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Rick2400

Fred MacMurray

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...in regards to the late Richard Long. 

Richard Long was a contract player at Universal in the late 1940s and early 1950s. The studio was grooming him to be a lead, but his film career never took off the way his contemporaries did-- Tony Curtis at the same studio; and Robert Wagner at Fox. His first wife, Suzann Ball (a cousin of Lucille Ball) was being groomed by Universal as a lead in adventure stories and westerns. She was scoring well with audiences and moving up fast, before she was struck down by cancer. If she had lived, her fame probably would have eclipsed her husband's. The illness and death of Long's wife undoubtedly had an impact on the actor's momentum as a film star, though he was still consistently working.

 

He was relegated to supporting roles, and occasionally would have a lead role in poorly budgeted B films. By the end of the 50s, he had turned primarily to television but he continued to do sporadic film work. Before he was cast in The Big Valley, he had appeared in Bourbon Street Beat and 77 Sunset Strip. He is, of course, today most remembered for playing Jarrod Barkley as well as the professor in Nanny and the Professor. So ultimately, he is more highly regarded as a TV star than as a movie star.

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I don't think MacMurray was in need of money. From multiple sources that I've read, MacMurray was very frugal and invested his money wisely. I believe he was one of the wealthier actors in Hollywood.

 

I can't speak about Stanwyck and Blondell as I don't know about their financial situations; but Stanwyck doesn't seem the type to be frivolous. Why is it that a movie actor must have done television out of necessity? How does starring in a television show cause someone to lose their dignity? Why can't they have a television show because they want to try something new? Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz moved away from their successful careers and made I Love Lucy. Neither *had* to do the show.

 

I agree with you that there is no loss of dignity,  especially for an aging actor.   I assume most actors as they age would like to remain movies stars or at least supporting actors in movies but there are only so many parts for aging actors.   So TV was a way to continue to work.   Even if one didn't need the money life was fuller by working at their trade.    

 

For most aging actors instead of have to 'step down' to TV they just dropped out of slight.    

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It's considered a step down because it's like someone getting demoted to B films (TV movies) or a batch of small-budgeted programmers (a series of episodes on a long-running series). If you were an A star in big budget studio movies and you are suddenly doing vast amounts of television work, it is a signal that your career has gone into decline. Of course, for some of them, it's a good sort of decline, because it's a way to continue a career and remain before the public eye, and if the TV projects are moderately successful, it can be quite lucrative. It's also a way for aging performers to still find jobs, and some of them need to work at least intermittently to keep their insurance through the Screen Actors Guild.

 

Lucille Ball was able to prolong her screen career by thirty years. She knew that approaching her forties and having already worked at every major studio by 1950, she had limited options. TV, like radio, was a way to reinvent herself. She had to do TV to continue her career, and when you're used to a certain level of fame and income and want to keep performing, then you need to do television. This is why years later, we have seen people like Bette Midler and Robin Williams turn to the weekly series grind. But in the pecking order of Hollywood, network TV (less so for original cable TV series work) is still considered a bit of a step down.

In the early days of television (40's, 50's) going from motion pictures to the small screen seemed a big demotion. But as tv became more and more popular that changed.  People like Berle and Gleason became household names like Bogart and Gable. Lucille Ball became a far bigger tv star then she had ever  been in movies.  Hope and Benny moved from huge success in radio to films, then on to tv.  And many performers who were just bit players in movies became huge tv stars.  Some film actors like John Wayne preferred  to stay in films, as long as they could maintain a high level of popularity they did that.  But if the "Duke"  had had a couple of box office bombs in a row he may have moved to tv like "Gunsmoke" or "Bonanza". As I've heard many say , movies or tv it's all entertainment. Perhaps the wisest , or luckiest, performers of all successfully worked in both media, like James Garner.  

