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FLICK PICKS: Jack Lemmon on TCM
January 7, 2009  | By Diane Werts
 

Let other people be Movie Stars. Jack Lemmon was America's Everyman.

A manic modern husband. A mousy Navy ensign. An eager-beaver young executive used by his wily old boss. A murder-witnessing musician fleeing for his life -- in drag.

So maybe that last one isn't so everyday. But Lemmon could pull that off, too, as made blissfully evident on Turner Classic Movies each Wednesday in January, when TCM unreels 25 sweet (and sour) delights featuring its Star of the Month.

jack lemmon judy holliday.jpgThe initial lineup spotlights early Lemmon, from the mid-1950s, when he was establishing himself as a leading light in Hollywood's humor shift away from the louder screwball-driven style of previous decades toward "contemporary" light comedy. As the perfect male partner for bubbly Judy Holliday in one of their two frothy pairings, 1954's Phffft! (Wednesday at 8 p.m. ET, TCM), he's an ex-husband who can't seem to get the ex- part finalized. (TCM has scheduled their earlier team effort, It Should Happen to You, for the afternoon of Feb. 1.)


The night also includes Lemmon's star break -- and Oscar-winning effort -- in 1955's Mister Roberts (Wednesday at 9:45 p.m. ET, TCM). The Naval comedy came from Broadway with noble Henry Fonda in the title role, then added dynamic James Cagney as the volcanic Captain, which only made Lemmon more relatable as the nervous Ensign Pulver.

lemmon some like it hot.jpgNext week's Jan. 14 slate of circa-'60 titles finds Lemmon a bankable lead in such all-time classics as The Apartment and Some Like It Hot [photo at right], plus my personal favorite, The Fortune Cookie, his first pairing with Walter Matthau. Its shady antics reteamed Lemmon with biting writer-director Billy Wilder, who helmed all four of the star's Jan. 14 films (also including Irma La Douce).


Wilder spotted not just killer comic timing in Lemmon but, more crucially, a resonant well of anguish underlying the laughs. And strength, too, even when he's victimized. That's what makes The Apartment so moving (with Shirley MacLaine's help, of course). And what sets up perhaps the movies' best-ever final line, in Some Like It Hot. Lemmon's quite a man, after all . . .

 
 
 
 
 
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