Tag Archives: Jack Lemmon

Airport ’77 (1977)

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Plane crashes into ocean.

Rich tycoon Philip Stevens (James Stewart) invites his high society friends to his home in Palm Beach, Florida by flying them over on his luxury jet. Unfortunately a gang of hijackers have decided to use this opportunity to steal some expensive artwork, which is also on the plane, by rigging the venting system with sleeping gas, which temporarily knocks-out the Captain (Jack Lemmon) along with all the passengers. Then as everyone sleeps the thieves steal the artwork while the co-captain (Robert Foxworth), who is in on the crime, pilots the plane, but while going into some heavy fog the plane grazes an offshore oil rig that sends the craft and everyone on it into the ocean forcing the panicked people to figure out some way to signal those on the ground that they need help.

Although Airport 1975 did well at the box office it was critically maligned and producer Jennings Lang wanted to come up with some way to keep the theme fresh and inventive. In most ways the film succeeds and can be considered an admirable sequel as the silly humor from the first two is taken out and the audience gets left with a high adrenaline disaster flick that is convincing and compelling.

Unfortunately the first 35 minutes almost kills it as the film is too intent on setting up contrived soap opera-like storylines for all of its characters. The lovesick gaze that Kathleen Quinlan gives to blind musician Tom Sullivan as he plays a romantic tune on the piano is sappy enough to make some viewers want to turn the movie off completely. The side-story dealing with Lemmon’s relationship with head stewardess Brenda Vaccaro was not needed, although the way he rescues her at the end is quite cool, and is too similar to one between Dean Martin’s and Jacqueline Bisset’s characters in the first film. Lee Grant can play a bitch with a capital ‘B’, but here it gets over-the-top making her so unlikable I didn’t care if she lived or died. I was hoping that, through the course of the film, her character would be forced to show a sympathetic side at some point, but she never does.

If you can get past the clunky beginning then you’ll be rewarded with a genuinely exciting and tense second-half. The special effects are well done and watching the cast, who bravely did most of their own stunts, get doused with gallons of rushing water inside the plane is a tense and impressive moment.

Lemmon is excellent and his presence helps elevate it from just being a cheesy disaster flick. Christopher Lee is good in an uncharacteristically sympathetic role making me believe that maybe he should’ve played more of these types of parts in his career. Foxworth is also effective as the duplicitous co-pilot. He’s played bad guys before, so watching him become evil wasn’t a stretch, but I enjoyed how the camera cuts back occasionally to show his guilt-ridden face as he watches the others struggle to survive.

Screen icon James Stewart is wasted in a part that gives him very little to do other than standing around with a perpetually concerned look on his face and it would’ve been more interesting having him on the plane with the others. George Kennedy gets his token appearance as Joe Patroni the only character to appear in all four Airport films, but it hardly seems worth it. His caustic, brash personality that made him so engaging in the first movie is completely lost here making him dull and transparent and virtually pointless to the main story.

While it does seem a bit too similar to The Poseidon Adventure it still has some great underwater footage particularly when the rescue naval crew puts balloons underneath the craft in an attempt to lift the plane out of the water, which is unique and not shown in any other movie and makes this worth catching just for that.

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: March 11, 1977

Runtime: 1 Hour 54 Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Jerry Jameson

Studio: Universal

Available: DVD, Amazon Video, YouTube

Buddy Buddy (1981)

buddy-buddy-2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 7 out of 10

4-Word Review: Suicidal man hampers hit.

Trabucco (Walter Matthau) checks into a hotel intent on completing a hit by shooting a mob informant before he can testify at trial. He’s already killed the two other informants with relative ease, but now finds this one to be much more complicated due to having to deal with Victor (Jack Lemmon) who resides in the adjoining room. Victor is upset that his wife Celia (Paula Prentiss) has left him for a sex therapist (Klaus Kinski) and proceeds to try to hang himself by tying the noose around the water pipes in the bathroom, but all he succeeds at doing is busting the pipes and creating a flood. Trabucco decides to ‘befriend’ the man in order to keep an eye on him and prevent him from trying to kill himself again, which he feels will only lead to unwanted attention from the authorities. However, Jack causes more problems for him than the police ever could.

This was the last film directed by Billy Wilder who stated in more than a few interviews that he considers this movie to be his poorest effort and his least favorite. Matthau and Lemmon have pretty much said the same thing as well. The film was a critical flop and lost 3.5 million at the box office, which helped to prevent Wilder from ever helming another movie again.

However, I was delightfully surprised at how funny I found this movie to be. It’s not exactly laugh-out-loud hilarity, but on a low-key level it works. The part where Lemmon gets tied to a chair and his mouth gagged while he screams at an ambivalent housekeeper (Bette Raya) to free him is quite good and the part where the two men going gliding down a clothes chute is fun too.

