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Some Like It Lemmon

February 23, 1992|SUSAN KING

After you see Jack Lemmon strut his comedic stuff in "For Richer, For Poorer," head to your local video store to check out these Lemmon favorites:

He made an auspicious feature film debut in 1954's comedy "It Should Happen to You" (RCA/Columbia). George Cukor directed this delightful bit of fluff about a struggling New York actress (Judy Holliday) who decides to advertise her name on billboards all over the Big Apple. Lemmon offers fine support as Holliday's boyfriend. The duo also appeared in the comedy "Phffft."

With just a few films under his belt, Lemmon landed the plum comedic role of the opportunistic Ensign Pulver in "Mister Roberts" (Warner Home Video) and received the best supporting actor Oscar. Based on the hit Broadway comedy, this 1955 release stars Henry Fonda, who originated the role on Broadway, as Mister Roberts, the restless officer assigned to a cargo ship stationed in the Pacific during World War II. William Powell (in his last film) and James Cagney also star. John Ford and Mervyn LeRoy directed.

Released in 1957, the melodrama "Fire Down Below" (RCA/Columbia) gave Lemmon one of his first opportunities to be dramatic on the big screen. Lemmon and tough guy Robert Mitchum play owners of a tramp boat who both fall in love with sultry Rita Hayworth while on a trip between islands in the Pacific.

Though Joe E. Brown exclaims "Nobody's perfect!" at the end of "Some Like It Hot" (MGM/UA), this 1959 comedy is perfection. Billy Wilder directed and co-wrote, with I.A.L. Diamond, the farce about two struggling jazz musicians (Lemmon and Tony Curtis) who witness the St. Valentine's Day Massacre. On the lam from the mob, they disguise themselves as women and join an all-girl orchestra. Lemmon in drag finds himself the object of a much-married millionaire's (Brown) affections. And Curtis is drawn to the band's lead singer Sugar (Marilyn Monroe). Curtis and Monroe are terrific, but Lemmon steals the show and received his first best actor Oscar nomination.

The next year, Lemmon and Wilder teamed for the cynical, biting, Oscar-winning comedy-drama "The Apartment" (MGM/UA). Lemmon plays a young executive who tries to climb the corporate ladder by lending out his apartment key to married executives. Trouble sets in when he falls for his boarish boss' (Fred MacMurray) new girlfriend (an endearing Shirley MacLaine). Both Lemmon and MacLaine received Oscar nominations.

The bleak, unsettling 1962 release "The Days of Wine and Roses" (Warner Home Video) features one of Lemmon's strongest performances for which he received another Oscar nomination. Lemmon and the equally excellent Lee Remick play a young married couple whose happy life is shattered when they become alcoholics. Based on J.P. Miller's acclaimed television play; directed by Blake Edwards.

Three years after their success in "The Apartment," Lemmon, Wilder and MacLaine teamed again for the saucy comedy "Irma La Douce" (MGM/UA). The comedy pales, though, in comparison to "The Apartment." Still, Lemmon does have his moments as a Parisian cop who falls for a hooker (Shirley MacLaine) and goes to any lengths to keep her for himself. MacLaine received an Oscar nomination as Irma; look for a young James Caan in a small part.

Lemmon teamed with co-star Walter Matthau for the first time in Billy Wilder's dark 1966 comedy "The Fortune Cookie" (Commtron). Lemmon stars as a TV cameraman who is injured during a football game. Matthau won the best supporting actor Oscar as Lemmon's shyster lawyer brother-in-law, who exaggerates the extent of Lemmon's injuries for insurance purposes. Not for everyone's taste.

Far more accessible is 1968's hit "The Odd Couple" (Paramount). Lemmon and Matthau have a field day together in this enjoyable adaptation of Neil Simon's long-running Broadway hit about two mismatched roommates, Felix and Oscar.

Lemmon's Oscar-winning performance is the best reason to rent 1973's "Save the Tiger" (Paramount). Steve Shagan's drama about a dress manufacturer who undergoes many degradations to save his failing business is an unpleasant affair, but Lemmon is wonderful. Jack Gilford offers strong support.

It was a case of life imitating the movies with 1979's "The China Syndrome" (RCA/Columbia), a compelling thriller about a meltdown and cover-up at a nuclear power plant. Just weeks after the film's release the world was stunned by the nuclear accident at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania. Lemmon received yet another Oscar nomination for his riveting, sympathetic turn as the power plant's loyal executive; Jane Fonda and Michael Douglas play the news team that uncovers the cover-up.

Lemmon received his last Oscar nomination for Costa-Gavras' riveting, disturbing 1982 political thriller "Missing" (MCA), based on the true story of a young American (John Shea) who is "missing" in a troubled Latin American country. Sissy Spacek plays Shea's wife, who refuses to believe the American government's story on her husband's whereabouts; Lemmon is superb as Shea's stubborn, right-wing father.

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