Tag Archives: Fred MacMurray

The Apartment (1960, Billy Wilder)

The Apartment does whatever it can to remain a dramatic comedy when it shouldn’t be anymore. And sort of isn’t. When the film shifts into real drama, there’s no going back. Director Wilder gets it too. The film has a good comedy opening, a breathtaking dramatic middle, and a decent comedy end. The comedy in the opening and the end is very different. The opening comedy is sort of bemused–oh, isn’t it funny how office drone Jack Lemmon gets into management because he lends out his apartment to company managers to use with their girlfriends. You know, away from the wives.

Now, there’s drama of some kind forecast in the opening comedy. The comedy, drama, and comedy split doesn’t exactly fit the three acts. But is sort of shoe-horned to fit. Anyway. There’s some inevitable character drama forecast during the comedy. Lemmon’s got a crush on elevator girl and confirmed non-dater Shirley MacLaine. Turns out she’s not a non-dater, she’s just more discreet than the rest of the office staff. And by office staff, there are thousands of employees. An absurd number of them, actually, for the space. Because before The Apartment becomes a romantic pursuit comedy, it’s a modern office comedy.

Writers Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond do pretty well at the modern office comedy. It all hinges on Lemmon, who’s really got to do everything for twenty-five minutes. It’s a two-hour and change film. So the first fifth is all Lemmon and the modern office comedy involving his apartment. MacLaine shows up, but she’s just another piece of the office comedy.

It’s when Lemmon finally gets busted and big boss Fred MacMurray demands use of The Apartment does the film start moving. All the setup is Lemmon–quite spectacularly–spinning his wheels. There’s no narrative drive to Lemmon’s promotion goals because it’s unclear they’re goals. Certainly why they’d be goals. Lemmon’s character is the force of his personality and performance. It isn’t until the scene with MacMurray Lemmon has to do anything different. That scene changes the whole movie.

Then there’s sort of this mini-first act to the dramatic material, moving the film away from the comedy, bringing in MacLaine’s story. Told in exposition. There’s a lot of character revelations through exposition in The Apartment and they’re often spectacular, but never explored. Lemmon and MacLaine never get to develop in their scenes together. They spend most of the dramatic middle together. The middle of The Apartment is this short film within the film, where the direction changes, the script changes, the performances change.

And the middle is wonderful. Both Lemmon and MacLaine are fantastic. They have this parallel development arc. Lemmon’s falling for MacLaine, MacLaine’s getting back together with MacMurray. There are dramatic stakes involved; the film doesn’t prepare for them. Wilder and Diamond have some absurdism at the beginning, then they’ve got some shock value. But all very mild. The script relies on these sturdy narrative devices, but always carefully; making sure they never creak.

Wilder’s direction is outstanding. He, cinematographer Joseph LaShelle, and editor Daniel Mandell create a seamless visual experience. So seamless when it detaches from Lemmon and MacLaine in the last third, the second comedy section, it does so ahead of the story. The filmmaking and the writing are both phenomenal. Even when The Apartment is skipping character development for these short, tragic, cynically comedic set pieces in the last third. Wilder and Diamond make the film into a drama–almost entirely straight drama–in the middle, then try to avoid having to do a dramatic finish.

Because they want to do the romantic comedy, which is cute–Lemmon and MacLaine are cute, MacMurray’s great as the sleazebag boss–but they haven’t really set up. There are some big Lemmon revelations in the finale and they don’t fit with the rest of the character. Not how Wilder and Diamond handled him in the opening. The script also has a problem with MacLaine’s naiveté. Sometimes she has so much she couldn’t have gotten to where she’s gotten. She also gets some big revelations, but in the middle dramatic area–so not played for comedy like Lemmon’s later revelations–and they scuff with some of the earlier character development; the finale could fix it. But doesn’t. Because as much as the final third distances itself from Lemmon, it abandons MacLaine.

And when she is in it, Wilder and Diamond keep her as flat as possible. It’s very strange. The finale just feels perfunctory. Technically inspired, beautifully written, but perfunctory. The film stops worrying about its characters and concentrates on the most efficient way to finish things up.

The acting’s all great. Lemmon, MacLaine, MacMurray (whose paper thin character never gets any thicker). David Lewis and Ray Walston are awesome as a couple of Lemmon’s apartment leches. Jack Kruschen and Naomi Stevens are Lemmon’s neighbors, who think he’s a sex addict with all the activity in his apartment; they play a big part in the middle. They go from being bit comedy background to this spectacular dramatic support.

Hope Holiday is hilarious. It’s kind of an extended cameo; the part’s beautifully written and Holiday’s fantastic. The other thing about The Apartment is how little Wilder and Diamond try in the final section. They employ these particular, different, precise narrative devices–always beautifully executed–and then they give up on trying for new ones in the finale.