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In the early days of television (40's, 50's) going from motion pictures to the small screen seemed a big demotion. But as tv became more and more popular that changed.  People like Berle and Gleason became household names like Bogart and Gable. Lucille Ball became a far bigger tv star then she had ever  been in movies.  Hope and Benny moved from huge success in radio to films, then on to tv.  And many performers who were just bit players in movies became huge tv stars.  Some film actors like John Wayne preferred  to stay in films, as long as they could maintain a high level of popularity they did that.  But if the "Duke"  had had a couple of box office bombs in a row he may have moved to tv like "Gunsmoke" or "Bonanza". As I've heard many say , movies or tv it's all entertainment. Perhaps the wisest , or luckiest, performers of all successfully worked in both media, like James Garner.  

A few points--

 

First, Berle and Gleason were never big film stars. They sort of floundered in movies while excelling on TV. If Ball had not done well on TV, she would have been through-- her successful sitcom work allowed her temporary comebacks in motion pictures but that success was fairly limited and she only made a feature film once every few years (and half of them bombed at the box office).

 

The ones who benefitted the most on TV, in terms of celebrity-- were the character actors. People like Shirley Booth, Ellen Corby, Lorne Greene and Raymond Burr became household names because of television. If their careers had been largely confined to roles in movies, their faces would be known today but not their names.

 

I think that if John Wayne had lived another ten years, he would have stopped making feature films. We would have seen him to do substantial parts (juicy cameos) on television miniseries in the 1980s. His personal philosophy and politics-- not to mention his screen persona-- would have worked very well in productions like The Blue and the Gray, The Winds of War or Amerika, the one about Russia trying to take over the United States. He would have continued to work, but he would have eventually transitioned to television, I have no doubt about that. Not in a weekly series, but again like I said, in special events like miniseries or highly budgeted TV movies.

 

James Garner often switched to television when his film career was in decline. The only thing he was being offered when he started The Rockford Files was leads in Disney family fare (glorified B films). He rebounded in the 80s on the big screen in Victor Victoria and Murphy's Romance, because Rockford helped reinvent him. In the early 2000s, he was again in need of reinventing, so he signed on after John Ritter's death to take an important supporting role in 8 Simple Rules. This led to him getting better film offers in pictures like THE NOTEBOOK. So Garner was smart-- he knew how to use TV to bounce back into movies. Not everyone had the intelligence or charisma to pull off what Jim Garner did (more than once).

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Most actors went to TV went they got a bit older. It's the rare actor who can continue his movie AA list status when he or she is pushing 50.

 

Yep, AND it was ALSO sometimes rare for a former "AA list" movie star to HAVE a "successful television career" in many cases TOO.

 

I'm thinking of Jimmy Stewart and his friend Hank Fonda in particular here, both of whom starred in short lived and rather forgettable television shows back in the day.

 

(...and I'll bet given enough time, we ALL could think of a few OTHER big name movie stars who didn't quite make a smooth transition to the other medium, couldn't we)

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Top Billed, my point was that the idea that television was a big demotion from feature films was only a temporary phenomenon.  Berle and Gleason weren't film stars but through television they became huge stars with the public. Lucy went to tv somewhat out of necessity but it enabled her to become one of the most popular entertainers of her time.  By the 1960's it was just as credible to be a major tv star as a major film star.  For whatever reason some actors played better doing  the same character on a weekly series,  and they could become as popular as the biggest film stars. And a whole new generation of people got the bulk of their entertainment from television, barely going to the theatre to see a movie

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Top Billed, my point was that the idea that television was a big demotion from feature films was only a temporary phenomenon.  Berle and Gleason weren't film stars but through television they became huge stars with the public. Lucy went to tv somewhat out of necessity but it enabled her to become one of the most popular entertainers of her time.  By the 1960's it was just as credible to be a major tv star as a major film star.  For whatever reason some actors played better doing  the same character on a weekly series,  and they could become as popular as the biggest film stars. And a whole new generation of people got the bulk of their entertainment from television, barely going to the theatre to see a movie

I see what you're saying, but I don't think it was a temporary thing, being seen as a demotion. Network television is usually considered a step down, even in recent decades. In the 80s, we had TV stars trying to make it big as film stars-- think Shelley Long and Ted Danson from Cheers. They had very limited success. They were almost 'tainted' by having been over-exposed on television. There was this unspoken belief that if an audience can see a favorite star for free on TV, why should they pay to see them at the multi-plex...?

