Fred MacMurray: Under or Over?

Discussion of the actors, directors and film-makers who 'made it all happen'

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mrsl
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Post by mrsl »

To me, Fred is a take him or leave him kind of guy. You don't go searching for his movies, but if one is on and you have nothing better to do, the movie usually turns out to be pretty entertaining. As usual two of the better ones he made were on late at night so I'm sure many of you missed them - but in these cases, the leading lady dulls it for me. The Lady is Willing was a cute little comedy but Marlene Dietrich was all wrong in the part IMHO, but then Miss D is not my cup of tea. Then later there was Never a Dull Moment, kind of similar to The Egg and I which I loved, but this one had Irene Dunne, and I still can't understand why anyone ever told her she could sing. Until she got older and started doing motherly parts, I always feel she was too old for her parts. When she was in her twenties, she looked to me like she was in her late thirties. In The White Cliffs of Dover, at the end when she had aged to around 45, she finally looked properly cast.

But sorry, got off on a tangent, there. I think one thing Fred does, that many do not do so well are his facial expressions. He shows, anger, envy, jealousy, curiosity, and affection all within just the blink of an eye.

So, today we have the 40 year old virgin - even in the movies where shes married, she still acts like a virgin with Jim Garner and David Niven.

Anne
Anne


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movieman1957
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Post by movieman1957 »

I caught it back in Jean Arthur month and I too was pleasantly surprised. I remember Osborne said it was pretty wuccessful even though it was released about the same time as "My Favorite Wife."

A little disappointed with the ending but I understand why they did it the way they did. It's a fun movie.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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moira finnie
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Post by moira finnie »

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I never thought twice about Fred MacMurray. As a kid, I thought his genial, distracted Dad on My Three Sons was nice enough, but the square root of squareness. The Disney flicks, with the exception of The Absent-Minded Professor, in which his befuddled scientist was sort of endearing, left me cold. Later, in reviewing many of the Disney movies, I realized that it seemed as though Fred's characters had a boyishness with very little depth allowed via the script or the direction. Murder, He Says (1945) and The Egg and I (1947) marked my other acquaintanceship with Fred growing up, and are still among my favorite comedies. Maybe others find them obvious, but his straitlaced goofus in both films was extremely funny to me, especially as he learned that reality is far different than he hoped it would be.

Then, as I grew up, I started to get to know a younger, far more interesting Fred. Such movies as The Princess Comes Across, Alice Adams, The Trail of the Lonesome Pine, Swing High, Swing Low (which you can see entirely on line here or wait until Oct. to see it as part of TCM's Carole Lombard month), Sing, You Sinners, Remember the Night and his Iago-like Keefer in The Caine Mutiny made me appreciate his comic timing, and interesting turn-on-a-dime ability to go from wise guy to a man fighting his own emotions. Sometimes, like a lot of people in the Depression, Fred was straining to be tough, buoyant, and even a bit hopeful about his life without being sappy. His characters in all these films have flaws, but a capacity for adventure that is sometimes endearing and disastrous. Despite the fact that most of us grew up thinking he represented sweetness and light on screen, if you take a good look at any of these pictures, it soon becomes clear that these are more nuanced than his late career work on tv or for Disney.

It also made me appreciate that Fred worked best in a strong ensemble, when he had a particularly forceful personality to play opposite of, (Lombard, Colbert & Stanwyck, for example), and a good director such as Wilder, the vastly under-rated Leisen, Sirk, or Edward Dmytryk to guide him.

After seeing Pushover (1954) for the second time in a year last night on TCM, I feel that this really interesting B noir, directed by the unsung Richard Quine, contains one of his best performances as a cop gone bad over Kim Novak. In reality, Fred's career was on the skids, his first wife had recently died, and he clearly brings an exhausted tension to his beleaguered man, drowning in the humdrum life, who communicates his desperation and self-disgust very well in this film.

