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Fred MacMurray Movies: At His Best as the All-American Jerk

Fred MacMurrayFred MacMurray movies: 'Double Indemnity,' 'There's Always Tomorrow'

Fred MacMurray is Turner Classic Movies' "Summer Under the Stars" today, Thursday, August 7, 2013. Although perhaps best remembered as the insufferable All-American Dad on the long-running TV show My Three Sons and in several highly popular Disney movies from 1959 to 1967, e.g., The Absent-Minded Professor, Son of Flubber, Boy Voyage!, MacMurray was immeasurably more interesting as the All-American Jerk. (Image: Fred MacMurray ca. 1940.)

Someone once wrote that Fred MacMurray would have been an ideal choice to star in a biopic of disgraced Republican president Richard Nixon. Who knows, the (coincidentally Republican) MacMurray might have given Anthony Hopkins a run for his Best Actor Academy Award nomination. After all, MacMurray's most admired movie performances are those in which he plays a scheming, conniving asshole: Billy Wilder's classic film noir Double Indemnity (1944), in which he's seduced by Barbara Stanwyck, and Wilder's Best Picture Academy Award winner The Apartment (1960), in which he seduces Shirley MacLaine.

Elsewhere, Fred MacMurray was usually cast as Hollywood's typical macho, reactionary, unhandsome Average Joe – like James Stewart, John Wayne, et al., an Average Joe for those who've never met a Joe in their lives – somehow or other winning the hearts of Jean Arthur, Claudette Colbert, Carole Lombard, Irene Dunne, Joan Crawford, and other actresses who deserved way better.

Curtis Bernhardt's 'Kisses for My President'

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, Kisses for My President (1964) is on TCM right now. This particular film is probably not only one of the worst movies in MacMurray's career (and he had a large share of duds), but also one of the worst movies of the '60s: an homage to "traditional" family values, co-starring Polly Bergen as the first female U.S. president.

Had Kisses for My President been a drama along the lines of Bernhardt's A Stolen Life, Possessed, or Interrupted Melody, it would have become a hilarious cult classic; as a comedy, it's a cringeworthy bore. Even Walt Disney would have had trouble competing for such bottom-of-the-family-friendly-barrel laughs.

Now, more irritating than Kisses for My President's pathetic message – the realm of politics should belong to men (nature says so) – is the fact that it wastes the considerable talents of the beautiful Polly Bergen. Ironically, nearly fifty years after the film's release, even at the movies Bergen remains one of the few female U.S. Heads of State. (Joan Rivers and Christina Applegate are two others.)

Douglas Sirk's 'There's Always Tomorrow'

I haven't watched George Marshall's Murder, He Says (1945) or Richard Quine's Pushover (1954). Considering the talent involved – Pushover also features Kim Novak – both sound like they're worth a look. Double Indemnity (1944), of course, is one of the best-known movies of the '40s (sharing a number of plot elements with The Postman Always Rings Twice), but my chief recommendation this evening is Douglas Sirk's mostly forgotten melodrama There's Always Tomorrow (1956).

In the film, Fred MacMurray stars as Joan Bennett's husband, and father of William Reynolds, Gigi Perreau, and Judy Nugent; neglected by his wife and children, he finds solace in the arms (and other body parts, one assumes) of former employee Barbara Stanwyck. Much like in David Lean's Brief Encounter, Sirk and screenwriter Bernard C. Schoenfeld (from a story by Ursula Parrott), want us to sympathize with the adulterer and his lover; that, of course, can be dramatically and even ethically acceptable, depending on the circumstances.

In my view, that's where There's Always Tomorrow falls short: I had absolutely no sympathy for Fred MacMurray's husband and father. Instead, I felt sorry for Joan Bennett for being married to him and for being mostly wasted in a non-role; had she hooked up with Barbara Stanwyck, There's Always Tomorrow would have become Douglas Sirk's masterpiece. But again, major flaws or no, do not miss it. Stanwyck is simply outstanding, as always.

In real-life, Fred MacMurray was married twice; the second time around, in 1954, to the lovely 20th Century Fox contract player June Haver. The couple remained married until his death at age 83, apparently from a variety of illnesses, on November 5, 1991.

Fred MacMurray movies: TCM schedule (PT) on August 7

3:00 AM TOO MANY HUSBANDS (1940). Director: Wesley Ruggles. Cast: Jean Arthur, Fred MacMurray, Melvyn Douglas. Black and white. 81 min.