Edie Adams is good as MacMurray’s secretary. She too goes from background to… well, not support, but also not background. The way the script makes room for bigger parts for the characters is another phenomenal quality of it. And another one the finale ignores.

The Apartment is rather frustrating. It’s spectacular film. Masterfully, exquisitely produced. But still disappointing. It pulls off this great transition from comedy to drama and then shrugs at the transition back. It never runs out of enthusiasm just ambition.

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Billy Wilder; written by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond; director of photography, Joseph LaShelle; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by Adolph Deutsch; released by United Artists.

Starring Jack Lemmon (C.C. Baxter), Shirley MacLaine (Fran Kubelik), Fred MacMurray (Jeff D. Sheldrake), Jack Kruschen (Dr. Dreyfuss), Edie Adams (Miss Olsen), Naomi Stevens (Mrs. Mildred Dreyfuss), Ray Walston (Joe Dobisch), David Lewis (Al Kirkeby), Johnny Seven (Karl Matuschka), and Hope Holiday (Mrs. Margie MacDougall).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE GREATEST FILM I'VE NEVER SEEN BLOGATHON HOSTED BY DEBBIE OF MOON IN GEMINI.


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Pushover (1954, Richard Quine)

As far as suspension of disbelief goes, nothing in Pushover compares to the second scene of the film, when twenty-one year-old Kim Novak makes goggly-eyes over forty-eight year-old Fred MacMurray. Both actors handle it straight, which is impressive on its own, but clearly MacMurray realizes how lucky he’s got it. Turns out he’s a cop assigned to seduce a bank robber’s gal–the bank robbery is the opening sequence and fantastic; for whatever reason police captain E.G. Marshall thought MacMurray would be better for the seduction job than slightly more age appropriate Philip Carey, MacMurray’s pal and partner.

Though Carey, it turns out, has some problems with women of “that” type.

Anyway, when Novak figures out she’s been duped and tells MacMurray maybe they should bump off her boyfriend and take the money and run off together… it’s not really too surprising MacMurray’s eventually going to go for it. He holds out something like two days, which is sort of unbelievable. Also unbelievable is MacMurray waited this long to go killer cop, but whatever.

MacMurray, Carey, and questionably professional Allen Nourse (he’s got drinking problems) are staking out Novak’s. First night, Novak heads back to MacMurray’s place looking for him–he’s the one trailing her, presumably realizes where she’s going, doesn’t like her scheme. Then comes around (when he gets back and lies to Carey about what happened, it’s pretty obvious where Pushover is going). Though, the title ought to be a give away. An additional though, however, is Novak seems to genuinely care about MacMurray, which is quizzical to say the least. She’s not a femme fatale in the standard sense. She’s tragic, maybe, and a whole lot more likable than MacMurray by the end.

MacMurray is still somewhat likable by the end, just because it’s MacMurray and, well, even if the movie pretends it’s normal for Novak to go gaga over him… you can only suspend so much disbelief.

The movie runs just under ninety minutes and most of the runtime is spent on the night Novak’s boyfriend shows up and MacMurray executes his plan. Of course, since Nourse is a drunk, things go wrong. And then MacMurray keeps stepping in it, including getting seen in Novak’s apartment by neighbor Dorothy Malone. Malone’s got the wholesome romance subplot with Carey–she’s a nurse and the “right” type as far as Carey’s considered. Given he spends four nights peeping her through her windows when he ought to be watching Novak’s apartment, he ought to know.

Things keep getting worse and worse for MacMurray as he tries to salvage the scheme. All of the action takes place, by this point, in or around Novak’s apartment building. Every time they get out on the street, director Quine and cinematographer Lester White really show off, like they’ve been cooped up too long in the sets and they want to do something neat on location. And they do some neat stuff. Great shadows in Pushover, starting with that second scene, when Novak picks up the irresistible MacMurray (seriously, it seems like she knows him or something she moons over him so much).

As MacMurray’s murders rack up, it becomes more and more obvious he’s probably not going to get away with it–by the second one, you really aren’t rooting for him anymore (but Carey’s such a square it’s hard to root for him, Marshall’s great but an ass, and Novak’s still kind of tragically likable)–so it’s watching the disasters in slow motion. MacMurray’s not great at any of the scheming, he’s just so enamored with Novak. Understandably but, well, maybe he should’ve given it some more thought. Maybe gone bowling instead of stewed over it–the first act is full of character details, which make zero difference once the film moves into pseudo-realtime for most of the second and third acts.

Nice direction from Quine. Good script from Roy Huggins. Pushover never slows down; it needs the pace to make up for MacMurray’s occasionally obviously terrible ideas. Absolutely wonderful score from Arthur Morton. The music and the cinematography deserve a far better project than a professional, adequate thriller.