 

Again, I think Jim Garner is one of the few that successfully toggled back and forth between TV and film. But most of them, once they made it big in TV, were denied movie stardom. Even Michael J. Fox whose career was red hot for about five years, did not become a serious movie star. He hit big in the Back to the Future flicks but that didn't last and he was soon back on TV doing another weekly series. In the end, audiences considered him a TV star more than a movie star. 

 

I agree with your point that some TV stars are very famous, arguably as famous as their movie star counterparts. But there is still a stigma attached to being on television. That's why people like Julia Roberts who have success in movies avoid doing regular television work for as long as possible. They go to it out of necessity, not because it is their first choice.

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I see what you're saying, but I don't think it was a temporary thing, being seen as a demotion. Network television is usually considered a step down, even in recent decades. In the 80s, we had TV stars trying to make it big as film stars-- think Shelley Long and Ted Danson from Cheers. They had very limited success. They were almost 'tainted' by having been over-exposed on television. There was this unspoken belief that if an audience can see a favorite star for free on TV, why should they pay to see them at the multi-plex...?

 

Again, I think Jim Garner is one of the few that successfully toggled back and forth between TV and film. But most of them, once they made it big in TV, were denied movie stardom. Even Michael J. Fox whose career was red hot for about five years, did not become a serious movie star. He hit big in the Back to the Future flicks but that didn't last and he was soon back on TV doing another weekly series. In the end, audiences considered him a TV star more than a movie star. 

 

I agree with your point that some TV stars are very famous, arguably as famous as their movie star counterparts. But there is still a stigma attached to being on television. That's why people like Julia Roberts who have success in movies avoid doing regular television work for as long as possible. They go to it out of necessity, not because it is their first choice.

Lucy successfully went back and forth between TV and film in the '50s and '60s.

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Lucy successfully went back and forth between TV and film in the '50s and '60s.

See my earlier comment about Lucy. She had mixed results-- about half her feature films after 1951 were duds. That is why she decided to start making those extended Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episodes (one was 75 minutes in length). Plus, on the Desilu Westinghouse Playhouse she occasionally did none-Lucy-type roles-- she was essentially heading into TV movie territory at that point, because she knew she had an almost-guaranteed audience on the small screen. She couldn't say that about feature theatrical releases.

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See my earlier comment about Lucy. She had mixed results-- about half her feature films after 1951 were duds. That is why she decided to start making those extended Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episodes (one was 75 minutes in length). Plus, on the Desilu Westinghouse Playhouse she occasionally did none-Lucy-type roles-- she was essentially heading into TV movie territory at that point, because she knew she had an almost-guaranteed audience on the small screen. She couldn't say that about feature theatrical releases.

So Garner was the only one who managed to really successfully go back and forth?

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So Garner was the only one who managed to really successfully go back and forth?

I might add Brian Keith, but he was never as big a lead star as Garner. Keith, like MacMurray, had the benefit of working for Don Fedderson Productions, so while he was starring in the hit weekly series Family Affair, he was able to make A films (usually as a second lead or in important supporting roles). His Hollywood film career was just as strong in the 70s as it had been in the 50s and 60s, before and after the sitcom. In the 80s, he was still appearing in films when he signed on to do Hardcastle & McCormick, another hit for him.

 

By the way TCM programmers, Brian Keith would make an excellent honoree next August for Summer Under the Stars.

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I might add Brian Keith, but he was never as big a lead star as Garner. Keith, like MacMurray, had the benefit of working for Don Fedderson Productions, so while he was starring in the hit weekly series Family Affair, he was able to make A films (usually as a second lead or in important supporting roles). His Hollywood film career was just as strong in the 70s as it had been in the 50s and 60s, before and after the sitcom. In the 80s, he was still appearing in films when he signed on to do Hardcastle & McCormick, another hit for him.