4:30 AM THE LADY IS WILLING (1942). Director: Mitchell Leisen. Cast: Marlene Dietrich, Fred MacMurray, Aline MacMahon, Stanley Ridges, Arline Judge, Roger Clark, Marietta Canty, David James, Ruth Ford, Harvey Stephens, Elizabeth Risdon, Harry Shannon, Charles Lane, Murray Alper, Eddie Acuff, Neil Hamilton, Sterling Holloway, Robert Emmett Keane, . Black and white. 91 min.

6:30 AM ABOVE SUSPICION (1943). Director: Richard Thorpe. Cast: Joan Crawford, Fred MacMurray, Conrad Veidt, Basil Rathbone, Reginald Owen, Richard Ainley, Cecil Cunningham, Ann Shoemaker, Sara Haden, Felix Bressart, Bruce Lester, Johanna Hofer, Lotte Palfi Andor, Anthony Caruso, André Charlot, Steven Geray, Peter Lawford, Frank McClure, Kurt Neumann, Frank Reicher, Barry Norton, Ferdinand Schumann-Heink, Arthur Shields, Ivor F. Simpson, Heather Thatcher, Philip Van Zandt. Black and white. 91 min.

8:30 AM BORDERLINE (1950). Director: William A. Seiter. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Claire Trevor, Raymond Burr, José Torvay, Morris Ankrum, Roy Roberts, Don Diamond, Nacho Galindo, Pepe Hem, Grazia Narciso, Ralph Brooks, Stephen Chase, Peggy Converse, Charles Lane, Chris-Pin Martin. Black and white. 88 min.

10:00 AM NEVER A DULL MOMENT (1950). Director: George Marshall. Cast: Irene Dunne, Fred MacMurray, William Demarest. Black and white. 89 min.

11:45 AM A MILLIONAIRE FOR CHRISTY (1951). Director: George Marshall. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Eleanor Parker, Richard Carlson, Una Merkel, Chris-Pin Martin, Douglas Dumbrille, Nestor Paiva, Ralph Brooks, Lane Chandler, Franklyn Farnum, Emmett Lynn, Rolfe Sedan. Black and white. 91 min.

1:30 PM CALLAWAY WENT THATAWAY (1951). Director: Norman Panama. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Dorothy McGuire, Howard Keel, Clark Gable, Esther Williams, Elizabeth Taylor. Black and white. 82 min.

3:00 PM KISSES FOR MY PRESIDENT (1964). Director: Curtis Bernhardt. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Polly Bergen, Arlene Dahl. Black and white. 113 min.

5:00 PM MURDER, HE SAYS (1945). Director: George Marshall. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Helen Walker, Marjorie Main. Black and white. 94 min.

7:00 PM DOUBLE INDEMNITY (1944). Director: Billy Wilder. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Barbara Stanwyck, Edward G. Robinson. Black and white. 108 min.

9:00 PM THERE'S ALWAYS TOMORROW (1956). Director: Douglas Sirk. Cast: Barbara Stanwyck, Fred MacMurray, Joan Bennett, William Reynolds, Pat Crowley, Gigi Perreau, Jane Darwell, Paul Smith, Helen Kleeb, Judy Nugent, Sheila Bromley. Black and white. 84 mins. Letterbox Format.

10:30 PM DIVE BOMBER (1941). Director: Michael Curtiz. Cast: Errol Flynn, Fred MacMurray, Ralph Bellamy. Color. 133 min.

1:00 AM PUSHOVER (1954). Director: Richard Quine. Cast: Fred MacMurray, Phil Carey, Kim Novak. Black and white. 88 mins. Letterbox Format.

Fred MacMurray movie schedule via the TCM website. Fred MacMurray photo via Doctor Macro.

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3 Comments to Fred MacMurray Movies: At His Best as the All-American Jerk

  1. joelnox

    Pushover is a pretty good film although it has some similarities to Double Indemnity but good cinematography and Kim is ravishing.

    While it's true that as he aged Fred's looks faded when he was young he was an attractive, athletic man. Maybe not Tyrone Power beautiful, how many people ever were?, but handsome. He was most memorable playing despicable characters but his main career in his film star days was as a facile comic actor. He made several very enjoyable films with Carole Lombard, The Princess Comes Across in particular, he always spoke very highly of her and they were good friends until her death.

    The film of his that I caught today for the first time was The Lady is Willing. It's a minor comedy but he and Marlene Dietrich are well matched, she is ULTRA glamorous in it, and the film was a breezy little affair.

  2. Andre


    I think you're right. A curious choice, though Fred MacMurray could look handsome at the right angle, with the appropriate lighting.

  3. Marco A. S. Freitas

    I´ve read in a few sources, long time ago, that Fred´s mug was the inspiration for the face of CAPTAIN AMERICA in the comic books (there is certainly some resemblance)


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