Fred MacMurray Friday

fred and claudette

Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert weren’t featured in TCM’s book, Leading Couples, but I think they should have been.  They complimented each other so well and had a great onscreen rapport.

The pair co-starred in seven movies over the course of fourteen years:  The Gilded Lily (1935), The Bride Came Home (1935), Maid of Salem (1937), No Time for Love (1943), Practically Yours (1944), The Egg and I (1947) and Family Honeymoon (1949).  I’ve seen all of these except Maid of Salem and Practically Yours, but today I’ll just talk about my two favorites.

The Gilded Lily (1935)

gilded lily poster

Fred and Claudette are adorable in The Gilded Lily.  Their chemistry is apparent from the moment we seen them together for the first time.  In a scene reminiscent of Peter Warne teaching Ellie Andrews to dunk donuts and hitchhike in 1934’s It Happened One Night, MacMurray’s Peter Daws tells Colbert’s Marilyn David why popcorn is the best snack.

Are they cute or are they cute?  I love the way he runs back to the bench in his socks.

He’s a newspaperman, she’s a secretary, and they’re best friends.  Of course they’re made for each other too, but they don’t know it yet.  Their friendship is put to the test when Marilyn falls for an English nobleman, played by Ray Milland, and their lives are turned upside down in a crazy, unexpected way.

Which man will she choose, the reporter and best friend or the wealthy Englishman?  If you don’t know, you haven’t seen many romantic comedies!  It’s no wonder Paramount decided to keep pairing Colbert and MacMurray after The Gilded Lily.  They’re wonderful together in this very amusing, sweet movie.

No Time for Love (1943)

No time for love poster

MacMurray and Colbert went from sweet to sexy for 1943’s No Time for Love.  Colbert plays Katherine Grant, an artsy magazine photographer assigned to cover the digging and construction of a tunnel.

When she meets MacMurray’s strapping, brawling “sandhog” construction worker, Jim Ryan, she thinks he’s a brute.  She is also extremely turned on by him and can’t get him out of her mind.  Fred is surprisingly hunky in this movie.  Not quite as hunky as depicted in the movie poster, however! 

shirtless fred

Katherine dreams of Jim in a superhero suit, sweeping her up in his manly arms.  He is insulting and he drives her nuts, but she’s still hot and bothered about him all the time.  At one point Jim looks at Katherine and bluntly asks “Do you want me?”  The Code may not have allowed her to scream a lusty “Yes!” and jump on him, but you could tell she wanted to.

When Katherine inadvertently gets Jim suspended from his job, she takes him on as her assistant in order to make it up to him.  Of course they clash constantly and sparks fly between them.  But you know what they say, the love impulse in men (and women!) often reveals itself in terms of conflict.

There’s a lot of enjoyably silly slapstick in the movie too, like a scene in which Jim scuffles territorially with a bodybuilder Katherine is photographing, and another in which Katherine teaches a bunch of macho sandhogs how to play musical chairs.  It’s classic battle of the sexes stuff and it’s fun to watch two masters of romantic comedy at work.

Next week on Fred MacMurray Friday I hope to talk about a movie I haven’t watched yet, but am very excited to see – 1945’s slapstick dark comedy, Murder, He SaysIn the meantime, I’ll leave you with this new review of MacMurray’s most famous movie, Double Indemnity, from Steve Hayes – better known as Tired Old Queen at the Movies

If you’re not familiar with Mr. Hayes’ reviews, I highly recommend checking them out.  He discusses lots of great old films in a loving yet irreverent way, and he’s hilarious, too.

I watch them so you don’t have to!

As much as I’d love to do long, loving write-ups of everything I watch, there’s not enough time or energy for that. Anyway, lots of movies don’t deserve loving write-ups! I encounter plenty of stinkers in my quest for good new-to-me films.

Here are quick reviews of two such recently endured flops. I went into both of them with high hopes, but those hopes were quickly dashed.

The Richest Girl in the World (1934)

 This romantic comedy was produced by Pandro S. Berman, written by Norman Krasna, and starred Miriam Hopkins and Joel McCrea. In spite of all those people’s involvement, it was still disappointingly half-baked.

richest girl in the worldMiriam Hopkins plays Dorothy Hunter, a fabulously wealthy heiress and the titular richest girl in the world. Since returning from Europe to live in the US she’s been keeping a low profile, having her pretty secretary (Fay Wray) pretend to be her in public so she’s not hassled.  She meets Tony Travers (McCrea) at a party where the secretary is pretending to be her and she is pretending to be the secretary.