 

By the way TCM programmers, Brian Keith would make an excellent honoree next August for Summer Under the Stars.I think I 

I think Brian Keith is a terrific actor and I would love to see him as a SUTS honoree.  Like MacMurray, he could easily swing between playing heroes and villains (though often "conflicted" villains) and he definitely deserves his day.

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Most actors went to TV went they got a bit older. It's the rare actor who can continue his movie AA list status when he or she is pushing 50.

There was a magazine article about a year ago, stating that the tv show American Horror Story had given three no—longer young actresses work, once the movie roles they were offered dried up and/or were unappetizing: Jessica Lange, Angela Bassett and Kathy Bates. Another one time marquee name, Whoopie Goldberg, has apparently been hoping to get cast in AHS, in a recurring role from season to season, just like ths other three.

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I think Brian Keith is a terrific actor and I would love to see him as a SUTS honoree.  Like MacMurray, he could easily swing between playing heroes and villains (though often "conflicted" villains) and he definitely deserves his day.

You described Brian Keith perfectly-- his villains weren't always of the scenery-chewing variety. He brought skill and versatility to his roles. He was one of Maureen O'Hara's favorite costars (and closest friends).

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For anyone not afraid to venture into a theater:

 

http://abcnews.go.com/GMA/video/garry-marshall-returns-off-broadway-billy-ray-26236701

 

Billy & Ray October 1 – November 9 BY MIKE BENCIVENGA
DIRECTED BY GARRY MARSHALL
with Drew Gehling, Vincent Kartheiser, Larry Pine, Sophie von Haselberg

BILLY & RAY, a whip-smart comedy charting the birth of the film noir genre, follows literary odd couple writer-director Billy Wilder (Vincent Kartheiser of "Mad Men") and novelist Raymond Chandler (Broadway’s Larry Pine of CASA VALENTINA) as they contentiously collaborate to adapt Double Indemnity for the silver screen. Set in 1940s Hollywood, BILLY & RAY is the true story of how two brilliant and thorny artists battled the Hollywood censors and each other to create a groundbreaking movie classic. Directed by legendary director/writer/producer Garry Marshall (Pretty Woman, Beaches).

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See my earlier comment about Lucy. She had mixed results-- about half her feature films after 1951 were duds. That is why she decided to start making those extended Lucy-Desi Comedy Hour episodes (one was 75 minutes in length). Plus, on the Desilu Westinghouse Playhouse she occasionally did none-Lucy-type roles-- she was essentially heading into TV movie territory at that point, because she knew she had an almost-guaranteed audience on the small screen. She couldn't say that about feature theatrical releases.

During the run of I Love Lucy, Lucille Ball only made two films, both with Desi Arnaz, I suppose half were duds--The Long Long Trailer was a hit, Forever Darling was not.  However, The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour wasn't created because her movie career wasn't panning out.  Desi Arnaz, president of Desilu and producer of I Love Lucy was tired of the weekly grind.  He wanted to cut back and do a one hour I Love Lucy special as part of their Desilu Westinghouse Playhouse series.  Arnaz was also suffering serious health issues due to the stress of running the studio, playing Ricky Ricardo on a weekly basis and his other personal vices (I'm sure the cigar smoking and alcohol consumption didn't help either).  If you notice, in the 13 episodes of The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour, Ricky Ricardo, while in the episodes, is not involved in as much of the action.  He also secured guest stars for each of the specials so that 1) he could command a higher fee for the episode and 2) it allowed his Ricky character to appear in less scenes and allow more time for Lucy's shenanigans with the celebrity.  Fred MacMurray appeared in one of these episodes in a Treasure of the Sierra Madre inspired episode set in Las Vegas.  The specials eventually ceased when they began to lose viewership due to the sporadic scheduling of the specials and the obvious tension on screen between Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz.  In fact, Lucy filed for divorce the day after filming completed on the thirteenth and last episode of The Lucy Desi Comedy Hour

 