This duality in his sometimes bland appearance made me realize that what I liked about him was a certain masculine vulnerability, a truculent determination to keep up that front that his characters tended to create, and an impatience with and deep dish revulsion for much of the world around him. Maybe it's just me, but I do think he's under-rated. But you knew that about me, I suspect. :wink:
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movieman1957
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Post by movieman1957 »

I just finished "Good Day For A Hanging." Routine western that is a pleasant enough time killer. Lots of faces you will recognize and shot on what may be the most famous street set in Hollywood.

This is more about a few things I noticed that I wonder if others picked up similar things in other movies. The first thing that caught me is the music. After several scenes sharing a theme I noticed it was rather familiar. It turns out, to my ears, they lifted the theme from "3:10 To Yuma." Indeed the whole thing had a sense of that score rearranged and scaled down. Looking back there was no music credit in the titles. The other is just kind of silly in that it looked as though they used the same living room set for two different homes. Rearranged the layout and had different settings inside but the front door (both sides) of it were exactly the same pattern and layout. It just caught me off guard. I guess it is the things you do on a "B" western.
Chris

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Ann Harding
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Post by Ann Harding »

Count me in as fan of Fred MacMurray! :) He has bags of talent in comedies with the likes of Claudette Colbert & Carole Lombard. He is equally at home in film noir as in Double Idemnity.
Physically he looks like Mr Normal but as an actor, he is definitely above the lot. :wink:
He seemed to have been quite spirited in real life if I remember the hilarious anecdote told by Shelley Winters. Poor Shelley was petrified at the idea of meeting uber-gossip Hedda Hopper in 1948. Fred gave her a tip: 'ask her if John Barrymore was such a good lover'. (apparently dear Hedda spent a night once with a slightly inebriated John who didn't even remember it...while she dreamed about him ever after.... :lol: )
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Ayres
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Post by Ayres »

I think Dewey and Moira have summed up MacMurray really well here. Like many, it was "My Three Sons" and Disney flicks that brought him into my life, and he was a likeable sort in those. I smile to think of all the times that Steven Douglas mentioned his young days of playing the saxophone, as Fred really was a pretty good sax player and singer in the early '30s, and even appeared in a couple of Broadway musicals.

I don't think about him that often (he was a Paramount guy, so not as regularly present on TCM), but I do think he's done a great job in several roles--both nice guy and definitely dark one. And I'm among the greatest fans of Remember the Night--watch it every Christmas. What an intensely romantic movie: "We're there now, darling"...
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Post by movieman1957 »

Everyone should read Moira's entry at TCM on MacMurray. Great stuff.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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Ann Harding
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Post by Ann Harding »

Yesterday, I saw on a big screen M. Leisen's Swing High, Swing Low (1937) with Fred and Carole Lombard. Unfortunately the print was rather dark and grainy... :? But, in spite of it, the film was a smash success for me! 8)
Marguerite (C. Lombard) is stranded in Panama after missing her boat. She met there Skid Johnson (F. MacMurray), a talented trumpetist with a talent for trouble. They live together in a rather dilapidated house with their friend Harry (Charles Butterworth). Marguerite manages to get Skid hired as trumpetist in a bar and suddenly success is on its way for him...
The film's script reminded me of Young Man With a Horn (1950) where Kirk Douglas plays also a troubled musician. I enjoyed very much the tone of the film: screwball comedy at the beginning which slowly changes to melodrama in the second part. MacMurray was absolutely superb in the lead: he just hit the right note for his alcoholic talented man unable to cope without Carole's support. He was playful and sad, but never OTT. Dorothy Lamous played a bitchy singer who tried to take MacMurray away from Carole; Charles Butterworth was just a hoot as usual! At the very beginning of the film, don't miss a very young actor called Anthony Quinn who gets into a fight with MacMurray because of Carole! :) Mitchell Leisen is getting higher and higher in my book! In spite of Billy Wilder's rather acerbic comments, I now know he could handle melodrama as well as comedy. I am looking forward to more Leisen films in this new retrospective at the Cinémathèque! :D
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Post by feaito »

I am fan of Leisen's work too and I'm happy to hear you could seen this film on the big screen. I watched it many years ago on TV and the print was also bad.

