Spotlight on indie dramedy Night Owls’ and interview with writer/director Charles Hood

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Night Owls is one of the wonderful indie films screened at Twin Cities Film Fest back in October. Though I didn’t get a chance to see it then, I did meet its writer/director Charles Hood at one of the After Party Mixers. Well, we reconnected via email recently to chat about his film.

I really enjoyed this one, it’s a witty indie comedy/drama that takes place over a single night. The dialog is sometimes raunchy, but there’s a genuine chemistry between the two leads and the script is refreshingly honest and has a natural flow to it. Rosa Salazar won TCFF’s 2015 Indie Vision Breakthrough Performance Award and I think it’s well-deserved.

Now, before I get to the interview, I want to mention that TCFF is showing this at its December Encore Screening at Showplace ICON Theatre today (Wednesday), so if you’re in the area, be sure to grab your tickets! Who says date movies have to be on a Friday night, right?

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You worked on your first feature in 2007 and then you did two short films. Do you prefer making shorts or features?

Charles: I prefer making features. I think it’s more difficult to make a good short. It’s harder to show a character grow or change in that short period of time. I like being able to spend some time with the characters and get to know them.

How did you get into the film industry?

Charles: My aunt and uncle work in the film business and they made a home movie with me and my cousins when I was ten years old. It was a pirate movie we made at my grandparents’ little cottage on a lake in Wisconsin. From that point I was totally hooked. I hijacked my parents’ video camera when I got home and started making movies with my friends. I’ve been working at it non-stop ever since then. I went to film school at USC in Los Angeles and met a lot of my collaborators there, in addition to my friends with whom I grew up.

I’m always intrigued by movies that take place over a single day. How did you and your co-writer Seth Goldsmith come up with this story? Was there something that inspired either of you to write this?

Charles: I LOVE movies that take place over a single day. Die Hard, The Ref, The Breakfast Club, the Before Sunrise trilogy, Clue, Rope, The Poseidon Adventure, and the list goes on and on. Those are some of my favorite movies. Seth and I were trying to come up with something that could be done in a single location. We were just trying to be practical for what we knew would be a small budget. We wanted a story that could be done in a contained way like this.

The idea of a character overdosing on sleeping pills and the other character keeping him or her awake all night came up. Then we recalled that scene in Billy Wilder’s The Apartment where Jack Lemmon has to keep Shirley MacLaine awake all night. We figured why can’t that be an entire movie? And from there we had to figure out the reasons why he couldn’t take her to a hospital and that’s where the other side of the story came about. I always like to keep that a surprise for viewers because we did our best to let the mystery unravel as people watch it.

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This is the kind of movie that rest on the chemistry of the two actors. Could you share a bit about the casting process for both Adam Pally & Rosa Salazar, and also Peter Krause?

Charles: When we finished the script, our agent asked us to make a list of ten actors we’d want for this. My co-writer Seth had the idea to put Adam Pally on the list. Adam read it and liked it so I met with him and we were on our way. Once Adam got on board, it felt like we had a movie. In addition to being hilarious, he’s a really dedicated actor and just an overall great guy. It was such a pleasure to work with him.

As for Rosa Salazar, Adam was the one who recommended her. They had done a couple of scenes together in another movie and he thought she was fantastic. I was not familiar with her work, but I met with her and immediately was struck by how amazing she is. She’s going to be a star very, very soon. The two of them together have such great chemistry. We were so fortunate to have these two in our movie. They’re just perfect.

Peter Krause is amazing! Seth and I wanted him very badly for the role. We wrote him a letter and sent him the script. It helped that Rosa had a recurring role on his show Parenthood. He is a big fan of Rosa’s so he was excited for her. Plus he liked the script enough that he came on board.

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What’s been some of the biggest challenges in making this movie? Please share one of the most memorable moments on the set.

Charles: I think the biggest challenge was finding a way to keep the audience entertained in a movie where it’s mostly just two people in a house talking. On the script level, my co-writer and I made sure to move the plot along and keep revealing new things about the characters throughout the film. We also did our best to explore every inch of the house from scene to scene. When it came time to shoot the movie, my cinematographer Adrian Correia and I worked really hard to move the camera as much as possible. We wanted a more elegant look than handheld so we pushed ourselves to do a lot of dolly moves and I think it really paid off. We also tried to do a bunch of interesting long takes, which I think is fun for the actors and it’s a great way to showcase their chemistry. We have one shot in the middle of the movie that’s over 3 minutes long. The camera slowly pushes in on the two of them and it’s really just their performances holding your attention.