She swiftly falls for Tony, who seems to like her pretty well, too. However, she’s concerned that no man will ever see past her riches and love her just for herself, so she carries on with the ruse of being a secretary. She decides to test Tony by throwing the real secretary, the faux heiress, in his path. That way she can see if he chooses the supposedly rich girl for her wealth, or goes instead for the “secretary” he truly fancies.

Tony is a confusing character whose motives are hard to pin down. Not because he’s so complex and richly drawn, mind you, just because the script can’t decide who he is. He seems to want Miriam Hopkins’ character, but when she encourages him to pursue the secretary/faux heiress he goes along with that just fine, too. He didn’t seem to care too much which woman he got, actually. In the end, after some misunderstandings and further ill-conceived “love tests” concocted by Dorothy, Tony proves his love for her. Or something.  They end up married, him still thinking she is a secretary.

Having recently watched 1933’s Design for Living (a fabulous movie that deserves and will get a post of its own sometime soon), I was anxious to see more of Miriam Hopkins. And of course I’m a lovestruck fool for Mr. McCrea these days. There just wasn’t enough good stuff for either of them to work with in this movie, though. Their characters and the whole story were underdeveloped and didn’t make a huge amount of sense.

I didn’t hate the movie.  In fact parts were amusing and I kept thinking about how it could’ve been really good with some changes and more fleshing out of the characters.  As it is, it’s simply very forgettable.  On the plus side, Joel McCrea looks really young and handsome!

 A Lady Takes a Chance (1943)

 Here’s where I drive away half of this blog’s already small readership by admitting that I find John Wayne completely off-putting. Every now and then I watch one of his movies, either because I’ve heard so many good things about it (like The Quiet Man) or because it also stars someone I love (like lady-takes-a-chance-john-wayne-jean-arthur-1943Montgomery Clift in Red River), but no matter how good the movie may otherwise be, I just can’t get past my antipathy for Wayne. His swaggering, macho persona is not my cup of tea.

This time I put aside my feelings and gave A Lady Takes a Chance a try because it co-stars Jean Arthur, an actress I pretty much think hung the moon. She has her cute moments in the movie, but not so many that I wasn’t checking my watch every ten minutes, wondering when this uncomfortable experience would end.

Arthur plays Molly Truesdale, a career girl who has multiple men fighting over her in New York, but who isn’t keen on any of them. Having seen these fellows, I don’t really blame her for that.  She escapes the clamoring throng of goofy boyfriends at home and takes a vacation bus trip out West.

At one of the stops on her tour she attends a rodeo. Cowboy Duke Hudkins (Wayne) is thrown from his horse and into the stands, landing right on top of Molly. He tries to get up, but she pulls him back down on top of her, so thunderstruck is she by his cowboy manliness.

After the rodeo she chases him down for an autograph and they end up spending the evening together. During most of the evening they don’t have much to say to each other, since they clearly have very little in common. They hit a couple of bars and, of course, get into a brawl in which Duke punches people out. (I know I haven’t seen many Wayne movies, but if there’s one in which he doesn’t punch someone that’s news to me.)

Molly is interested in marriage and true love, but all Duke wants is a roll in the (literal) hay. The blatant way in which he shows and tells her that that’s all he’s interested in was surprising to me for a 1943 movie. Molly is offended by this prairie wolf and ditches him.

Having missed the tour bus during her night with Duke, Molly hitchhikes her way to meet up with the rest of the group. One of the drivers she reluctantly gets a ride with is Duke and his “better half,” an old cowboy codger portrayed by Charles Winninger. They all end up camping out together.

That night Molly makes Duke’s horse sick by stealing the poor animal’s blanket so she’d have a second one for herself, a move which made me dislike her almost as much as I disliked the charmless Duke. The poor horse got pneumonia and nearly died!  Somehow Duke is able to forgive all and take back up with Molly in spite of this, once it’s clear that the horse will be okay.

