Jack Lemmon

phfft

A new box set from Sony documents Jack Lemmon’s reign as America’s ultimate male hysteric, trapped between the corporate conformism of the 1950s and the sexual revolution of the 1960s. Mark Robson’s 1954 “Phffft!” will not help the case for Robson’s post-Val Lewton auteur status, but Richard Quine’s distinctive style emerges in “Operation Mad Ball” (1957) and “The Notorious Landlady” (1962), both co-written by Blake Edwards. And then there is the curious case of David Swift, the former Disney animator who went from “Pollyanna” (1960) to the hypnotically smutty “Under the Yum Yum Tree” (1963) and the vastly superior “Good Neighbor Sam” (1964), a frenetic sex farce set largely in a fantasy suburb that seems presciently Spielbergian. Swift is a sort of road company Frank Tashlin, with an animator’s eye for visual abstraction and an anarchist’s resentment of the business world, though he lacks Tashlin’s elegance and control. Further profundities in the New York Times.

305 comments to Jack Lemmon

  • Miguel Marías

    Sorry to unwillingly disturb the peace and become unwittingly a focus of attention, with people coming to my defence. Dave, don’t worry about my blood pleasure, it’s always low and even despite my age. You picture me as unaccurately as I think you do Billy Wilder’s supposed intentions, which seem to be really what is on trial. When or where have I minded any criticism of myself? But really, I find too many people are becoming too squeamish and prudish. To feel offended by Mickey Rooney’s acting (or character) in “Breakfast at Tiffany’s”! To find “vulgarity (and discomfiting racism and sexism)” in “The Fortune Cookie”! To describe as “nondescript” Cukor’s “It Should Happen to You”! To find “schematic, sentimental cynicism (or cynical sentimentality)” in “The Apartment”! To come out of the blue and say “just don’t try to tell me, like, “Le Testament du Docteur Cordelier” is better than “Les Enfants du Paradis”” when none of those movies had been mentioned! And then the wholesale disparaging of Wilder as “not even a cynic”, but “opportunist”, “hypocrite” and with “deadly-dull mise-en-scène”! While not being a raving fan of Wilder, it seems a bit too much abuse. And what is the harsh, offensive, uncorrect horror I dared to say: “There has been constantly all along this discussion some comment or other that has made me angry”. So I refrained from commenting any of them. Is that a show of red-faced, fuming anger? If one has to be more careful than that, silence seems the only alternative. May I wonder, without anybody taking offence, if serious charges as those made against Wilder would have been addressed towards Steven Spielberg? George Lucas? Coppola? Scorsese? Ridley Scott? Sam Mendes? or even Michael Bay?
    Miguel Marías

  • May I wonder, without anybody taking offence, if serious charges as those made against Wilder would have been addressed towards Steven Spielberg? George Lucas? Coppola? Scorsese? Ridley Scott? Sam Mendes? or even Michael Bay?

    Miguel, I am far from being enchanted with any of these directors; are you under the impression that I am some sort of status quo critic, endlessly repeating the conventional wisdom while you stand in defense of brave non-conformism? Look at what happens when I offer a mild demurral about the sense of humor of a filmmaker who appears to believe that staging a rape scene to the accompaniment of “Singin’ in the Rain” is the height of wit: shock and outrage! There is a lot of received wisdom out there that requires constant re-examination, and the reputations of Stanley Kubrick and Billy Wilder would seem to be fair game. All I ask is that you attempt to provide some justification for your opinions, which you have repeatedly refused to do. Assertion, as the old saying goes, is not argument, nor is it very interesting in itself.

    But I suspect that what we have here is a failure to communicate, complicated by the ambiguities of the internet and the problems of writing in a foreign language. You may not be aware of how hostile and intolerant your remarks come across. I’m sure that, like Adrian, I would find you a highly sympathetic, fellow spirit in person.

    Tom, I appreciate your point about the writer’s branch nominations, but as much as I enjoyed “Amelie,” I wouldn’t put it on the same level as Alain Robbe-Grillet’s script for “Last Year at Marienbad.” Let’s not forget that even Jean-Paul Sartre got an Oscar nomination (for best writing, motion picture story for “Les Orgueilleux”) but lost to Dalton Trumbo for “The Brave One.”

  • Asher

    You know, I haven’t seen much Wilder, but I agree from what I’ve seen that cinematically he’s fairly dull, though DOUBLE INDEMNITY is something of an exception on this score in a perhaps generic but still effectively noirish way; I particularly love Stanwyck in her sunglasses in the 40s supermaket. And I agree that at times he’s guilty of unbearably heavy-handed cynicism, as in ACE IN THE HOLE, which I can’t understand anyone liking. And of course the Coen brothers are condescending hacks. But on THE FORTUNE COOKIE, I have to disagree with this:

    “He’s more of an opportunist, who’s method consists of teasing the audience with naughty, “continental” observations on topics like prostitution and adultery, before he swoops in at the end with a comfortably reassuring affirmation of middle-class pieties. “The Apartment” and “The Fortune Cookie” are both perfect illustrations of that technique.”

    FORTUNE COOKIE has a pretty abysmal tacked-on happy ending, but so do a great many films of this period, and especially when the ending’s as implausible as this one is, I think one owes Wilder the courtesy of reading it as not his own authorial affirmation of middle-class pieties, but rather something he was pressured or felt pressure to tack on. Certainly prior to the very last scene, the film’s a pretty withering take on race, marriage, family, the American legal system, professional sports…

  • Miguel Marías

    Dave, I’m sorry if I seem hotile or aggressive, which I am not in the least. But I get somewhat impatient when I see people I think are intelligent and with whom I could easily agree indulge in statements (not much explained, either, probably the internet does not lend itself well to it) for which I can see no foundation and which far exceed criticism and become a process of intentions, about which no one can have proof, and which do no seem to me, in any case, the important thing. What I meant with Spielberg and company is that they are ALIVE, and I doubt anyone would dare say the same things as have been written, coincidentally?, about dead filmmakers. Is this hostile? Meanwhile, it is seemingly friendly and respectful to call “dead-dull” the style of “Sunset Blvd”, “Stalag 17″, “Love in the Afternoon”, “Witness for the Prosecution”, “Kiss Me, Stupid”, “The Private Life of Sherlock Holmes” or “Avanti!” and Wilder opportunist, manipulative, racist, sexist, cynical and sentimental. I’d think you might argue he’s been overrated (by some people), or classify him as “less than meets the eye”, or find chamaleonic his style, or not as “brilliant” or dashing as other filmmakers. I wholly dislike, from every point of view I can think of, “A Clockwork Orange”, but that does not condemn Kubrick to eternally burning in hell nor disqualifies “The Killing”, “Spartacus”, “Lolita”, “2001:A Space Oddyssey” or “Barry Lyndon”.
    Miguel Marías

  • jbryant

    “Look at what happens when I offer a mild demurral about the sense of humor of a filmmaker who appears to believe that staging a rape scene to the accompaniment of “Singin’ in the Rain” is the height of wit: shock and outrage!”

    Dave, you said you thought Kubrick showed “no discernible sense of humor,” which is arguable, of course, hence the arguments. And one could certainly find the Singin’ in the Rain scene to be both horrifying and perversely funny, which I’m guessing was closer to Kubrick’s intention than achieving “the height of wit.” I’m not saying my guess is better than yours. All I know is I do discern a sense of humor in Kubrick, so I disagree with your statement (with no shock or outrage).

    As for all those directors Miguel cites, it seems to me that one doesn’t have to look very hard to find stinging dismissals of each of them. Few critics, reviewers or bloggers seem to be shy about slamming the things they loathe.