The whole movie basically takes place in this one house and we actually found the place on Air BnB. It was in Topanga Canyon, which is just outside of LA. Most of the crew would commute to set but there were seven of us that actually lived in the house throughout production. It was me, Adam, Rosa, and few of our department heads. It was kind of insane. Our production designer Ayse called it Real World Topanga. It was kind of a logistical nightmare with us living on our set, but it was so much fun. We were shooting mostly nights so at dawn we’d all drink a glass of whiskey, talk about the next day’s shoot, and then go to bed. Those are some very memorable moments for me.

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Adam and Rosa on the set of Night Owls

What’s next for you? You’ve done mostly comedies, is there another genre you’re interested in doing?

Charles: I think I’ll mostly stick in the comedy realm. It’s usually somewhere in the comedy-drama spectrum for me. That being said, Seth and I just finished writing a comedy-drama that leans pretty hard on a science fiction premise so that’s pretty fun. But I’d also like to try other genres. At some point it’d be fun to do an action movie or a kung fu movie or a horror movie. It’s just about finding the right story and characters.

 


Check out the trailer:

Here’s a list of theaters Night Owls is playing at…

  • NYC — Cinema Village
  • Los Angeles — Los Feliz 3
  • Chicago — Facets Cinematheque
  • Detroit — Cinema Detroit
  • Atlanta — Plaza Theatre
  • Denver — Kress Cinema
  • Cleveland — Tower City Cinemas
  • Dallas — Texas Theatre
  • Tampa — The Cinema 6
  • Seattle — Far Away Entertainment

…and VOD outlets:

  • iTunes
  • Amazon Instant Video
  • Google Play
  • Xbox
  • PlayStation
  • Vudu
  • DIRECTV
  • Time Warner Cable Movies on Demand
  • Comcast Xfinity Movies on Demand
  • Shaw (CA)
  • Rogers (CA)
  • Bell (CA)
  • …and many other MVPDs

THANKS for taking the time to chat, Charles!

Hanging out w/ filmmaker Charles Hood who made "Night Owl' and my pal Kirsten Gregerson
Me and my pal Kirsten Gregerson hanging out w/ Charles at TCFF After Party

 

2014 Recap: Ranking the 10 Blindspot Movies I saw in 2014

BlindSpotSeriesSidebarSince Blindspot posts are typically published on a Tuesday, I figure I’ll do the same with this recap. I’m glad I joined this series last year, which was spearheaded by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob. It’s truly a wonderful way to catch up on classic (or even newer films) that I’ve missed and see if they live up to the hype, as well as my own expectations.

Here’s my Blindspot Picks of 2014

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Unfortunately I couldn’t complete all 12, so I didn’t get to see How the West Was Won and Time Bandits last year. But hey, that makes for a perfect Top 10, right? 😉 So below is my ranking of the 10 films I saw. Click on each title to see the full review.

10. The Philadelphia Story (1940)
9. Purple Noon/Plein Soleil (1960)
8. Rebel Without A Cause (1955)
7. Rebecca (1940)
6. Mr Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

5. It Happened One Night (1934)
4. The Sting (1973)
3. All the President’s Men (1976)
2.
Double Indemnity (1944)
1. The Apartment (1960)

For the most part, all of the films range from good to excellent. I mean the *lowest* rating I gave was 3.5/5 to The Philadelphia Story, which equals to about B– so it’s far from being a bad film. I kind of knew The Apartment was going to be my favorite of the year even when I saw it back in May, it’s darn near perfect IMHO, and I really could’ve given it a 5/5 instead of 4.5. Oh and I just realized I have TWO Robert Redford films on here, and he’s part of duo in both films (with Paul Newman and Dustin Hoffman, respectively).

I’m very curious how this year’s list will pan out, check out which 12 films I picked to watch for 2015 Blindspot Series.