MacMurray’s a solid lead, of course. His likability is truly exceptional given his character’s actions and almost bemused lack of remorse. Novak’s good; she doesn’t get much to do after the setup, but when she does, she’s good. Better when it’s not her listening to MacMurray’s reassurances regarding their plotting, however. Malone and Nourse are both good. Marshall’s great. Carey’s… earnest. He’s square to the point of being a jackass, but then again, he never realized his best friend was capable not just of corruption but multi-murder.

Pushover’s an engaging, well-executed ninety minutes. Some gorgeous Los Angeles night time shooting and some phenomenal pacing. It’s successful. It’s just not ambitious, outside the technical aspects.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Richard Quine; screenplay by Roy Huggins, based on novels by Thomas Walsh and Bill S. Ballinger; director of photography, Lester White; edited by Jerome Thoms; music by Arthur Morton; produced by Jules Schermer; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Fred MacMurray (Sheridan), Kim Novak (Lona), Philip Carey (McAllister), Dorothy Malone (Ann Stewart), Allen Nourse (Dolan), and E.G. Marshall (Eckstrom).



THIS POST IS PART OF THE FRED MACMURRAY BLOGATHON HOSTED BY PHYLLIS OF PHYLLIS LOVES CLASSIC MOVIES.


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Double Indemnity (1944, Billy Wilder)

Double Indemnity is mostly a character study. There’s the noir framing device–wounded insurance salesman Fred MacMurray stumbling into his office and recording his confession on a dictaphone. Turns out he met a woman and things didn’t work out.

MacMurray narrates the entire film. Occasionally the action returns to him sitting in the office, bleeding out. He’s always present. And he’s the only one always present. His confession is for Edward G. Robinson, who plays the insurance company claims manager and the closest thing MacMurray has to a friend. Both Robinson and MacMurray stay with it for the puzzles. Robinson in catching fraudulent claims, MacMurray in idling his time. He’s a character in stasis. Until he meets Barbara Stanwyck.

The chemistry between Stanwyck and MacMurray has waves. Their demeanor develops in real time. With director Wilder and co-writer Raymond Chandler’s double entendre barbs tangoing and Doane Harrison getting just the right cut. And Miklós Rózsa’s ostentatious yet perfectly so score coming in. The scenes between Stanwyck and MacMurray, especially the first couple, radiate.

But the film isn’t about Stanwyck’s fed-up wife and boyfriend MacMurray plotting to kill her husband (Tom Powers). For a while it seems like it might be–with MacMurray’s narration implying it too. But it’s not. Not the plotting, anyway. The plotting is all done offscreen while MacMurray’s dealing with work stuff. Powers is barely in the movie. Wilder’s ability to get good impressions from the supporting cast is outstanding; it’s also essential to Double Indemnity’s success. MacMurray’s narrating so he always gets the focus. Making sure the supporting cast is familiar when they have to return is big deal. Wilder (and Harrison) do some awesome character establishing in this film.

After the murder, there are complications. Sometimes there are resolutions, sometimes not. The connotations of each play out on MacMurray’s sometimes strained, sometimes ashen (presumably) face. Robinson and Stanwyck get the film’s flashier roles, but MacMurray’s the one who has to sell it. Not just in his performance but, for the film to work, in how his narration jibes with his own onscreen action.

And Double Indemnity does it. The filmmaking is impeccable.

The flashback takes place over a considerable amount of time–a few months–but the present action of the film is the hundred minutes of the runtime. MacMurray’s narration has an urgency to it. He skims the boring parts, or the parts it turns out he doesn’t want to examine, which is where the character study comes in. Both for Stanwyck, which is expected, and MacMurray, the film has some third act revelations. Double Indemnity being great, some of these revelations come out in scene so Stanwyck and MacMurray get to do their reactions. Others are in MacMurray’s narration. And those revelations are coming while the tension–both in the present and flashback–is getting more and more taut.

It’s awesome.

Double Indemnity is awesome.

Wilder has the three stars–MacMurray, Stanwyck, and Robinson–and he’s always trying to figure out how to place them. The characters talk like they’re fencing–even when it’s pals MacMurray and Robinson. The physical movements are important. Especially when they’re moving during the talking heads. Robinson’s got this nervous energy as he works out schemes, making his behavior itself agitating to MacMurray.

Then there are are the silent facial expressions. They’re real important. Stanywck’s got one particularly great one. And Wilder makes them do some heavy character development lifting too. It’s great.

All three leads are great. Again, Stanwyck and–especially–Robinson get to be flashy. MacMurray has to keep it cool. Even so, Robinson’s probably the best. Then Stanwyck. The flashy is excellent flashy and the actors nail it.

