Thursday, 17 October 2013

Alternate Best Actor 1944: Fred MacMurray in Double Indemnity

Fred MacMurray did not receive an Oscar nomination for portraying Walter Neff in Double Indemnity.

Double Indemnity is a masterful film noir by Billy Wilder about an insurance salesman who conspires with a femme fatale to murder her husband for the insurance money.

1944 is one year I would like to know who exactly was sixth place in the voting and whose spot was taken for Barry Fitzgerald's extra nomination. I would have to imagine it was MacMurray as, in terms of nominations, Double Indemnity was quite popular with the academy and the leading actor of every other best picture nominee was represented with Going My Way being represented twice. Also the academy did nominated Charles Boyer for playing a somewhat similar character, although maybe they preferred him over MacMurray because Boyer played an eloquent murderer rather then an average sorta guy one.

Fred MacMurray, although really is best known for this role today, was an actor who mostly played the lead in lighthearted comedies. Of course something rather interesting is, other then Alice Adams, every time he was in a film which was nominated for best picture he played a dark villainous roles. This role is the most notable of all of his as he plays the lead to Double Indemnity as Walter Neff an everyday insurance salesman who happens upon a most unusual woman in Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck), who seems a bit too interested in a life insurance policy for her uncaring husband. There is nothing special about Neff other then he notices the indications Phyllis is making.

Fred MacMurray is perfectly cast in this role and acts well as perhaps the any man who might find himself with such a temptation. MacMurray is great in the scene where Neff and Phyllis first meet as we see the instant charge in Neff's eyes as he first lays them upon her. MacMurray is terrific in playing ow smitten Neff is and the obvious lust in him that only becomes more extreme as he spends more time with her. The believability of Neff's rather swift descent into the dark depths of a murder plot are made wholly believable by MacMurray performance as he shows Neff to be almost entranced by Phyllis and portrays incredibly well the strong urges in Neff.

One of the great aspects of this film is the rather peculiar chemistry that MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck have in this film. Each take on a different style that creates a rather fascinating dynamic between the two characters. MacMurray, although playing a murdering, does play Neff as a man with a soul even if that soul is up for grabs. Stanwyck on the other hand plays Phyllis Dietrichson as soulless monster although one capable of a false affection if it serves her nefarious purposes. MacMurray gets played well Stanwyck does the playing and it their performance get down to the plain and simple depths of the relationship where Neff is blinded by her worldly wiles.

A rather funny thing about the film, and part of its greatness, is that the only relationship with any warmth is actually between Walter Neff and his co-worker and insurance investigator Barton Keyes played by Edward G. Robinson. Their banter is oddly enough the heart of the film as their friendship is the only purely honest one, in terms of emotions, in the film. MacMurray is great in all of his scenes with Robinson showing Neff as how he really should have been in his friendly banter with Robinson. The person Neff says "I love you too" to isn't Phyllis but rather Keyes, and that sound all ready for a bad joke but it absolutely works especially their final poignant moments together where they both show just how much their friendship really did mean.

MacMurray plays Neff rather effectively as an intelligent fool. Although Neff does go through with the scheme of murdering the husband and foolishly thinks that he can one get away with it and two trust the duplicitous Phyllis, he does have a plan and how to attempt to handle everything. MacMurray finds this contradiction quite well by mixing in the sides of Neff. On one side there is the far more calculating Neff who thinks about the plan and MacMurray suggests Neff's intimate knowledge of the insurance game well. On the other side though MacMurray also presents a more emotional Neff that is underlying at all times whether it be showing his conscience or simply his desire for Phyllis Dietrichson.

MacMurray is outstanding in any of the scenes where Neff has to intimate part of the plan or deal with any of the accusations from Keyes. MacMurray is terrific in showing all the anxiousness in the man, all the fear and unpleasantness of it all. MacMurray is so good because he plays all of these scenes so straight and in doing so represents how an average man would react through the film. The intensity of every scene is amplified by MacMurray direct approach. Every little moment is given the emphasis needed and something as simple as a car failing to start has an overwhelming tension because of MacMurray's exceptional portrayal of Neff's anxiety.

It is ridiculous that Fred MacMurray was not nominated for one thing Barry Fitzgerald did not need to have two nominations for literally the same exact performance and even more so MacMurray work is essential to the greatness of Double Indemnity. Although one can easily point out one of the two other most important roles as the standouts in this, it is MacMurray's great work that holds it all together. MacMurray is the driving force throughout the film. MacMurray matches brilliantly both the technically showier work of Stanwyck and Robinson and his delivery of the narration helps to set the perfect tone of the film. Even more so then all that MacMurray simply gives a compelling and very powerful portrait of one man's moral decline all the way to the bitter end.


RatedRStar said...

It might even have been Cary Grant who may have taken that 5th position that MacMurray came close to since I imagine Knox, Boyer, Crosby and even Fitzgerald could have been easy locks because of their best picture nominations whereas None But The Lonely Heart received only a few nominations lol.

Also Louis, I think Best Supporting Actor 1944 is equally strange, with Hume Cronyn getting the films only nomination over Robinson and even Rains was probably a surprise nomination since Skeffington received few nominations.

Louis Morgan said...

Well when it came to Edward G. Robinson the academy seemed to suffer from blindness, they even failed to officially give him his honorary award before he died.

koook160 (Robert MacFarlane) said...

I really can't wait for Robinson's review.

Anonymous said...

What did you think of Barbara Stanwyck?

Louis Morgan said...

She was great.

Michael McCarthy said...

Terrific performance in an amazing movie. Double Indemnity should have easily taken down Going My Way for Best Pic, and if I'd been able to get my predictions in on time I'd've picked MacMurray for the win too.

Tanvir Bashar said...

Wat wud u ur top ten fav noir films period

Louis Morgan said...

1. L.A. Confidential
2. Chinatown
3. The Third Man
4. Double Indemnity
5. The Maltese Falcon
6. Touch of Evil
7. Laura
8. The Asphalt Jungle
9. Out of the Past
10. Scarlet Street