What do you think about these films? Which one(s) is your favorite?

May 2014 Blind Spot Film: The Apartment (1960)

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The Apartment was supposed to be my April Blindspot movie, but I mistakenly thought I had Some Like It Hot on my list instead. Surely it wasn’t at all a waste that I got to watch another Billy Wilder movie, but I have to admit I was not as enamored with that one as most do. The Apartment however, lives up to all the praises and then some. It’s definitely my favorite out of the three Wilder movies I’ve seen so far (Sabrina 1954 was the first one).

I’ve always wondered why the movie was called The Apartment, but within a few minutes I found out why. I like the opening sequence with Jack Lemmon’s narration. He played the protagonist, C.C. Baxter, who works as an insurance agent for Consolidated Life, one of the top five companies in the country with 31,259 employees. He works on the 19th floor in this giant office with rows upon rows of desks. By the end of the day, Baxter is the only one left. No, not because he’s a workaholic or anything, but he can’t come home to his apartment whenever he likes because he lets the executives of the company use his apartment for trysts. I seriously don’t know how he gets ANY work done as every day he’s so busy booking up his executives’ dates at his apartment and make sure they dates don’t get mixed up. At first I feel bad for him, especially when he gets a call in the middle of the night and have to clear out for one of the execs’ booty call. But you know what, Baxter brought this upon himself, he’s doing this favors to the execs to move up quickly to the top.

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Though it’s obviously a major inconvenience for Baxter, he tolerates this whole charade because of his ambition. That is until he met this cute elevator girl Fran Kubelik. Shirley MacClaine is so cute here with her pixie haircut, this is the first time I saw her in her earlier films as the first movie I saw her in was Guarding Tess (1994) with Nic Cage. This is also the first time I saw Fred McMurray. He’s quite memorable here as the top exec who makes life complicated for Baxter. I’m not going to spoil it for you in case you have not seen the film, though the plot is not entirely unpredictable. What did surprise me was how dark the film got, especially in regards to MacClaine’s character. I think those who’ve seen this know what I’m talking about. Even the whole cheating execs thing is not exactly a wholesome subject matter. But of course, given this is set in the 60s, it’s still a very demure film nary of any risque scene.

At times the storyline reminds me a bit of Roman Holiday in that the protagonist was initially an ambitious go-getter, someone ruthless enough to get ahead in their career. But when they fall in love, their perspective completely changes. I love how Baxter becomes the sweetest, most caring man even after he realizes his chances to be with the girl he loves is slim to none. Jack Lemmon is absolutely endearing in the way he dotes on Fran, taking care of her when she needs it most.

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This film won five Oscars: Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Art Direction and Best Film Editing. Both Lemmon and MacClaine were nominated in the acting categories, too. I’d have been ok if Lemmon had won Best Actor but then again I don’t know who else was nominated that year. Baxter is the heart and soul of this film, and the transformation of his character as the film progresses is very believable.

I love so many things about this movie. The sharp script by Wilder and I.A.L. Diamond, lovely music by Adolph Deutsch, and the perfect balance of drama and comedy. I love the hilarious way Baxter made spaghetti, straining the pasta through the grid of a tennis racket. It’s quite an iconic scene that’s cute and heartwarming.

Fran Kubelik: What’s a tennis racket doing in the kitchen?
C.C. Baxter: Tennis racket? Oh, I remember, I was cooking myself an Italian dinner.
[Fran looks confused]
C.C. Baxter: I use it to strain the spaghetti.

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Of course the performances are great all around, I quite like the chemistry between Lemmon and MacClaine, and it’s the kind of romance that’s rarely seen today as their love develops with barely any physical contact! There’s not even a single kissing scene between the two actors, but you definitely felt the connection between the them.

The ending is one of those that made me go up and cheer… especially when Baxter finally stands up for himself and decides to become a *human being* (or a mensch as his doctor neighbor told him to be it just the night before). It turns out having the career he’s always wanted is not all that’s cracked up to be, meanwhile Fran too has an epiphany moment of her own. The finale is definitely one of the most memorable New Year’s Eve moments in movies. I feel that this ending is pretty typical for rom-coms, complete with the girl running to catch the guy she *finally* realizes to be the love of her life + a bit of panic happening that she could be too late. Yet, it doesn’t feel clichéd or hackneyed here, and that’s the beauty of this movie.

