Jack Lemmon

Grumpier Old Men (1995, Howard Deutch)

The first half of Grumpier Old Men is such an improvement over the original, it could be a paragon of sequels. Director Deutch knows how to showcase the actors amid all the physical comedy. There’s a lot of physical comedy and sight gags in Grumpier. There’s Walter Matthau doing the Saturday Night Fever strut while in his mid-seventies and in a bathrobe in rural but probably not that rural, they just never talk about it, Minnesota. Grumpier has a lot of laughs. It’s learned from the experience of the previous one; screenwriter Mark Steven Johnson has, as far as setting up scenes for this particular cast, learned.

And Deutch has just the right take on the material, just the right balance between laughing at the characters and with them. And it’s sometimes hard to laugh with Matthau and fellow septuagenarian rascal, Jack Lemmon. They’re dicks to new girl in town Sophia Loren, who’s just an Italian bombshell with a heart of gold trying to find the right man even though her mama (Ann Morgan Guilbert) thinks she’s cursed in love. Grumpier definitely never feels like an homage to an Italian melodrama from the late seventies, but you can at least imagine Loren and Guilbert having these arguments for the last forty years. You can’t really imagine Lemmon and Matthau when they’re not in the middle of a movie adventure; this time they’re planning their kids’ wedding—Lemmon’s daughter, Daryl Hannah, is marrying Matthau’s son, Kevin Pollak—then Loren comes to town and there’s the whole run the new girl out of town because she isn’t going to sell live bait in the boys’ old bait shop. Frankly, it’s a disappointment Ossie Davis doesn’t show up as a ghost. It’d be a bad move, but a likable one.

Because halfway through Grumpier Old Men, the film runs out of energy and then realizes it hasn’t been doing much with the story. The first half is Matthau mugging for the camera and fight-flirting with Loren. Lemmon’s the sidekick; outside a couple solid laughs, Lemmon and Ann-Margret are entirely support in the first act. They come back at the end of the second, when we get a preview of the spin-off melodrama where Capulet Hannah and Montague Pollak discover they can’t make the marriage work because their bloodlines hate each other. Actually, a divorce melodrama with this cast would be amazing. And might be a more appropriate use the Alan Silvestri score.

Because the third act solution to the kids’ relationship problems, manipulate Daryl Hannah. For her own good. With the help of her child. Because Grumpier Old Men isn’t older adult empowerment as much as it is the Little Rascals with Lemmon and Matthau. There’s the preview of that eventuality when they pull pranks on Loren before she opens her restaurant because they want to run her out of business. Loren’s solution? Cleavage, a red dress, a Monroe wiggle, and trying to seduce Matthau in the depressing town bar. Some of its optics distract from other of its optics and Loren and Matthau are really funny so… it gets a pass but it was probably foreshadowing for the second and third act problems.

Especially since they also get themselves out of every subplot’s narrative pickle in the laziest, most manipulative way possible—particularly taking into account the target audience, White grandparents and their grandchildren, stuck together on a holiday afternoon. Deus Deus Ex: Grumpier Old Men and BLANK: For now they kill me with a living death. But no spoilers. You can guess, though, if you’re familiar with the actor. Nudge nudge.

All those complaints made… it’s kind of a lot of fun for a while. Matthau’s schtick is great. Loren’s great. Burgess Meredith—as Lemmon’s foul-mouth-and-minded ninety-five year-old dad—is hilarious. Lemmon’s fine. Turns out he’s funnier in the outtakes, which is a weird way to end the movie, showing how much funnier it could have been if you weren’t going for so bland. Ann-Margret gets the worst part, outside Hannah. And Pollak, because Pollak’s unlikable. Especially when he gets stale, scene-ending one-liner observations about the human condition in middle class nineties America, especially with aging parents; part of Deutch’s lack of personality is his obvious inability to say no to bad ideas; it makes him a tragic figure in the Grumpier mess.

It’s kind of worth it for the cast.

It’s also definitely more successful than the first, even if it ends up disappointing. Matthau gets a solid part. Loren’s got a much better part than anyone else in the movie besides him… which is a qualified compliment but… it’s cute. In an absurd way. Especially given it’s appropriate for all ages but wants to keep everyone in the audience awake.

So maybe the droning, simplistic, brain-addling Silvestri score sends subliminal messages to knock out anyone who’d be offended by all the dick jokes. They were going to have fart jokes too—because it’s a theme in the outtakes—but apparently someone decided fart jokes would be too far.

Grumpier Old Men could be a whole lot worse.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Howard Deutch; written by Mark Steven Johnson; director of photography, Tak Fujimoto; edited by Maryann Brandon, Seth Flaum, and Billy Weber; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, Gary Frutkoff; costume designer, Lisa Jensen; produced by John Davis and Richard C. Berman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Walter Matthau (Max Goldman), Sophia Loren (Maria Sophia Coletta Ragetti), Jack Lemmon (John Gustafson), Ann Morgan Guilbert (Mama Ragetti), Ann-Margret (Ariel Gustafson), Daryl Hannah (Melanie Gustafson), Kevin Pollak (Jacob Goldman), Katie Sagona (Allie), Burgess Meredith (Grandpa Gustafson).