I agree though, that Lucy's movie career was hit or miss after she achieved success on television.  However, the same argument could be made for her movie career prior to television.  While she always worked consistently, she never achieved the same type of success as Katharine Hepburn, Bette Davis or even her good friend Ginger Rogers.  She was known as Queen of the B's while at RKO, as she was consistently cast as the lead in their B productions.  When she was signed on at MGM, she got some better work, such as supporting roles in A films; but she never became a huge star in films.  She found success on radio in her series My Favorite Husband.  CBS wanted to bring My Favorite Husband to television with all the stars from the radio show reprising their roles.  Lucy agreed, but only if her husband, Desi Arnaz could appear on the show with her.  Lucy was tired of never seeing Arnaz who was either appearing with his band in nightclubs or touring across country.  They actually had a meeting place where they would see each other for a few fleeting moments early in the morning.  Lucy was on her way to work at the studio, Desi was on his way home from appearing at the club (if he was in town at all).  Lucy thought that by having Desi as her co-star that she could spend more time with him.  They were met with opposition from CBS at first; but eventually were able to sway the network after putting together and touring with a vaudeville routine that was a big hit.  I Love Lucy was born.  I agree that without television, Lucille Ball probably would have eventually disappeared after her movie career dried up and weekly radio shows ceased production. 

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Sally Field is another actor who can move back and forth between television and movies.  She got her start on television in Gidget and The Flying Nun.  Personally, I find her Gidget show quite charming... I can't say the same about The Flying Nun; but I digress. 

 

Anyway, she eventually moved into films in the 1970s and winning an Oscar for Norma Rae.  She's had a fairly consistent movie career since then and has achieved great success.  She also appeared on the television show Brothers and Sisters and won an Emmy award.  She was recently Oscar nominated for her appearance in Lincoln. 

 

 

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Our good friend Ernie Borgnine  managed to transition  between movies and tv. I believe he made some reference to that in his excellent sit down with RO.  As a kid I was a big fan of Mchale's Navy,  I didn't yet know of Ernest Borgnine the successful film actor.  They also  made two films based  on the McHale's series. Ernie didn't even appear in the second one (MCHALES NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE)  , I believe there was a scheduling conflict for him because he was doing another film.  Anyway I remember some people in the media speculating that Borgnine may have severely damaged his career by doing tv,  that he could never go back to success in the movies. That certainly proved  wrong.  He went back to films and maintained a tv presence as well, successful at both.

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Our good friend Ernie Borgnine  managed to transition  between movies and tv. I believe he made some reference to that in his excellent sit down with RO.  As a kid I was a big fan of Mchale's Navy,  I didn't yet know of Ernest Borgnine the successful film actor.  They also  made two films based  on the McHale's series. Ernie didn't even appear in the second one (MCHALES NAVY JOINS THE AIR FORCE)  , I believe there was a scheduling conflict for him because he was doing another film.  Anyway I remember some people in the media speculating that Borgnine may have severely damaged his career by doing tv,  that he could never go back to success in the movies. That certainly proved  wrong.  He went back to films and maintained a tv presence as well, successful at both.

Borgnine's primary interest was just in working consistently, so he wasn't as particular about roles as some other stars.

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Borgnine's primary interest was just in working consistently, so he wasn't as particular about roles as some other stars.

 

I agree with you and one clearly gets that vibe from the interview TCM shows from time to time.    I love the guy since he is soooo down to earth.    e.g. his 'with a mug like mine,,,  I'm just happy to be an actor' type of thing. 

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In Fred MacMurray's case, it seems that My Three Sons helped him change the type of character he played.  I suppose his 1959 role in Disney's The Shaggy Dog may have assisted in that as well.  While in his younger days, he did portray the love interest for the female costar, he was now too old for those types of roles-- however, some actors like Cary Grant were still able to get away with it.  He was also excellent playing "the heavy" like in Caine Mutiny.  While he does play a villain in Double Indemnity, it's an interesting juxtaposition, as he's a love interest with Stanwyck and they're both villains; but at least for me, they're kind of the heroes in the sense that I want to see them get away with the crime and end up together.  Anyway... his television appearance sort of builds on the family man/nice guy character he cultivated in The Shaggy Dog.  After that, he appeared in many Disney films prior to and after his television show.