I’m glad I finally caught The Apartment, it’s one I wouldn’t mind seeing again. Now that I’ve seen two Billy Wilder movies, I definitely see why people love his work so much. I look forward to catching up on more of his films in the future, especially Sunset Blvd. that’s been recommended to me ages ago.

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4.5 out of 5 reels


This is the fourth entry to my 2014 Blind Spot Series, as first started by Ryan McNeil at The Matinee, and continued by Dan Heaton at Public Transportation Snob .

As I missed April’s BlindSpot, there’ll be a Double Entry next month.


What do you think of  The Apartment? I’d love to hear what you think!

Classic Actor Spotlight: Jack Lemmon – Timing is Everything

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Greetings, all and sundry! Allow me a few moments of your time to wax nostalgic, elucidate and point out some of the finer performances of an everyman character actor who achieved Stardom the old fashioned way. By working his way up through stage roles. To small, bit parts in television and onto the silver screen. Where he stayed comfortably ensconced for decades. Yet, making and taking the time to keep his talents fresh in the theater.

Allow me to introduce, or re-introduce you to:

Jack Lemmon: Timing is Everything

Though Mr. Lemmon first caught my eye as a Documentary film maker opposite Judy Holliday and Peter Lawford in George Cukor’s It Should Happen to You. Where the first inklings of his comedic timing and delivery began to peek out for all to see. it was Mr. Lemmon’s role as Ensign Frank Thurlowe Pulver in.

Mister Roberts (1955)

That really grabbed my attention. To be working with three proven heavyweights in Henry Fonda, William Powell and Jimmy Cagney. With John Ford at the wheel. And a very little changed Broadway stage screenplay by Joshua Logan and Frank J. Nugent. The film is tight. lean and sometimes spartan. Made for the stage. Describing the boring, mundane life aboard a aged. slow, stuck in the rear, away from harm’s way cargo ship stuck in the South Pacific of WW II, the USS Reluctant. “A floating delivery girl. Transporting its cargo from Tedium to Apathy and back again.”

With Mr. Cagney as the ship’s Captain, Lt. Commander Morton and Mr. Fonda’s Lieutenant Douglas Roberts as the ship’s XO and Cargo Officer. Who wants desperately to get into the war and shares a berth William Powell’s wise and cautiously calm, ‘Doc’ and Mr. Lemmon’s constantly scheming, yet overwhelmingly scared of the Captain, Ensign Pulver easily holding his own. While also managing to steal several key scenes. Especially when Pulver stutters an answer to Cagney’s Captain Morton asking how long Pulver has been aboard his ship. Rumor has it that Cagney and Lemmon had to rehearse the scene until it wasn’t funny and Cagney wouldn’t laugh. Though Pulver’s final confrontation after Mail Call with the Captain takes the cake. In a very early funny, frightened, yet humane role that earned Mr. Lemmon and Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Keeping Mr. Lemmon well in the comedic vein for.

Overall Consensus:

John Ford must have seen something in Mr. Lemmon’s abilities to attach him to the brilliant adaptation of a popular stage play. That was written by Josh Logan with Henry Fonda being the only choice for the lead role. Which gives the film a comfortable and relaxed feel. Smooth, though not quite serene with Fonda’s Mister Roberts wanting to get into the war. Needing the Captain’s signature on any of many transfer requests. While Mr. Lemmon’s offers superbly timed comic relief between William Powell’s wise and sage ‘Doc’ and Fonda’s Mister Roberts. As a perpetual kid with big dreams of getting at the Captain. Though constantly hamstrung by fear of retribution. It isn’t until the final five minutes of the film that Mr. Lemmon’s Ensign Pulver finally grows up, becomes a man and confronts the Captain.

Well worth Mr. Lemmon’s Academy Award for Best Supporting Actor. Giving the young talent time to practice and hone his skills for.