The whole thing is a remake of the French film A Pain in the A__, but it implements changes to the plot that improves it from the original. For one thing the dialogue is funnier, the two men have more genuine conversations and they even develop a bit of a bonding. The film adds more characters too like the beleaguered Captain Hubris played by Dana Elcar who tries in vain to protect the witnesses from Trubacco, but with little success. The distinctive musical score by Lalo Shifrin is also big improvement.

Lemmon is quite funny as he plays a sort-of hyped-up version of his Felix Unger character. Matthau seems a bit stymied in a role that allows for very little expression, but he still manages to make the most of it. My favorite performance though was that of Kinski who takes a rare comic turn and utters the movies best line: “Pre-ejaculation means always having to say you’re sorry.”

Having the two actually work together to complete the hit and then make an escape from the cops is good and something that did not occur in the original. The resolution, which takes place on a tropical island, is a bit of an improvement over the first one though it’s still not perfect. In either event it’s a relatively solid comedy that offers a few good laughs and deserves more attention especially for fans of Lemmon/Matthau.

buddy-buddy-1

buddy-buddy-3

My Rating: 7 out of 10

Released: December 11, 1981

Runtime: 1Hour 36Minutes

Rated R

Director: Billy Wilder

Studio: MGM

Available: VHS

The China Syndrome (1979)

china-syndrome

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 8 out of 10

4-Word Review: He senses the vibration.

Kimberly Wells (Jane Fonda) is a television news reporter who along with Richard (Michael Douglas) her cameraman gets a chance to go inside a nuclear power plant and film its operations. While inside they witness the plant going through an emergency shutdown when the coolant to one of the nuclear reactors becomes dangerously low. Richard secretly films the nervous reactions of the men in the control room during the incident and wants to broadcast the footage on the news, but the station managers refuse for fear they might get sued. Later Kimberly comes into contact with Jack (Jack Lemmon) who is a shift supervisor at the plant and he informs her that the welds on the pumps are compromised and could lead to a core meltdown at some point. Richard, Kimberly and Jack then conspire to somehow get this information out to the public before it is too late while also avoiding those who wish to silence them.

One of the things I really enjoyed about this film is the way it remains completely realistic throughout and never once compromises anything simply for the sake of cheap drama. The behind-the-scenes politics of an on air news show is quite fascinating particularly how it is decided what constitutes ‘news’ and what doesn’t as well as the staff’s pecking-order and how an individual reporter has limited say on what topics they can actually report on.

The inside of the power plant is impressive particularly the scene where Jack goes inside the massive pump room to investigate a leak. The control room looks quite authentic and the film’s final twenty-five minutes take place solely inside of it, which makes for a gripping climax.

The film also has the distinction of having no musical soundtrack. Other than a song by Stephan Bishop which is played at the beginning there is no other music to be heard and quite frankly I didn’t miss it at all. The sound of the power plant’s emergency alarm going off is all that is needed to create tension and having the closing credits scroll to a deadening silence leaves a powerful impact. Apparently a score was composed by Michael Small, but it was rejected and rightly so as I listened to some of it and it had way too much of a disco sound and didn’t fit the theme at all.

The stars are excellent, but I was surprised how Fonda’s part gets increasingly pared down as the movie progresses. Douglas steals it away from her during an angry confrontation with his superiors, but ultimately Lemmon is the real star even though it deceptively doesn’t start out that way. The supporting cast is equally good including Wilford Brimley as a loyal, but quiet employee, Scott Brady as the cantankerous plant manager and Richard Herd as the steely and conniving owner.

As for the merits of the film’s message it’s hard to say. What was once a hot/trendy topic during the ‘70s and ‘80s now seems long forgotten. However, the script still brings up many good points no matter what one’s political leanings are and it’s great to watch a film that can be intelligent and entertaining at the same time without ever going overboard on either end.

My Rating: 8 out of 10

Released: March 16, 1979

Runtime: 2Hours 2Minutes

Rated PG

Director: James Bridges

Studio: Columbia Pictures

Available: DVD, Blu-ray (Region 0), Amazon Instant Video, YouTube

The War Between Men and Women (1972)

war between men and women 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Misogynist cartoonist goes blind.

Peter Wilson (Jack Lemmon) is a popular cartoonist whose drawings depict women in disparaging ways. He enjoys his job and single lifestyle where he can live on his terms and keeps his apartment as messy as possible, which he usually does. However, his already poor eyesight gets worse and upon a recent visit to his optometrist (Severn Darden) he finds that he must get an operation to help save it and even then there is a fifty percent chance that he could still go blind. Despondent and depressed he meets Theresa (Barbara Harris) a single mother with issues of her own. The two enter into a whirlwind romance that quickly leads to marriage only to have Theresa’s ex-husband Stephen (Jason Robards) show up at the wedding and wanting to rekindle their relationship.

