Jack Lemmon Collection review

With his easygoing persona and mildly frazzled charm, Jack Lemmon helped set the template for the romantic comedy lead in the golden days of Hollywood. Those same traits also made him an easy favourite for directors like Billy Wilder, who cast him in such classics as Irma La Douce, Some Like It Hot and The Apartment. Sony’s new Jack Lemmon Collection doesn’t feature any of the actor’s collaborations with Wilder, nor does it spotlight any of Lemmon’s occasional (and acclaimed) dramatic turns. Instead, it features five never-before-on-DVD features, spanning from Lemmon’s second film and first lead role in 1954’s PHFFFT! to the mid-’60s farce Good Neighbour Sam.

Skipping Lemmon’s most acclaimed films means The Jack Lemmon Collection is a less-than-perfect introduction to the actor, but the films that Sony does include certainly have their charms. PHFFFT!, a quick lark about a recently divorced couple who inevitably come to regret the decision, proves that Lemmon had his persona worked out from the very beginning. Everything from his ease with rapid-fire dialogue to his effortless likability are already firmly in place. Military comedy Operation Mad Ball(1957) is pure madcap, with Lemmon as a scheming private stationed in France just as the war winds down. Ignoring a typically over-the-top cameo from Mickey Rooney as a jazz-obsessed officer, it’s probably the best of the bunch. Film noir spoof The Notorious Landlady (1962) gives it a run for its money, though, thanks in particular to a lead turn from Vertigo’s Kim Novak and a fine supporting performance from the always classy Fred Astaire.

Under the Yum Yum Tree (1963) sees Lemmon playing against type as a lecherous landlord meddling in the love life of one of his tenants. Lemmon’s character is an absolute lout, and the actor seems to revel in playing a character who’s so purely unlikable. Good Neighbor Sam (1964) takes a similar tack, though Lemmon’s character, a humble ad man, starts off as a clean-cut, all-American family man before getting tangled up in a morally questionable situation in the hopes of an easy $1 million. The two films make for an interesting time capsule of America’s changing values in the mid-’60s, but they also both play things overly broadly — especially in the sitcom-ish music cues that punctuate both.

Special features are pretty minimal, with theatrical trailers for all the films and a fawning, if not particularly informative, documentary hosted by Lemmon’s son. Still, the films themselves are well presented, and the set is a solid addition to any classic film buff’s collection.

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