Operation Mad Ball (1957)

With Mr. Lemmon as a supply clerk in a hospital unit in Europe after the war has wound down. Unfortunately, the unit has a stickler for Army regulations in charge. Catcher’s mitt faced Ernie Kovacs as Captain Paul Locke. Who catches Mr. Lemmon’s Pvt.Hogan while on Guard Duty trying to make time (Fraternizing) with a nurse, Lt. Betty Bixby. Flirtatiously played by up and comer, Kathryn Grant. Explanations don’t assuage Capt. Lock. Who confines Hogans to his barracks pending a Court Martial.

Which puts a huge dent in Hogan’s plan for a wild ball and going away party for the reassigned Company Commander, Colonel Rousch. Endearingly played by fatherly Arthur O’Connell. Undaunted, Pvt. Hogan makes calls and deals with the black market, NCOs who run the Officers and NCO Clubs, musicians, procurers, purveyors and petty thieves as a location is staked out and divergent parts start coming together. Hustlers like Hogan connect and bring in Mickey Rooney as Master Sergeant Yancy Skibo (Pronounced ‘Skeee-bo!’). The darker, more lecherous, Southern Good Ol’ Boy side of a rhyming Andy Hardy. Who, with his cousin, Corporal Bohun. Well played by Dick York ages before ABC’s Bewitched. Go out of their way to feed Captain Locke faulty Intel on the upcoming events. Leaving more time for Pvt. Hogan to connect the dots while reintroducing himself to Lt. Bixby.

All the parts come together as Captain Locke is sent on a wild goose chase and Colonel Rousch is unwittingly, though gently kidnapped and brought to the secluded Mad Ball.

Overall Consensus:

Having been around the world in Active and Reserve uniform for decades. I have a soft spot for Service comedies and dramas. And Operation Mad Ball has the right look and feel of Tent City, just post-war Europe, even though it was shot on the back lots and sets of Universal Studios. Thanks to the Art and Set Direction of Robert Boyle and William Calvert under Richard Quine’s deft touch. Leaving plenty of time for Mr. Lemmon to work his near manic magic and almost letting the audience see the gears turn behind his eyes as the game changes from moment to moment. In a role that earned Mr. Lemmon top billing and a juicy, kind of oily role for Ernie Kovacs and a mixed bag of eager young and old solid talent.

Which brings us to…

Bell, Book and Candle (1958)

As part of a stellar ensemble cast including James Stewart, Kim Novak, Ernie Kovacs, Hermione Gingold and Elsa Lanchester and once again under Richard Quine’s direction. In what is once again an adapted stage play moved to New York’s Greenwich Village during the Christmas season. Where modern day witch Gillian Holroyd. Beguilingly played by Kim Novak wants to break up with her fiance and get to know her neighbor, Shepherd Henderson. Well brought to life by Jimmy Stewart. While Mr. Lemmon cooly entertains and runs interference as Gillian’s warlock brother, Nicky. Who advises Gillian not to fall in love or she will lose her witching powers. When not startling passers by making a block of street light wink out and back on with a snap of his fingers.

Love takes the upper hand, of course. With the aid of Gillian’s familiar. A lovely Point Berman cat named Pyawacket. The spell is cast, almost needlessly. Sending Gillian and Nicky and occult writer, Ernie Kovacs seeking aid from Gillian’s aunt, Queenie. Sublimely brought to life by Elsa Lanchester. While Shep finds coven leader, Bianca de Passe, wondrous Hermione Gingold, for ways to break the curse. I’ll leave it right there and leave the door ajar. For a superior, smart, well written and executed comedy that shows love conquers all. And spawned the popular television series, Bewitched in
the 1960s.

Overall Consensus:

Mr. Lemmon seems to be a cozy fit in another film adapted from a popular stage play. Well versed in the rhythms and sways of what the theater and later film could get to in the Greenwich Village world of coffee houses. Four and five piece post war jazz, poetry and Be-Bop. The cast and settings are definitely not Bohemian. Much more upscale and romantic.

Just the right, quirky environment for witches and warlocks living not quite in the shadows. Mr. Lemmon’s role is not big, but it is essential and the actor admirably makes the most of each scene. Building credentials and credibility for his next major step.