Porter Hall’s got a fun scene, Richard Gaines has an awesome scene–most of the supporting cast just show up for a single scene. Established then out. Until they might need to come back, like Jean Heather as Stanwyck’s step-daughter. She shows up, implies one arc, comes back with something completely different. And far more important than originally implied.

Double Indemnity is a fast, busy film; Wilder and the crew–John F. Seitz’s photography, Harrison’s editing, the score, Edith Head’s costumes–make it graceful fast and busy. Like I said, it’s impeccable, masterful, awesome. Double Indemnity’s great.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Billy Wilder; screenplay by Wilder and Raymond Chandler, based on the novel by James M. Cain; director of photography, John F. Seitz; edited by Doane Harrison; music by Miklós Rózsa; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Fred MacMurray (Walter Neff), Barbara Stanwyck (Phyllis Dietrichson), Edward G. Robinson (Barton Keyes), Jean Heather (Lola Dietrichson), Tom Powers (Mr. Dietrichson), Byron Barr (Nino Zachetti), Porter Hall (Mr. Jackson), and Richard Gaines (Edward S. Norton, Jr.).


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A Millionaire for Christy (1951, George Marshall)

A Millionaire for Christy exemplifies why the screwball comedy doesn’t work outside it’s era without a lot of tinkering. I can’t even think of a good example of one working outside the 1930s right now, but I’m pretty sure there have been some. Maybe even recently. But Christy adapts a regular screwball comedy script for the filmmaking techniques of 1950. It shoots on location, which gives the scenes a sense of reality, which doesn’t belong. These scenes give the characters a whole lot of weight–their problems become very real, instead of celluloid. The other problem with the film in terms of attempting to remake Bringing Up Baby, only without the budget or the script, is the first act. For a ninety minute movie, Christy has a thirty minute first act. For those thirty minutes, it pretends its it’s directed by Howard Hawks, starring Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn and it is not. At the thirty-minute mark, Eleanor Parker and Fred MacMurray finally get to start acting and the film takes a visible turn for the better (much better).

A screwball comedy requires the audience to acknowledge the artifice, so even after Christy stops pretending to be Bringing Up Baby, it still has those genuine shooting locations working against it. The film recovers for a couple reasons–three, actually. Parker, MacMurray, and Richard Carlson. Parker and MacMurray have real chemistry and Parker’s excellent once her character has more depth than reluctant gold-digger. MacMurray’s performance is pretty superficial, except in the romantic scenes with Parker, which pull the whole film together. Carlson, as MacMurray’s fiancee’s jilted boyfriend, is fantastic throughout, even during that lame first thirty. When he and Parker team up to break up MacMurray’s engagement, there’s plenty for him to do. There’s a standout scene with he and Parker getting drunk. Carlson not having done more comedies is unfortunate for the genre.

George Marshall, who did lots of films and lots of good ones (he directed Destry Rides Again), suffocates under the location shooting. There’s a lot of standard screwball comedy moments-and Marshall turns them into material for a dark film noir about a man kidnapping a woman in broad daylight, assaulting photographers–the scenes aren’t funny, they’re disturbing. Certain scenes are meant to be done with that aforementioned artifice. Without it, the scenes play wrong.

Given that long first act, the resolution is really hurried, but it is where some of Christy‘s more original moments play out, if only because there’s only three minutes to finish the picture. Another affecting part of the film is Carlson’s psychiatrist’s real concern for poor people with mental illnesses. It’s a serious subject and when it comes up during Carlson’s fantastic drunk sense, it fosters a resentment of the film for being superfluous, not just this one, but the medium in general. It’s off-putting and it’s hard for the scene to recover after it… and when it does, it’s only because of Carlson and Parker’s acting.

Also, the title is a bit of a misdirection. Parker’s Christabel is only called Christy once in the whole film, but it also suggests it’s a search for a millionaire, the other side of Seven Chances perhaps. But still, it’s worthwhile for Parker, Carlson, and MacMurray when he’s with Parker–not to mention as an example of location shooting’s effect on filmic storytelling.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by George Marshall; screenplay by Ken Englund, based on a story by Robert Harari; director of photography, Harry Stradling Sr.; edited by Daniel Mandell; music by David Chudnow and Victor Young; produced by Bert E. Friedlob; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Fred MacMurray (Peter Ulysses Lockwood), Eleanor Parker (Christabel ‘Christy’ Sloane), Richard Carlson (Dr. Roland Cook), Kay Buckley (June Chandler), Una Merkel (Patsy Clifford), Douglass Dumbrille (A.K. Thompson), Raymond Greenleaf (Benjamin Chandler) and Nestor Paiva (Mr. Rapello).


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THIS FILM IS ALSO DISCUSSED IN SUM UP | ELEANOR PARKER, PART 2: TECHNICOLOR.