they plan the part off base at a club owned by Madame LaFour (Manet). The “Mad Ball” might also be threatened when Colonel Rousch wants to throw a party for his brother…on the same night.
Many consider this film to be one of the inspirations for MASH. It contains many of the same beats as that film does. The setting also doesn’t hurt. Lemmon is very much like the Hawkeye character both from the film and series. If there wasn’t any direct connection, there’s no question that MASH was at least in part influenced by this classic. You won’t be able to miss the familiarity.
The Notorious Landlady: (1962)
William Gridley (Lemmon) is an American diplomat in London. He takes a flat from Mrs. Hardwicke (Novak). When the landlady’s husband turns up missing, she is the number one suspect in his murder. Scotland Yard wants Gridley to spy on the woman for them and report on her activities. The man returns alive, but not for long. He’s accidentally shot. The film ends up following the mystery of a candleholder that is loaded with stolen jewels. It seems that everyone who has handled the candleholder ends up dead. Gridley finds himself unwittingly a part of a dangerous plot. His only chance is to team up with Mrs. Hardwicke and find the real crooks.
Lemmon was distracted during the shoot of this film, but it never shows. His father was suffering from advanced stages of cancer and was dying. The film never managed to catch on because it’s so dang complicated. The many twists and turns of the film make it a hard one to follow. It was rumored that Lemmon himself never really understood the script, at least he said so in several interviews. In Don Widener’s biography of Lemmon, he quotes the star as saying about the part: “I delivered lines in that picture with absolute conviction – and I haven’t the faintest idea to this day what they meant.” While set in London the film is obviously California, so the atmosphere never really feels authentic. It’s not one of Lemmon’s best films, but does demonstrate his ability to do drama.
Under The Yum Yum Tree: (1963)
Hogan (Lemmon) owns an apartment building. He tends to spy on his tenants, often selected for their physical attractiveness. Robin Austin (Lynley) and Dave Manning (Jones) want to get married. They want to be sure that they are compatible, so they move in together, but with a strict “no sex” rule. But Robin is the next intended victim of Hogan’s seduction.
This was one of Lemmon’s least favorite films, and he was known to constantly try to distance himself from the film. It’s a bit of a surprise to find it here, considering that Lemmon’s son helped in the selection process. It’s one of his more famous films, however, and that likely played a large part in its selection here. It’s a film of sexual innuendo with surprisingly little actual sex. Lemmon’s instincts were dead on. Not a good film at all.
Good Neighbor Sam: (1964)
Sam (Lemmon) is an ad executive who is tired of his life and his job. When a client threatens to cancel their contract with the firm because he’s dissatisfied with the “suggestive” advertising practices, they promote Sam. The client loves him. But when a neighbor needs a quick husband to inherit $15 million, Sam agrees to step in. Now it looks like Sam’s living a double life, and his clean image is about to go out the window.
This is another of Lemmon’s least favorite films. It survives merely on the old mistaken circumstances plot and becomes too complicated and long for its own good. There are a ton of one liners and sight gags that never really carry the film for the entire over two hour running time.
It’s a mixed bag of films, to be sure. But, how can you not fall in love with the rather easy acting style Lemmon pulled off for so many decades?
All of the films are presented in their original widescreen aspect ratios For the most part colors are good, and the studio used relatively clean prints. The films are mostly alone on the discs, so you won’t find any compression artifact to distract from the prints.
All are presented in Dolby Digital mono. The films are mostly dialog driven, so that’s really all that is serviced here.
Man Behind The Magic: Chris Lemmon hosts this sentimental tribute to Jack Lemmon. There are plenty of testimonials and classic film clips. It’s a feature that no fan should miss.
Marriageable Male: From the television series Ford All Star Theater comes one of Lemmon’s earliest roles. Lemmon plays an ad executive who is mistaken for a male model.
Fans of Jack Lemmon will want to have this collection no matter what they might think of the individual films. The transfers are all excellent, considering their ages. It’s hopefully the beginning of a wider release of Lemmon’s work, much of it still not available on DVD. The collection offers romance, comedy, and drama, all with just a little “Twist of Lemmon”.