Some Like It Hot (1959)

Who else, but Billy Wilder could take a fifteen minute Vaudeville Drag skit. Let out a seam here and tuck a few in there and turn it into iconic, character driven comedy? Taking a sleepless three thirty in the morning idea and fleshing it out well with a soupcon of Roaring Twenties Chicago. Rival crime gangs. Cops. Detectives. Bootleggers, speak easiest. Then filling those arenas with a Who’s Who of stalwart, A-List talent. Including George Raft, Pat O’ Brien, Nehemiah Persoff, and Mike Mazurki. Along with and two jazz musicians, Joe (Tony Curtis) and Jerry (Mr. Lemmon); who can’t seem to catch a break. Trudging through the raw wind and snow of a wicked Chicago winter from agency to agency to get a gig.

One is gotten and is raided by the cops. Leaving Joe and Jerry on the run and looking for a place to lay up while their car is being gassed up in a warm garage. Only to hide when they recognize a local thug, ‘Toothpick’ Charlie in a shadowy card game. When what looks like a police sedan rolls in and a group of what look like uniformed cops shake the card players down and line them up against the wall for what has to be a sanitized version of The Saint Valentine’s Day Massacre.

Unfortunately, the gas nozzle slips from Joe’s car. The gangsters turn and looks are exchanged. Joe and Jerry are now eyewitnesses to the killing and they run for their lives amidst a hail of gunfire. Back to the booking agency, which happens to know an all girl jazz waiting at Union station. That is need of a Saxophonist (Joe) and a stand up bass player (Jerry) for their month long run through Florida. Backing up lead singer and Ukelele player, Sugar Kane Kowalczyk. Stunningly and ditzi-ly played by Marilyn Monroe.

All stirred into a shouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of working film. But it does! Magnificently. Especially when Tony Curtis channels his best Cary Grant as a playboy pursuing Sugar. And myopic Joe E. Brown’s Osgood falls for Mr. Lemmon’s Daphne. Their Tango is not to be missed. Nor, is their final scene! Garnering Mr. Lemmon an Academy Award nomination for Best Actor amongst many. Though the film’s only Oscar was for Best Costume Design.

Overall Consensus:

Give credit where credit is due to Billy Wilder sticking with his and I. A. L. Diamond’s idea and screenplay adapted from the 1935 French comedy, Fanfare d’Amour when many doors were slammed in his face. Though, through persistence MGM finally expressed and interest and fronted Mr. Wilder close to a carte blanche budget to give life to this classic, though not quite screwball comedy.

Dues are also given to Mr. Lemmon and Tony Curtis for succeeding in a selection process that included Anthony Perkins and Jerry Lewis, amongst others. In roles that could either make or break their careers. Not as women, but as men imitating women. In this arena, both Mr. Lemmon and Curtis shine, but Mr. Lemmon, even more so. Once the principals were locked in, filling out the rest of the cast must have been a dream. And the talent shows all the way around.

Which brings us to…

The Apartment (1960)

Yea, though I have written about this film on several occasions. This is where Mr. Lemmon starts showing a flair for drama. Playing an office drone in a massive New York insurance company. A passive, cubicle bound Dilbert without a cubicle. One of countless, near faceless number crunchers. With a desk, hand crank adding machine, notepads and an endless supply of pens and pencils. Though Mr. Lemmon’s C.C. Baxter has an in. His apartment is close to the office headquarters that he allows four different office managers to use for extramarital activities.

Four soon becomes five when a new manager, Fred Mac Murray’s ‘Superb Louse‘, Jeff Shelldrake is assigned to Baxter’s section. Offering tokens, trinkets and Talismans to Baxter, to be cut in on the deal. Mr. Lemmon’s Baxter concedes and advances up the ladder. Smitten by elevator girl, Fran Kubilek. A subtle, light hearted love story starts to evolve and Mr. Lemmon’s humanity starts to shine. Topped off when the Holidays come around. When secrets and near tragedy rear their ugly heads.

Overall Consensus:

It’s a treat to watch the consummate Funny Man being given free rein to be as silly as he wishes in so many memorable scenes. Yet, take his first experimental plucks and strums at the dramatic. Letting his face and eyes grasp the thoughts and emotions that his words haven’t quite mastered yet. Especially with his first dinner with Shirley MacLaine’s fragile Fran Kubilek and the impromptu use of a tennis racquet to strain pasta. Then turning the coin when returning to his apartment with a quickly picked up, post company Christmas Party date. Only to discover Miss Kublilek has found his sleeping pills. Then, setting the crowning touch by finally and succinctly confronting Mr. Shelldrake.

