Jack Lemmon - disheveled, unshaven and experimenting in Clive Donner's "Luv" (1967)
Jack Lemmon's career, by my count, went through four stages.
There was his early Columbia/Richard Quine run; his United Artists/Billy Wilder period; the 1970s-'80s section (for me, the most interesting), during which he experimented with aging on film and in life, and his finale where he did tiny variations on old men in such titles as James Foley's "Glengarry Glen Ross," Robert Altman's "Short Cuts," Oliver Stone's "JFK," Martha Coolidge's "Out to Sea" and, of course, the hugely popular "Grumpy Old Men" Twins.
For its Lemmon tribute tonight, Turner Classic Movies is dwelling largely on his fascinating '70s-'80s period. The one exception is its 8 p.m., est., screening of Donald Petrie's "Grumpy Old Men" (1993), co-starring Walter Matthau (natch), which opens this concluding chapter of Star of the Month.
"Grumpy Old Men" is followed immediately at 10 p.m., est., by Melvin Frank's filmization of Neil Simon's "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" (1975), which features one of Jack's best and most intuitive performances. Cast opposite a game Anne Bancroft, Jack plays a suddenly out-of-work middle-aged man, on the verge of a nervous breakdown, with intense discipline and precision. The roles on stage were played by Lee Grant and Peter Falk, who appeared with Jack in Blake Edwards' "The Great Race" (1965) and Clive Donner's "Luv" (1967), detailed below.
From here, we move on to back-to-back screenings of his Oscar-nominated role in James Bridges' "The China Syndrome" (1979), at midnight, est., and his Oscar-winning performance in John G. Avildsen's "Save the Tiger" (1973), arguably the definitive mid-life-crisis film. It airs tomorrow - Thursday, 29 January - at 2:15 a.m., est.
Above and Below: Al Hirschfeld's take on the films of "The Prisoner of Second Avenue" and "Luv"At 4 p.m., est., there's Billy Wilder's luxurient, leisurely romance of impromptu, last-chance love, "Avanti!" (1972), from the Samuel Taylor play, followed at 6:30 a.m., est. by Arthur Hiller's "The Out-of-Towners" (1969), based on an original screenplay by Neil Simon - inarguably, a comedy that continues to improve with age, with a comic duet by Jack and Sandy Dennis as a couple who become almost obsessively angry when confronted by a brutalizing New York. They turn as bullying and as ugly as the city itself and that's exactly the point, friends.
The evening and the tribute conclude with a rare letterboxed screening, at 8:15 a.m., of Donner's film of Murray Schisgal's brilliant crackpot-of-a-play, "Luv," in which Jack, Peter Falk and Elaine May assume the roles played by Alan Arkin, Eli Wallach and Anne Jackson on stage. (Donner is best-known for directing 1965's "What's New, Pussycat?")
The material transfers uncertainly to the screen and Jack - seen here unshaven, disheveled and emaciated (due to weight loss for the role) as a vagrant - doesn't really have the Second City sensibility that it requires (Arkin had it in spades) but it works as a worthy, if misconceived experiment by a good sport. The acerbic, madcap May, the best-cast person in the film, effortlessly steals the show - a piece that has little on its mind except to ruminate ad infinitum on the glories of love while its characters continually trash it. Love, that is. Of all the title's in Turner's tribute, this is the one I'm looking forward to seeing again.
Jack and Catherine in "The April Fools" - Where is it?Missing from this particuarly rich (if largely unheralded) period of Jack's career are his Oscar-nominated performance in Constantin Costa-Gavras' affecting "Missing" (1982); his charming mid-life romance with Catherine Deneuve in Stuart Rosenberg's neglected "The April Fools" (1969); his offbeat chemistry with Genevieve Bujold in John Korty's quirky "Alex and the Gypsy" (1976) and, to a much lesser degree, Bob Clark's "Tribute" (1980) and Billy Wilder's "The Front Page" (1974).
Notes in Passing: Jack Lemmon and Alan Arkin, whose role Jack played in the film of "Luv," eventually teamed up in "Glengarry Glen Ross." Also, Columbia possibly had plans to talented Elaine May, given that it cast her in two prime comedy roles - in Carl Reiner's "Enter Laughing," as well as "Luv." Incidentally, Donner's first choice for the female role in "Luv" was ... Julie Christie. Both were made in 1967.
Elaine May on location in New York with "Luv" co-stars, Jack and Peter Falk