Tag Archives: Jack Lemmon

The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

The Apartment does whatever it can to remain a dramatic comedy when it shouldn’t be anymore. And sort of isn’t. When the film shifts into real drama, there’s no going back. Director Wilder gets it too. The film has a good comedy opening, a breathtaking dramatic middle, and a decent comedy end. The comedy in the opening and the end is very different. The opening comedy is sort of bemused–oh, isn’t it funny how office drone Jack Lemmon gets into management because he lends out his apartment to company managers to use with their girlfriends. You know, away from the wives.

Now, there’s drama of some kind forecast in the opening comedy. The comedy, drama, and comedy split doesn’t exactly fit the three acts. But is sort of shoe-horned to fit. Anyway. There’s some inevitable character drama forecast during the comedy. Lemmon’s got a crush on elevator girl and confirmed non-dater Shirley MacLaine. Turns out she’s not a non-dater, she’s just more discreet than the rest of the office staff. And by office staff, there are thousands of employees. An absurd number of them, actually, for the space. Because before The Apartment becomes a romantic pursuit comedy, it’s a modern office comedy.

Writers Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond do pretty well at the modern office comedy. It all hinges on Lemmon, who’s really got to do everything for twenty-five minutes. It’s a two-hour and change film. So the first fifth is all Lemmon and the modern office comedy involving his apartment. MacLaine shows up, but she’s just another piece of the office comedy.

It’s when Lemmon finally gets busted and big boss Fred MacMurray demands use of The Apartment does the film start moving. All the setup is Lemmon–quite spectacularly–spinning his wheels. There’s no narrative drive to Lemmon’s promotion goals because it’s unclear they’re goals. Certainly why they’d be goals. Lemmon’s character is the force of his personality and performance. It isn’t until the scene with MacMurray Lemmon has to do anything different. That scene changes the whole movie.

Then there’s sort of this mini-first act to the dramatic material, moving the film away from the comedy, bringing in MacLaine’s story. Told in exposition. There’s a lot of character revelations through exposition in The Apartment and they’re often spectacular, but never explored. Lemmon and MacLaine never get to develop in their scenes together. They spend most of the dramatic middle together. The middle of The Apartment is this short film within the film, where the direction changes, the script changes, the performances change.

And the middle is wonderful. Both Lemmon and MacLaine are fantastic. They have this parallel development arc. Lemmon’s falling for MacLaine, MacLaine’s getting back together with MacMurray. There are dramatic stakes involved; the film doesn’t prepare for them. Wilder and Diamond have some absurdism at the beginning, then they’ve got some shock value. But all very mild. The script relies on these sturdy narrative devices, but always carefully; making sure they never creak.

Wilder’s direction is outstanding. He, cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, and editor Daniel Mandell create a seamless visual experience. So seamless when it detaches from Lemmon and MacLaine in the last third, the second comedy section, it does so ahead of the story. The filmmaking and the writing are both phenomenal. Even when The Apartment is skipping character development for these short, tragic, cynically comedic set pieces in the last third. Wilder and Diamond make the film into a drama–almost entirely straight drama–in the middle, then try to avoid having to do a dramatic finish.

Because they want to do the romantic comedy, which is cute–Lemmon and MacLaine are cute, MacMurray’s great as the sleazebag boss–but they haven’t really set up. There are some big Lemmon revelations in the finale and they don’t fit with the rest of the character. Not how Wilder and Diamond handled him in the opening. The script also has a problem with MacLaine’s naiveté. Sometimes she has so much she couldn’t have gotten to where she’s gotten. She also gets some big revelations, but in the middle dramatic area–so not played for comedy like Lemmon’s later revelations–and they scuff with some of the earlier character development; the finale could fix it. But doesn’t. Because as much as the final third distances itself from Lemmon, it abandons MacLaine.

And when she is in it, Wilder and Diamond keep her as flat as possible. It’s very strange. The finale just feels perfunctory. Technically inspired, beautifully written, but perfunctory. The film stops worrying about its characters and concentrates on the most efficient way to finish things up.

The acting’s all great. Lemmon, MacLaine, MacMurray (whose paper thin character never gets any thicker). David Lewis and Ray Walston are awesome as a couple of Lemmon’s apartment leches. Jack Kruschen and Naomi Stevens are Lemmon’s neighbors, who think he’s a sex addict with all the activity in his apartment; they play a big part in the middle. They go from being bit comedy background to this spectacular dramatic support.