Well-worthy of its Academy Awards nominations for Mr. Lemmon and Ms. MacLaine for Best Actor and Actress. And wins for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Writing, Editing and Best Art Direction. Which may have laid the groundwork for Mr. Wilder remembering Mr. Lemmon and acquiring his service in later projects that will be covered in the next installment.


Check out Jack’s profile page and links to his other reviews


What do you think of Jack Lemmon and what’s your favorite movie(s) from his illustrious career? Do share ’em in the comments.

Classic Flix List: Fred MacMurray – Superb Louse!

Greeting, all and sundry! After giving my cerebrum a well deserved respite which coincided with the release of The Avengers, I’ve decided to dive back in. Taking a hint from Ruth and applying it to the realm of lists while keeping within the arena of classic films and those involved.

To this end, allow me to introduce one of the most talented, yet under rated actors of the past century. Whom many may recognize as a poster boy for Disney during the 1960s and later as television’s proverbial Perfect Dad in My Three Sons. A worthy topic for another time. Though now, I would like to plunge back to the earlier times and films which firmly planted the subject of this dissertation on the Hollywood map while specializing in a specific and memorable type of character.

Fred MacMurray: Superb Louse!

Louses come in all shapes and sizes in film. From Richard Widmark’s Tommy Udo in Kiss of Death or Skip McCoy in Pickup on South Street. Talented, yet invisible people who seem to suffer from a delusional ego. To Peter Lorre, who made a cottage industry out of portraying such countless films. Today, Steve Buscemi would fill that niche comfortably with room to spare!

What makes a ‘Superb Louse’ is the ability to portray someone of lesser or low moral character while also making the character likable and memorable. Within these strict confines, for a brief period in time, Mr. MacMurray ruled the roost. Beginning his sojourn in one of the great classic Film Noirs directed by Billy Wilder:

1. Double Indemnity (1944)

Playing workaday insurance salesman, Walter Neff. Who drops by the home of Phyllis Dietrichson. Silkily and alluringly played by Barbara Stanwyck, to get some final signatures on Mr. Dietrichson’s car policy. Sparks sizzle at first sight. Which evolves into flirtation while negotiating a life insurance policy and its much larger payout for accidental death.

The avalanche begins and it’s too late for the pebbles to vote as Phyllis starts upping the ante. While Walter begins to bend the truth to his partner, Barton Keyes. Brought to low keyed, underplayed life by Edward G. Robinson. Who knows when something just doesn’t look or feel right. MacMurray’s strength is brought to the fore in his straight faced ability to lie and keep two plausible sets of facts straight. While fully aware that he is sinking deeper in deep in Phyllis’s ensnaring web. In a shadowy B&W that begins at the tale’s end and is told in flash backs as a slowly bleeding out Walter tells all into a recording Dictaphone Machine.

2. The Caine Mutiny (1954)

A decade had passed and Mr. MacMurray had the opportunity to pick up those few shiny pebbles to a high gloss for a pivotal supporting role that everyone thinks is a Humphrey Bogart film, but really isn’t. Though he owns the ball bearing assisted plum scene during the Court Martial before the final reel. No, the magic of The Caine Mutiny is that the film is solid ensemble. While the mutineers’ defense council, Lt. Barney Greenwald, magnificently played by Jose Ferrer captures every scene he is in.

That capturing would never have taken place without the connivance of MacMurray’s Lt. Tom Keefer. College man, self proclaimed intellectual and failed playwright. With an over sized ego, subtle condescension to match. Who lazily tolerates the Captain of the Mine Sweeper, Caine while taking fresh faced, young, naive Ensign Willie Keith under his wing. Once the Captain is reassigned to another ship, Keefer’s tolerance melds with wary caution in regard to the ship’s new Captain, Lt. Commander Philip Francis Queeg. A WWI hold over and very Navy. Who moves at his own speed with his own rules. Unwittingly supplying Keefer with a shopping list of complaints as he draws Van Johnson’s career minded Lt. Steve Maryk into the cabal.

