Try to Write Like Fred MacMurray

Whenever I watch Double Indemnity I'm reminded of what a great actor Fred MacMurray was.

MacMurray was a guy with boy-next-door looks who became a steady leading man in Hollywood. Best known as the warm-hearted dad in the sitcom My Three Sons, MacMurray was equally at home in comedy, drama and film noir, adept in both movies and TV.

How good was he? Think about
Double Indemnity. He plays a slick talking insurance man who teams up with a dame to knock off her husband. A murderer! Yet, by the middle of the film, we find ourselves pulling for him. I don't know many actors who could make that happen.

And I don't think, outside of Robert Mitchum, there's ever been a better deliverer of rat-a-tat film noir lines, like these:

"That's a honey of an anklet you're wearing."

"How could I have known that murder can sometimes smell like honeysuckle?"

"I wonder if a little rum would get this up on its feet."

Inexplicably, he was never nominated for an Academy Award. Outrage! He was absolutely robbed when Barry Fitzgerald was somehow nominated for Best Supporting Actor and Best Actor
for the same role (Going My Way). MacMurray should have been given the Actor slot (Fitzgerald won for Support). Bing Crosby won Actor that year (again, for Going My Way) and while the old crooner was fine, he didn't do one tenth the acting MacMurray does in Double Indemnity.

Though MacMurray is remembered today mostly for his light comedy (e.g.,
The Absent Minded Professor), for my money his best roles were as lowlifes, in Double Indemnity, The Caine Mutiny, and The Apartment. He could have won Oscars for all three.

In other words he was a true actor, doing his job and doing it well. He never tried to show off or chew scenery. He blended into the role and served the greater purpose of the movie.

Which is what I like in writers, too. Getting the tone just right, not showing off in terms of style, but doing what serves the purpose of the story. Even Chandler, who has flights of style that soar, never tried to transcend his plot. He didn't want to. He was a real writer weaving a fictive dream.

I can think of a few writers like that, who are reliable, book after book. Someone like Donald Westlake (aka Richard Stark). Or John D. MacDonald.

Try to do the same.
blog comments powered by Disqus