Then some more stuff happens, mostly consisting of Molly trying to use her feminine wiles to trap Duke into a life of domesticity and home cooking, Duke running away horrified, and Molly going back to New York alone. It’s no surprise when Duke follows after her, not because the two are so made for each other, but because it’s just an inevitability for this hokey film.  He meets her when she arrives at the bus station, snatching her up in his arms (after punching one of her boyfriends, if I recall correctly) and taking her back on the bus headed West.  So long to his old cowboy pal — she’s going to be his new “better half.”

I just couldn’t get into this movie at all. Duke Hudkins was kind of a jerk and Molly was much too desperate to catch him. Plus, she almost killed his horse! It was just bad.

For a city girl/cowboy romance with likeable characters and much more charm, I’d recommend Gary Cooper and Merle Oberon in The Cowboy and the Lady, which I reviewed here last week.

For a movie featuring a much more interesting bus trip, you can’t beat the incomparable It Happened One Night starring Clark Gable and Claudette Colbert.  That was my palate-cleanser of choice after A Lady Takes a Chance. It cheered me up immensely, as it always does.

What a wonderful scene!  One of many perfect moments in the movie. If only all romantic comedies could be as delightful and intelligent as that one.  Here’s the hitchhiking scene.  It just doesn’t get any better than this!

My search for hidden gems as great as the well-known classics like It Happened One Night is fun, and sometimes turns up something obscure but enjoyable.  On the other hand, sometimes movies are obscure for good reason.

Happy New Year!

Has it really been almost a year since I posted here?  I have such a hard time sticking with projects like this one.  I’ve been watching and loving classic movies for the past 12 months, of course, but the time and motivation to write about them have been hard to come by.

But it’s New Year’s resolution time and besides that I’m on a bit of a movie-watching spree right now, so it seems as good a time as any to make another attempt to keep the blog alive.  After all, I need somewhere to write about all the wonderful (and not-so-wonderful) things I’ve seen.

Not to mention somewhere to gush without shame about my newest movie star crush, Gary Cooper.  I’m completely obsessed with tracking down as many of his movies as I can find and watching them as soon as possible.  In the past couple of weeks I’ve seen: Morocco, Bluebeard’s Eighth Wife, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Meet John Doe, Ball of Fire and Casanova Brown, all for the first time.

My DVR contains Sergeant York and The Pride of the Yankees, and Wedding Night is winging its way to me from Netflix as I type this.  I’ve also scoured the TCM listings for the next couple of months and have Along Came Jones, Friendly Persuasion, The Fountainhead, For Whom the Bell Tolls and The Cowboy and the Lady to look forward to.

See what I mean?  When I get interested in something, I really get interested! I’d first seen and enjoyed High Noon and Love in the Afternoon years ago, because they co-starred Grace Kelly and Audrey Hepburn respectively, but neither of those movies made in the 1950s gave me a real clue as to how wonderful (and wonderful looking) Cooper had been in his younger days.

Then sometime last year I watched 1939′s Beau Geste on TCM and realized just what I’d been missing. The man was beautiful. Tall, gorgeous and very sexy. Thanks to the Christmas holidays I finally had time to immerse myself in some of the movies on my to-watch list and it was a lovely experience.  Not only was Gary Cooper easy on the eyes,  he was also an extremely charismatic, subtle, talented actor.  Stay tuned for lots of Coop chat in the coming days and weeks!

I also hope to write some more about Joel McCrea, having recently seen him in two fabulous movies (The Palm Beach Story and Foreign Correspondent) and one strange, disjointed film (Preston Sturges’s The Great Moment).  I can’t wait to write about those three, especially The Palm Beach Story, which is one of the best movies I’ve seen in ages.  It’s absolutely hilarious from start to finish.  Plus McCrea once again demonstrates the uber-hotness I first discovered in The More the Merrier.

Not that it’s all about the men!  I’ve also been delving into Claudette Colbert’s work quite a bit in recent weeks and having lots of fun getting to know her better.  The Gilded Lily, part of the newly released Claudette Colbert and Fred MacMurray Romantic Comedy Collection, was an especially entertaining trifle.  Colbert and MacMurray had great chemistry and were always fun to watch together.

So that’s some of what’s coming up here very soon.  I have no idea if anyone is even reading this blog anymore, it’s been so long, but I’m excited to give it another try.  There are few things I enjoy as much as rambling on and on about classic movies and movie stars.