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
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