Grumpy Old Men (1993, Donald Petrie)

If Grumpy Old Men weren’t so scared of its ribald humor—giving almost all of it to dirty oldest man Burgess Meredith, who’s just there to make sex jokes and serves no other purpose in the film—you could probably just as well call it Horny Old Men. At least in Jack Lemmon’s case. He hasn’t gotten horizontal since 1978, which might be when his wife left. Grumpy’s pretty vague with its backstory, maybe because writer Mark Steven Johnson is far more comfortable with Lemmon and nemesis Walter Matthau bickering; or maybe he’s just not good at consistency in the exposition. Given the general ineptness of the narrative, it seems more like the latter.

Because even though the film’s principal cast is entirely AARP eligible, it’s not some empowering story about older adults living full lives; if it weren’t for Ann-Margret moving in across the street and reminding Matthau and Lemmon to perv at her through their windows, they’d be just as happy sitting around alone doing nothing. Sure, Matthau’s got his TV and Lemmon plays chess against himself, but their lives are just waiting for their kids to need them. The kids—Kevin Pollak is Matthau’s son, Daryl Hannah’s Lemmon’s daughter—are the only supporting characters with a full arc. Though… arguably, Lemmon is the only of the the main characters with a complete arc. Once the third act hits, Matthau and Ann-Margret act entirely for Lemmon’s benefit, even as he’s offscreen for a bunch of the finale.

Lemmon’s arc mostly involves him dodging IRS guy Buck Henry—who’s well-utilized and quite amusing in an otherwise bland little extended cameo—because (we learn) he wasn’t paying enough back when his ex-wife was working so he owes a bunch of money and they’re going to take his house. He’s not telling anyone about these problems—and the film isn’t telling the viewer either so it can double-up expository impact when Matthau finds out about it late in the second act—so it’s hard to take the problems seriously. You’re obviously not supposed to take Grumpy Old Men very seriously, from vulgar nonagenarian Meredith to Lemmon and Matthau’s mean-spirited bantering slash full-on slapstick physical comedy; Lemmon’s money problems, despite being the biggest plot (sorry, Ann-Margret), don’t make much impact. Lemmon’s great at fretting but fretting solo can’t compare to he and Matthau going thermonuclear. Especially since Matthau’s got zip to do except go thermonuclear.

Because they’re not really Grumpy Old Men in general, just specifically as it relates to the other. They’ve hated each other since childhood; despite being pals until puberty, the first girl to come between them broke the friendship early, which must have made it awkward when Lemmon then married the girl, had a couple kids—a son died in Vietnam to remind everyone it’s actually kind of serious but in a “this was very serious thirty years ago and not since” way—and was miserable with Matthau’s dream girl. Matthau meanwhile married a good woman—the way they talk about Lemmon’s ex-wife is… problematic. Though the script’s often problematic with its female characters. The boys initially suspect Ann-Margret is a free-love type, for example, and it’s impossible to fault them because her writing is so bad for most of the first act. She’s supposed to be a passionate literature professor living her best life as a widow, which involves snowmobiling a lot. And a sauna so they can show fifty-two year-old Ann-Margret can still cheesecake.

It’s also unclear why Ann-Margret’s only three options, dating-wise, are Lemmon (sixty-eight), Matthau (seventy-three), and Ossie Davis (seventy-six). Especially since she’s not just drawing stares from the oldest guys. Of course, the film’s not really interested in fleshing out the setting. Besides Lemmon, Matthau, Ann-Margrets’s homes, the frozen lake where the men all icefish because it’s Minnesota (Davis runs the bait shop and lunch counter), a bar, and a pharmacy, Grumpy Old Men doesn’t go anywhere.

The best performance is probably Matthau, just because he doesn’t get too much to do, whereas the script fails both Lemmon and Ann-Margret (mostly her). Davis is cute, Pollak is good, Hannah’s fine. Technically it’s competent. Petrie does fine showcasing the physical comedy and the banter. Johnny E. Jensen’s photography is better than it needs to be. The Alan Silvestri super-saccharine score is a tad much though.

Grumpy Old Men has got some solid laughs and not much else.

Oh, and listen fast for John Carroll Lynch.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Donald Petrie; written by Mark Steven Johnson; director of photography, Johnny E. Jensen; edited by Bonnie Koehler; music by Alan Silvestri; production designer, David Chapman; costume designer, Lisa Jensen; produced by John Davis and Richard C. Berman; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Jack Lemmon (John Gustafson), Walter Matthau (Max Goldman), Ann-Margret (Ariel Truax), Daryl Hannah (Melanie), Kevin Pollak (Jacob Goldman), Ossie Davis (Chuck), Buck Henry (Snyder), Christopher McDonald (Mike), and Burgess Meredith (Grandpa Gustafson).


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).


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).


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).


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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