Hope Holiday is hilarious. It’s kind of an extended cameo; the part’s beautifully written and Holiday’s fantastic. The other thing about The Apartment is how little Wilder and Diamond try in the final section. They employ these particular, different, precise narrative devices–always beautifully executed–and then they give up on trying for new ones in the finale.

Edie Adams is good as MacMurray’s secretary. She too goes from background to… well, not support, but also not background. The way the script makes room for bigger parts for the characters is another phenomenal quality of it. And another one the finale ignores.

The Apartment is rather frustrating. It’s spectacular film. Masterfully, exquisitely produced. But still disappointing. It pulls off this great transition from comedy to drama and then shrugs at the transition back. It never runs out of enthusiasm just ambition.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Adolph Deutsch; released by United Artists.

Starring Jack Lemmon (C.C. Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D. Sheldrake), Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfuss), Edie Adams (Miss Olsen), Naomi Stevens (Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), David Lewis (Al Kirkeby), Johnny Seven (Karl Matuschka), and Hope Holiday (Mrs. Margie MacDougall).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE GREATEST FILM I'VE NEVER SEEN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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Glengarry Glen Ross (1992, James Foley)

The first half of Glengarry Glen Ross is phenomenal. David Mamet’s screenplay is lightning fast during this section, moving its characters around, pairing them off for scenes or moments–the brevity is astounding. Half the movie is over and it feels like just a few minutes. Then the second half hits and the pace is still good, but the energy is different. It meanders. Apparently the only thing keeping director Foley going was having different locations and different camera setups–many questionably framed for pan and scan; in the second half of the film, set entirely on one set, Glengarry Glen Ross starts to fizzle. The actors keep it viable for as long as they can, but then it becomes clear Foley’s just composing for one actor, one performance, not all the actors, all the performances. The film never solidifies and it’s so fast, it’s almost over before it becomes clear Foley’s not going to bring it together. He instead relies on James Newton Howard’s peppy smooth jazz score. It’s never a good idea to rely on smooth jazz, peppy or not.

Every performance in Glengarry Glen Ross is outstanding. Foley’s problem isn’t giving the actors time to act, he does fine with that aspect of his directing. Sure, even in the first half, he isn’t directing their scenes perfectly, but he’s definitely giving them room to act. Jack Lemmon, Al Pacino, Ed Harris, Kevin Spacey, Alan Arkin, Jonathan Pryce, Alec Baldwin. They’re all great. Pryce and Baldwin don’t have particularly great parts, but they’re great. Baldwin gets a big speech, which he nails. Pacino, Lemmon, Harris and Spacey get the meatier parts (Spacey the least, Harris and Pacino just through force). Lemmon’s the lead for most of the film. Only not so in the second half, which Mamet might be able to cover if Foley knew how to stage the second half. He avoids doing an adaptation of the play–Glengarry Glen Ross was a play first, also by Mamet–for the first half, only to be forced into it in the second half and have no idea how to do it. Arkin doesn’t get much meat, but he still turns in a great performance. The performances are impeccable.

And impeccable performances, along with strong dialogue, keep the film going for quite a while. There aren’t even any danger signs until Harris and Arkin’s subplot in the first half, when Howard E. Smith’s editing seems to be elongating and distracting their conversations instead of curating and appreciating them. Glengarry Glen Ross isn’t a mystery. There’s a mystery in it–sort of–and Foley stumbles when trying to integrate it. All the humanity in the film is from its actors essaying the screenplay. None of it comes from the filmmaking itself, which is a big problem.

Again, Pacino, Lemmon and Harris are all phenomenal. None of them have great characters to work with–they have some great material, but not great characters. As an example of excellent acting, Glengarry Glen Ross works. As a film? Not so much.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by James Foley; screenplay by David Mamet, based on his play; director of photography, Juan Ruiz Anchía; edited by Howard E. Smith; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, Jane Musky; produced by Stanley R. Zupnik and Jerry Tokofsky; released by New Line Cinema.

Starring Al Pacino (Ricky Roma), Jack Lemmon (Shelley Levene), Alec Baldwin (Blake), Alan Arkin (George Aaronow), Ed Harris (Dave Moss), Kevin Spacey (John Williamson) and Jonathan Pryce (James Lingk).


