Friday, June 13, 2008

turner rep: Jack & Walter



The intertwined careers of Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau are celebrated by Turner Classics with a four-film mini-tribute, starting at 10:15 p.m. (est) on Saturday, June 14th, and continuing until the wee hours on Sunday.

Kicking things off is Billy Wilder's sardonic, gray-colored farce, "The Fortune Cookie" (1966), which was sort of a blind date for the boys - their first film together and the start of their unexpected teaming.

Matthau has the showier role as the shady, game-playing lawyer, Whiplash Willie Gingrich; Lemmon - playing Willie's easily manipulated brother-in-law, Harry Hinkle, a convenient accident victim - pretty much handed the film over to him. Lemmon may be immobolized in a wheelchair but his quiet performance, free of the usual Lemmon fussiness, is a revelation - an education in relaxed, minimal screen acting.

The talented Judi West and Ron Rich shine in supporting roles - she as Lemmon's disreputable wife and he as the athlete who allegedly crippled him - and they're so good that one has to wonder exactly what happened to them. West, who had made a name for herself in the Marilyn Monroe role in the Broadway production of Arthur Miller's "After the Fall," went on to marry actor John Rubenstein, but did little film work thereafter. Rich, to the best of my knowledge, made only one other film, 1968's "Chubasco."

What a waste.

"The Fortune Cookie" will be followed by the two actors' sole directing credits - Lemmon's "Kotch" (1971), at 12:30 a.m. (est) Sunday, with Matthau in the title role as a lively senior, and Matthau's own "Gangster Story" (1960), a tidy noir in which the actor does double-duty, also playing the role of a cop killer who plans a robbery. Carol Grace, Matthau's wife, has the female lead. It airs at 4:45 a.m. (est)

"Plaza Suite" (1971), Arthur Hiller's film of one of Neil Simon's stage comedies starring Matthau, pops up in-between at 2:45 a.m. (est)

Note in Passing: Matthau's connection to Lemmon goes beyond the few films they made toghther. In 1958, Matthau was directed by Norman Taurog in a forgotten little character-driven comedy for Warner Bros. called "Onionhead" It was Matthau's second film with Andy Griffith, following Elia Kazan's "A Face in the Crowd" (1957), of course.

The leading lady in "Onionhead" with Griffith and Matthau was Felicia Farr, the future wife of ... Jack Lemmon.

Coincidentally, "A Face in the Crowd" also airs on Turner on Saturday, June 14th - at 8 p.m. (est) - as an entry in "The Essentials," hosted by Robert Osborne and Rose McGowan.

Now, if only Turner could ressurect "Onionhead."

(Artwork: Lemmon and Matthau - before "Grumpy Old Men" and before "The Odd Couple" - in "The Fortune Cookie"; poster art for "Onionhead")

3 comments:

Bill C. said...

I wish Turner would air some of Lemmon and Matthau's lesser-known films, such as "The Grass Harp" and "Out to Sea," both very good films. Never heard of "Onionhead" but would love to see it.

jbryant said...

Ron Rich also appeared in some movie called "Throw Out the Anchor!" in 1974, and has a few TV credits, but nothing past an episode of "Taxi" in '78 (his unpromising role name: "Attendant").

bill c. - I didn't see "The Grass Harp" but I, too, enjoyed "Out to Sea" a great deal. An underrated entry in the Lemmon/Matthau filmography.

jbryant said...

Ron Rich also appeared in some movie called "Throw Out the Anchor!" in 1974, and has a few TV credits, but nothing past an episode of "Taxi" in '78 (his unpromising role name: "Attendant").

bill c. - I didn't see "The Grass Harp" but I, too, enjoyed "Out to Sea" a great deal. An underrated entry in the Lemmon/Matthau filmography.