Creating a series of accidents and mishaps that culminate in perhaps, losing the Caine to a tropical Typhoon. Setting the stage for a Court Martial where Keefer’s ego writes checks that can’t be covered. Walking the tight rope of settling perceived scores while tossing Queeg to the wolves and saving his own skin. Queeg is quietly ushered out. The mutineers are acquitted. And later at a celebratory party, Mr. MacMurray’s Keefer is solidly deserving of Lt. Barney Greenwald’s scathing dressing down and challenge to a fight.

3. Pushover (1954)

Ramping it up the sleaze and slime factor about four fold as Robbery Detective Paul Sheridan. Who starts out as honest and straight laced. A bit of of ladies’ man. Tipped to an opening scene bank robbery where people are killed and the robber, Harry Wheeler, fleetingly played by Paul Richards, escapes. Sheridan deftly disables the possible getaway car owned by robber’s moll, Lona McLane; sultrily played by Kim Novak in her debut role. Smoothly picks up Lona. Invites her for a drink and soon finds himself getting in over his head as Lona just as smoothly seduces Sheridan and suggests an easy way out with her and the bank’s stolen $200,000.

The film’s back lot, claustrophobic, shadowy, rain slicked look and Noir feel fit Mr. MacMurray’s Sheridan like a glove as he stakes out Lona’s tiny apartment in its U-shaped complex. With a plethora of high dolly shots that make Sheridan’s trench coated shadows stretch even longer. Selling his soul to the devil as he lies to his partner, Rick McAllister, well played by Philip Carey and paternal overseer, Paddy Dolan. Fudges reports to his by the book boss, Lt. Eckstrom, a sturdy, aspiring E.G. Marshall. Then slither away to see Lona and their plans quickly head south. Culminating with a few unexpected, noisy, greed motivated murders that leave no one the better.

4. The Apartment (1960)

We now find Mr. MacMurray again under the deft hand of Billy Wilder. As a rather major cog in a flawless Magnum Opus to very early 1960s Corporate America. Its hive of worker drones. The key to success and all its bells, whistles, vices and secret that are part and parcel of innovation, imagination and climbing to the top. Here, MacMurray reigns supreme as he toys with and sometimes taunts a new and possibly unwelcome addition to his fiefdom. Jack Lemmon, deftly mixing comedy and drama as naive, sometimes nebbish-y, C.C. Baxter.

MacMurray’s personnel director, Jeff Sheldrake is at the pinnacle of his appointed ladder. Basically content and more than somewhat amoral. He quickly adds his own name to the list of executives young Baxter loans his close by apartment to for late night, off the books assignations. Sheldrake dangles shiny totems and talismans of advancement before Baxter eyes. Private office and perks. While carrying on an affair with elevator girl, Fran Kubelik. Realistically brought to life by Shirley MacLaine.

Troubles ensue when Miss Kubelik catches Baxter’s fancy. Keeping relatively low key until Christmas Eve Night. While Miss Kubelik waits for Shelldrake at the company party. Only to see him enter with an earlier secretary, Edie Adams. on his arm. Miss Kubelik panics and runs to Baxter’s empty apartment and attempts a suicide with sleeping pills. Sheldrake remains, perhaps gleefully and deliberately oblivious of it all. Juggling multiple mistresses with a knowing, winning smile until the final few minutes. When Baxter quits and gives Shelldrake his surprising and well earned comeuppance. With a verbal berating and the returned keys to the executive washroom.

Overall Consensus:

Billy Wilder directing Barbara Stanwyck & Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity

While being given many roles to play, I still believe that Mr. MacMurray was anxious to find a niche where he could stretch and flex his muscles and have some fum with particularly meaty roles under the guidance of tried and tested directors. More so with Billy Wilder, who gave the actor ample opportunities to deliver some of his best, most memorable work. Not as the hero, but the heel. Cunningly pulling strings in The Apartment and to a lesser extent in The Caine Mutiny. While also being able to flip the coin and portray an every man who takes a decision and winds up on an E Ticket to Hell in Double Indemnity and Pushover. Films revealing clever men you may not mind sharing a drink with. Though not much more.


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What do you think of Fred MacMurray? Do share your favorite role(s) of this classic actor.