I have liked very much Fred's performances in all the Paramount films he made opposite Colbert, Lombard and Madeleine Carroll, I have had the opportunity to watch, many of them directed by Leisen.

It seem this film's copyright was not renewed by Paramount and is in the Public Domain by now. Isn't it a kind of remake of the Nancy Carroll-Hal Skelly eatly talkie "The Dance of Life" or based upon the same source play?
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Post by Ann Harding »

Well, Fernando! I was wondering about that as I was writing the synopsis. I checked and you are absolutely right!!! :o It is based on the same play: Burlesque! :wink:
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Post by jdb1 »

Let me pose a question to you Fred fans:

I was just going over the "Dedicated" thread to see what photos had been deleted lately by the copyright gremlins, and I was looking at the photo I posted of MacMurray on his birthday. He was reminding me of someone. Consider this:

If some competent handler were to take Will Ferrell out of those silly and sophomoric movies he's been making and gave him some coaching, do you think he could be "another Fred MacMurray?" I haven't seen him in any of the Woody Allen movies he's been in, but I thought he was pretty good in Blades of Glory, relatively speaking, of course. There were the seeds of a real satirical performance there. And I really was struck by his warm and restrained peformance in Stranger Than Fiction. He surprised me.

I think the kid could be somebody if he pulled himself together. The question is - could he be like Fred? (Yes, I know it begs the question of where he would find the appropriate properties, but let's deal with one question at a time.)
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Post by movieman1957 »

Judith:

I haven't seen enough of Ferrell's work to know but one I did see that might play into your idea is "Stranger Than Fiction." That's the one where he keeps hearing Emma Thompson's book in his head and all those things start to happen to him. I could see MacMurray playing that if they had done it years ago. The problem with Ferrell's movie was it felt too long and to me it couldn't make up its mind what it wanted to be.

Other than that he is a great sketch comedian but "Talledega Nights" was more than I could take.
Chris

"Time flies like an arrow, fruit flies like a banana."
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Post by jdb1 »

I've been thinking that as Ferrell matures he could lend his talents to more sophisticated fare. It seems apparent to me that Woody Allen must have been using him as a sort of Tony Roberts replacement but, as I said, I haven't seen Ferrell in any of Allen's film.

No question in my mind that most of the so-called "comedies" Ferrell has done are in the vein of undisciplined locker-room horseplay. Maybe OK for a few minutes, but not enough to sustain a full-length movie.

Whereas I don't think Stranger Than Fiction was a fully-integrated movie, I was struck by Ferrell's performance, which I found well thought out, disciplined, and well-rounded. In his other movies he used his sketch-comedy persona, and I got tired of him very quickly. But if he is capable of the kind of performance he gave in Stranger Than Fiction, then he should be able to apply himself to a higher level of comedy or even drama. Of course, these days the lure of the quick big bucks seems to be the operative motivation, so fast and stupid is what we're getting on the screen.

One of the points here is that we have a current group of actors who are doing such quick and forgettable movies, and once in a while some of them show us that they could be doing more. We've already had a similar discussion of Jack Black, who looks to be making an attempt to do some more credible work once in a while. It's maddening to see such opportunities wasted.
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Post by knitwit45 »

My son dragged me to see "Elf" one Christmas day, and I did not go willingly. "oh, well, tis the season..etc." Much to my surprise, Will Ferrell did NOT do his usual
undisciplined locker-room horseplay.
He was just a big, overgrown, goofy kid, which is exactly what was called for in the role with no smirking, nudge-nudge jokes. It was played for the young and young at heart.
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The way we cope with it, is what makes the difference." ~ Virginia Satir
""Most people pursue pleasure with such breathless haste that they hurry past it." ~ Soren Kierkegaard
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