Classic Film Guide

The jack LEMMON Film Collection

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Phffft! (1954) - in his screen debut, Jack Lemmon was fortunate enough to play opposite Judy Holliday in one of her too few films, the comedy It Should Happen to You (1954). Later that same year (in his second movie), he was paired again with the comedienne in this slightly above average battle-of-the-sexes romantic comedy directed by Mark Robson and written by George Axelrod, before the Academy would recognize either of their talents. Lemmon plays an accountant that offers to do Holliday's taxes for her; by reading through her cancelled checks, he is able to assess her character. This leads to their romance and a proposal during which he articulates the tax advantages of filing jointly. Though their eight year marriage goes "phffft!" (i.e. fails), he (of course) continues to do her taxes (so that their reconciliation is possible) and her cancelled checks again become a part of the narrative. Jack Carson plays a womanizing bachelor 'Navy buddy' of Lemmon’s that sets him up with Kim Novak’s dippy blonde sexpot character in the interim; he’s made the fool in a conflict between Lemmon and his estranged wife. Luella Gear plays Holliday's meddling mother.

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Operation Mad Ball (1957) - is a Jack Lemmon comedy that must have inspired parts of Operation Petticoat (1959), the director of which (Blake Edwards) was a contributing writer – along with Jed Harris (Night People (1954)) and playwright Arthur Carter; Richard Quine directed this one. Lemmon effectively plays the character that Tony Curtis would in the latter (and better) film: a resourceful Private that spends most of the movie trying to outsmart a by-the-book and rightfully suspicious Captain (effectively played by Ernie Kovacs) to enable his non-officer peers to comingle with nurses – who are more than willing even though, as officers, such mixing is against regulations – at a postwar farewell ‘ball’ (i.e. party). Kathryn Grant plays the object of the Private’s (and the Captain’s) affections; Arthur O'Connell plays the more practical Colonel, in charge of the base. Mickey Rooney makes a late and surprise appearance as Dick York’s Master Sergeant and enabling cousin, an eccentric character that Robin Williams may have copied. James Darren and some other familiar faces appear among the men.

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The Notorious Landlady (1952) - is an odd mix of comedy and mystery featuring Kim Novak in the title role as Mrs. 'Carly' Hardwicke, an American who’s suspected by all of her English apartment-dwelling neighbors that surround her ‘flat’ off a quiet London square of killing her husband and disposing of his body such that Scotland Yard – led by Lionel Jeffries as Inspector Oliphant – can’t yet charge her with murder. Jack Lemmon plays 'Bill' Gridley, an American diplomat that’s recently been reassigned to the London embassy. Initially ignorant of her circumstances, Bill sublets a room from Carly only to become embroiled in the intrigue much to the dismay of his scandal-conscious boss Frank Ambruster (played by a rather miscast Fred Astaire). Bill, and later Ambruster, is convinced of breathy Carly’s innocence mostly because of her captivating beauty. The twists and turns in the final third, combined with some silent film-like action, make this one a truly unique experiment that simultaneously works and fails. Directed by Richard Quine with a screenplay by two future standouts Blake Edwards and Larry Gelbart from a story by Margery Sharp, the cast also includes Estelle Winwood, Maxwell Reed, Philippa Bevans, and (all too briefly) even Henry Daniell.

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Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) - is an uninspired Jack Lemmon sex comedy written by director David Swift from the play by Lawrence Roman. Lemmon plays Hogan, a wealthy unscrupulous bachelor landlord that interferes in a relationship between a couple of college kids that attempt to live together platonically before marriage to see if they’re compatible. Carol Lynley and Dean Jones play the two lovebirds; Edie Adams plays her aunt, who’s not only a professor of relationships at their college but is also a former tenant-victim of Hogan’s lecherous ways. Imogene Coca and Paul Lynde play the caretaking couple of Hogan's apartment building - she’s the maid that's disgusted by her employer's antics while he’s the maintenance man that envies him - and Robert Lansing plays an associate of Adams. The only highlights (if you could call them that) are Lemmon’s inventive bachelor pad and a smattering of 'eye-candy', all of which can be glimpsed during the first few minutes of this overdone story that suffers from a silly yet unfunny script. In case you're wondering, Yum Yum is a euphemism for Makin' Whoopie.

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Good Neighbor Sam (1964) - is a pretty good Jack Lemmon comedy that was directed by David Swift; the director, James Fritzell and Everett Greenbaum adapted Jack Finney’s novel. Lemmon plays Sam Bissel, a wholesome family man married to ‘Min’ (Dorothy Provine) that gets mixed up in a plot to help his wife’s friend Janet (Romy Schneider) keep the fact of her divorce to husband Howard Ebbets (Mike Connors) from a probate judge so that she can inherit $15 million. The fact that Sam was just promoted within his ad agency – filled with sleazy executives (is there any other kind in the movies?) – to satisfy the moral code of a potentially large client (Edward G. Robison plays Simon Nurdlinger, the owner of a milk company) complicates matters. Stick with me for a minute: because of the inheritance, Janet’s greedy relatives (played by Charles Lane and a teeth sucking Linda Watkins) hire a detective (Louis Nye) to watch her after (thinking quickly) she’d introduced Sam as Howard. So, with his wife’s permission, Sam and Janet, who’d conveniently just rented the house next door, have to pretend to be married for a few days, during which (naturally) Howard arrives on the scene to win back his ex-wife. Everything gets very confusing, especially for Sam and Min’s neighbor who also works for the agency, the milkman, the mailman, etc. It’s interesting to me that so many comedies that revolve around a business enterprise use an advertising agency (or ad executives) as their backdrop; perhaps it’s because pitching movies is so similar? This one contains some “Hertz puts you in the driver’s seat” placements featuring The Hi-Lo’s that makes one wonder if the rental car company financed the production. Edward Andrews, Neil Hamilton and even Bernie Kopell and Kym Karath (though uncredited) also appear.

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