 

Did he appear in The Apartment before or during My Three Sons?

 

I don't believe his accepting the Steve Douglas role on My Three Sons was in anyway a step down for him.  After all, he had it written into his contract that he would work 65 non consecutive days.  He would film all his scenes out of sequence.  He would do all his kitchen scenes, then all the bedroom scenes, then all the living room scenes and so on.  Apparently the show was almost named The Fred MacMurray Show but MacMurray vetoed that idea.  He also had a contract that was renewed annually.  I suppose that would give him an "out" basically whenever he wanted.

 

If Fred MacMurray were a declining star and desperate for work, I don't think he would have been able to make all these demands in exchange for his participation. 

 

Someone who did do a television show because they had to was Judy Garland.  The husband she had at the time she did The Judy Garland Show had squandered her earnings and Garland reluctantly agreed to do the show because she needed the money. 

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If Fred MacMurray were a declining star and desperate for work, I don't think he would have been able to make all these demands in exchange for his participation. 

 

Nobody said he was desperate. But he was not the type of A-lister he had been in the 30s and 40s. To say he was a star burning as bright as Paul Newman or John Wayne in 1960 would be a stretch. The weekly sitcom prolonged his career and stalled his decline, which would occur in the 70s.

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In Fred MacMurray's case, it seems that My Three Sons helped him change the type of character he played.  I suppose his 1959 role in Disney's The Shaggy Dog may have assisted in that as well.  While in his younger days, he did portray the love interest for the female costar, he was now too old for those types of roles-- however, some actors like Cary Grant were still able to get away with it.  He was also excellent playing "the heavy" like in Caine Mutiny.  While he does play a villain in Double Indemnity, it's an interesting juxtaposition, as he's a love interest with Stanwyck and they're both villains; but at least for me, they're kind of the heroes in the sense that I want to see them get away with the crime and end up together.  Anyway... his television appearance sort of builds on the family man/nice guy character he cultivated in The Shaggy Dog.  After that, he appeared in many Disney films prior to and after his television show.

 

Did he appear in The Apartment before or during My Three Sons?

 

I don't believe his accepting the Steve Douglas role on My Three Sons was in anyway a step down for him.  After all, he had it written into his contract that he would work 65 non consecutive days.  He would film all his scenes out of sequence.  He would do all his kitchen scenes, then all the bedroom scenes, then all the living room scenes and so on.  Apparently the show was almost named The Fred MacMurray Show but MacMurray vetoed that idea.  He also had a contract that was renewed annually.  I suppose that would give him an "out" basically whenever he wanted.

 

If Fred MacMurray were a declining star and desperate for work, I don't think he would have been able to make all these demands in exchange for his participation. 

 

Someone who did do a television show because they had to was Judy Garland.  The husband she had at the time she did The Judy Garland Show had squandered her earnings and Garland reluctantly agreed to do the show because she needed the money. 

The "heavy" in THE CAINE MUTINY? He had some questionable morals, but I would hardly call him a heavy, who generally has to kick some ***.

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The "heavy" in THE CAINE MUTINY? He had some questionable morals, but I would hardly call him a heavy, who generally has to kick some ***.

 

Clearly Fred is the bad guy in The Caine Munity.   This is very clear to see.   He doesn't kick anything.  When it came time to do something he was a coward.  He was a coward the entire movie.   Did you see a different version than the Bogie one? 

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Clearly Fred is the bad guy in The Caine Munity.   This is very clear to see.   He doesn't kick anything.  When it came time to do something he was a coward.  He was a coward the entire movie.   Did you see a different version than the Bogie one? 

I must admit james, lately I haven't agreed with some of your posts ( your take on From Here To Eternity as far as Karen's husband goes,was incorrect) but as far as this one goes for THE CAINE MUTINY, you are 100% correct. Of course Fred was the heavy in this film and a coward. He's the one that starts Van to think about Bogart's mental stability, and then backs down during the hearing. His character was awful and everyone knows it in the end.  One of his most despicable characters that he's played in a film.

 

DGF, you really need to watch THE CAINE MUTINY again :)

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