Peter’s character is loosely based on James Thurber and the film itself is a distant cousin to the TV-series ‘My World and Welcome to it’ that aired for one year on NBC during the 1969-70 season. The film though doesn’t have enough of Thurber’s whimsical humor to make it worth watching. It starts off with some potential as it opens with a weird animated segment and drawings that closely resembled Thurber’s, but then quickly devolves into a contrived comedy/romance with maudlin drama thrown in that makes it seem like two movies in one. Had it stuck with the animation it would’ve done better, but even that gets kind of stupid including one segment where Peter’s drawings start to attack him, which forces the humans to stage an all-out war between them and the cartoon characters.

Peter’s acerbic, woman hating personality is initially diverting, but then for no reason he does a 180-degree turn by falling in-love with Theresa almost immediately and becoming a conventional husband and father while turning the film into a silly version of ‘The Brady Bunch’. I also couldn’t understand why Theresa would fall so head-over-heels for Peter as the two are trading barbs one second and then in bed together the next making their character’s motivations quite confusing.

Robards, who has his hair dyed dark brown and is almost unrecognizable, gets stuck with a thankless supporting role and is seen only briefly. Initially his presence had some potential as he starts to become buddies with Peter and plot against Theresa, but then his character dies unexpectedly making it confusing why he had been written-in in the first place. Lisa Gerritsen, who is best known for playing Cloris Leachman’s daughter in the ‘Mary Tyler Moore Show’ TV-show and the subsequent spin-off ‘Phyllis’ has some appealing moments, but her constant stammering becomes annoying.

Thurber’s wit was unique and legendary, but this film is too timid to dive completely into it. I suppose the idea of having an openly misogynistic protagonist was considered ‘too edgy’ for early 70’s cinema, so attempts were made to make the character more mainstream, but in the process creates a film that is disjointed and bland.

war between men and women 3

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: June 1, 1972

Runtime: 1Hour 38Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Melville Shavelson

Studio: National General Pictures

Available: VHS

Alex & The Gypsy (1976)

alex and the gypsy

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Gypsy out on bail.

Alex is a middle-aged bail bondsman who is down on life and masks his disappointments with cynicism. By chance he meets the beautiful Maritza (Genevieve Bujold) a young gypsy woman who travels the countryside reading people’s palms and futures for a living. When she is accused of trying to kill her father and thrown into jail Alex decides to post her 30,000 dollar bail in an attempt for a brief romantic fling, but she instead spends the whole time trying to escape and keeping the overly-stressed Alex constantly on guard to prevent it.

The film has a pleasantly laid-back, free-spirited style to it that at times does meander, but nicely reflects the attitude and feeling of the decade that it is in. Director John Korty wisely pulls back and doesn’t try to over-direct, but instead allows his talented cast to carry the picture by creating well-defined and relatable characters. The dialogue and conversations are full of dry, acerbic wit and just the right amount of jaded sensibilities to keep it hip and real.

Lemon is great and has grown as an actor by taking on roles that are more world-weary and edgy  and going light years from the clean-cut, all-American young man type characters that he played in the comedies from the 50’s and early 60’s where he always was naïve and in-over-his-head. Here the character is like an extension of the one he played in Save the Tiger that being a middle-aged man who has lost his faith in everything and everyone and yet still holds out for that elusive moment of magic. His side comments are amusing making this one of his funniest and most endearing performances.

Bujold is ravishing and in fact I don’t think I’ve ever seen her looking better. Korty seems to know how to photograph her in just the right way by making full use of her prominent and alluring eyes. Her moments on screen give off a subtly sensual quality. Her nude scenes aren’t bad either particularly when she is lying handcuffed to a bed almost emotionless while Lemmon, who is under the covers, attempts to have sex with her.

James Woods is also terrific showing a surprising knack for comedy as Alex’s nerdy and timid assistant. Although his character has only limited screen time he skillfully manages to almost steal the film from his two more established co-stars especially in a scene in the bail office where Alex gets bribed by a mafia criminal as well as another one inside a hospital where he tries to explain to Alex why he foolishly allowed Maritza to get away.

The ending is the film’s only real letdown. It is not a particularly bad one, but it is a little too cute and doesn’t seem to mesh well with the rest of the film. It also offers no real conclusion and leaves the viewer hanging as to what ultimately became of these characters. A little more of a side-story particularly the one involving the bounty hunter (Todd Martin) might have given the film a bit more excitement and dimension.

I also wasn’t too crazy about Henry Mancini’s melodic and serene score. He’s a great composer for sure, but something with more of an acoustic or modern folk rock tinge might have fit the story’s theme and mood better.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: October 3, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 40Minutes

Rated R

Director: John Korty

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: None at this time.