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Remembering Fred MacMurray

Remembering Fred MacMurray — We recall the actor’s career and review his best movies on video like ”Alice Adams,” ”Double Indemnity,” and ”The Apartment”

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Remembering Fred MacMurray

Fred MacMurray died of pneumonia on Nov. 5 at the age of 83. Perhaps now is a good time to rescue him. Not Fred himself, of course — by all accounts he died wealthy and content, the way movie stars should but often don’t. What needs to be saved is his rich film career. Ever since My Three Sons, he has been enshrined in our pop-culture memory bank as the image of middle-aged befuddlement. But that 12-year-long TV series and the silly Disney comedies like Son of Flubber were Frederick Martin MacMurray’s retirement package: rewards for decades of screen labor.

He grew up in Beaver Dam, Wis., parlaying his genial good looks into a vaudeville career that led to Broadway and a contract with Paramount Pictures, where he was cast in a cycle of saucy romantic farces that are almost forgotten today. The worst of these films are eminently watchable; the best are sexy little delights. By the ’40s,

MacMurray was Hollywood’s highest-paid actor. In the postwar chill, however, MacMurray’s star grew cold. Disney and My Three Sons came to the rescue in the late ’50s, ossifying his persona for boomers. Maybe there’s nothing wrong with remembering him as that icon of out-to-lunch affability. It’s just that there’s so much more. Four videos offer evidence:

Alice Adams (1935)
An eerily gentle young MacMurray plays Mr. Right to provincial Katharine Hepburn. A

Swing High, Swing Low(1937)
MacMurray hits the bottle after Lombard leaves him. The only one of his prime ’30s romances on video. B+

Double Indemnity(1944)
In the best film noir ever, MacMurray walks into Barbara Stanwyck’s trap: Sex and death follow, natch. A+

The Apartment (1960)
The flip side of his dreamy Disney dads: a corporate bully who uses Shirley MacLaine in Jack Lemmon’s apartment. A-