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Some Like It Hot (1959, Billy Wilder)

Some Like It Hot is perfectly constructed. Billy Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond’s script precisely sets up gags, even as the film moves through its three stages. For example, there’s a joke about matching blood types–type o–near the beginning and it keeps echoing throughout. It’s just in dialogue, but for another one, Wilder and Diamond cross over from dialogue to sight gags–there’s a bicycle bit and it comes back beautifully for the finish.

The precision and the plotting help with the suspension of disbelief. Hot’s memorable elements–Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon in drag, Marilyn Monroe’s sexy singer–don’t show up until almost a quarter of the way into the movie. And Wilder runs that first quarter really fast. The film’s first breather doesn’t come until the second part, the train–the film’s basically split into Chicago, the train to Miami and Miami.

Hot is a deception comedy and most of its visual. One has to believe Monroe doesn’t recognize Curtis out of drag, even though George Raft and his mobster goons almost immediately make the connection. One has to believe a dozen women believe Curtis and Lemon as women. There are probably a few other ones, but those two are the biggies.

And Wilder’s able to sell it. He even introduces the idea of Curtis and Lemmon into the viewer’s imagination before actually showing it.

Monroe and Joe E. Brown give the best performances, but everyone’s good. Even Raft.

It’s a fantastic film. Wilder is amazing.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, based on a story by Robert Thoeren and Michael Logan; director of photography, Charles Lang; edited by Arthur P. Schmidt; music by Adolph Deutsch; released by United Artists.

Starring Marilyn Monroe (Sugar Kane Kowalczyk), Tony Curtis (Joe), Jack Lemmon (Jerry), George Raft (Spats Colombo), Pat O’Brien (Det. Mulligan), Joe E. Brown (Osgood Fielding III), Nehemiah Persoff (Little Bonaparte), Joan Shawlee (Sweet Sue), Billy Gray (Sig Poliakoff), George E. Stone (Toothpick Charlie), Dave Barry (Beinstock), Mike Mazurki (Spats’s Henchman), Harry Wilson (Spats’s Henchman), Beverly Wills (Dolores), Barbara Drew (Nellie) and Edward G. Robinson Jr. (Johnny Paradise).


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The China Syndrome (1979, James Bridges)

Silly attempt at a Pakula-style paranoid thriller collapses under its own importance. Michael Douglas stars in the film–probably one of his first high profile roles–and produces it too. China Syndrome proves who’s responsible for One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (if it wasn’t Kesey) and it isn’t Douglas. Syndrome doesn’t have a firm protagonist, it starts focused on Jane Fonda’s reporter (who exists in a situation not dissimilar to Anchorman, down to the parties) and then moves over to Jack Lemmon. Lemmon does a good job, but he’s hardly got anything to work with. He eats sandwiches a lot. At least Fonda has a pet turtle.

Since the film’s so heavy–and not even in a misdirected way, it’s all about the evils of big business–that it needs some humanity and doesn’t have any. Why bother saving Southern California from a nuclear disaster if it’s only filled with corporate heels and terrible Michael Douglas performances. I should have had some idea, of course, since I’ve seen Bridges’ most famous film, The Paper Chase. It too is full of shit, but almost nothing can describe how full of shit The China Syndrome truly gets. The end is laugh out loud funny.

However, Wilford Brimley shows up and does a great job. It’s his first movie, actually. Or one of them. Wow, poor guy. He was only fifty-one in Cocoon. Talk about getting type-cast early.

Oh, reading on IMDb. Richard Dreyfuss was originally going to be in it, then common sense intruded. The China Syndrome is really a case of too many writers being involved in a project and none of them being good. Bridges is a decent enough director, just can’t write compelling human conflicts.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by James Bridges; written by Mike Gray, T.S. Cook and Bridges; director of photography, James Crabe; edited by David Rawlins; production design, George Jenkins; produced by Michael Douglas; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Jane Fonda (Kimberly Wells), Jack Lemmon (Jack Godell), Michael Douglas (Richard Adams), Scott Brady (Herman De Young), James Hampton (Bill Gibson), Peter Donat (Don Jacovich) and Wilford Brimley (Ted Spindler).


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