Daily Archives: May 23, 2010



I interviewed actress Beverly Garland one day back in the 1980s.  Garland was best known for playing Barbara Douglas, second wife of Fred MacMurray’s character on the 1960s sitcom My Three Sons.  Garland was reminiscing about the show when I asked her what it was like working with MacMurray.  She hesitated, her tone changed, and she said something noncommittal about MacMurray’s not being on the set very much.  While the other cast members were working, she said, MacMurray was usually off playing golf, or vacationing in Europe. Apparently, the veteran actor’s contract stipulated that he receive a 10-week hiatus every year – right in the middle of the TV show’s shooting schedule.  This arrangement did not sit well with some of MacMurray’s co-stars.

I think about Garland’s comments whenever I watch The Apartment, director Billy Wilder’s classic comedy-drama about a corporate nobody (Jack Lemmon) who lends his apartment to bosses for their adulterous trysts. MacMurray — forever identified with good guy Steve Douglas on My Three Sons — plays one of filmdom’s most memorable heels, the arrogant Mr. Sheldrake.  I wonder, was Fred MacMurray, nicknamed “the thrifty multimillionaire” by some colleagues, typecast in the role?

MacMurray’s slimeball executive is pivotal to The Apartment, but the film really belongs to Wilder, Lemmon, and Shirley MacLaine.  All three pull off the trickiest job in cinema:  juggling comedy and pathos and doing it right.

Although it opened to mixed reviews in 1960, the movie is now considered one of Wilder’s best.  The crusty Austrian-American filmmaker described The Apartment’s main theme as corruption of The American Dream.  That’s a depressing thought.  Sort of like finding out that Steve Douglas wasn’t such a great guy, after all.         Grade:  A

Director:  Billy Wilder  Cast:  Jack Lemmon, Shirley MacLaine, Fred MacMurray, Edie Adams, Ray Walston, Jack Kruschen  Release:  1960


Apartment3    Apartment2

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The Messenger belongs to a long line of Hollywood movies about American servicemen returning home from war.  These films include The Best Years of Our Lives (World War II), The Deer Hunter (Vietnam) and, more recently, Brothers (Iraq).  Unfortunately, The Messenger doesn’t pack the emotional punch of those other dramas.

Director Oren Moverman’s movie does have powerful moments, but most of them involve secondary characters.  When U.S. Army Captain Tony Stone (Woody Harrelson) and Staff Sergeant Will Montgomery (Ben Foster) deliver the news of Iraq casualties to stunned family members, you have to be a cold customer, indeed, not to feel their pain.  But The Messenger’s main storyline, depicting Montgomery’s torturous adaptation to life back in America, doesn’t resonate as well.

Montgomery engages in a tentative romance with a war widow played by Samantha Morton.  This bit of casting is inspired because Morton does not have typical “movie star” looks, and that affords her credibility as a blue-collar, struggling single mother.  But this tender interlude between two scarred people leads nowhere until much too late in the film.

The main problem with The Messenger is the character of Montgomery, either as written or as performed.  Foster conveys anger and intensity well, but he lacks a certain softness, some humanity with which we can identify.  He’s not as vulnerable as Dana Andrews was in The Best Years of Our Lives, nor as accessible as Robert De Niro in The Deer Hunter.  Sgt. Montgomery’s emotional state might appear realistic to actual war veterans, but in a movie that seeks to send a strong message, it’s the wrong note.           Grade:  B


Director:  Oren Moverman  Cast:  Ben Foster, Woody Harrelson, Samantha Morton, Jena Malone, Steve Buscemi, Lisa Joyce  Release:  2009


Messenger2  Messenger3

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