As time goes on, MacMurray's acting legacy is continually being re-evaluated, as people remember him more for his entire body of work and less for his Disney films and the "My Three Sons" TV series of later years. Not that he wasn't good in those, mind you, but he deserves to be better known than as a baby-boomer paterfamilias. (Or, for that matter, as merely a heel in two Billy Wilder classics, "Double Indemnity" -- below, with Edward G. Robinson -- and "The Apartment.")
In recent years, more and more people are becoming aware of a third MacMurray, the persona he was best known for until the 1950s: the genial, handsome leading man of light romantic comedies. It was a persona that suited him well, not only aesthetically but at the box office. Fred was quite popular with those who loved that genre (this was long before anyone dubbed them "rom-coms"), and he was a Paramount mainstay for more than a decade.
He worked with a variety of leading ladies. Claudette Colbert was his most frequent cohort; his best movies were probably made with Barbara Stanwyck (not just "Double Indemnity" but "Remember The Night"). But it can be argued that Lombard elicited a quality in him no one else did -- a slightly wacky side.
That's a scene from "Hands Across The Table," the first of four films starring Carole and Fred, in which Lombard's character pretends to be a long-distance operator. You can tell MacMurray's delight at how Carole adds a comedic spin to this; indeed some of this was improvised.
Here are some more examples of the lighter side of Lombard and MacMurray. First, a publicity still from "Hands Across The Table":
Next, this still from "The Princess Comes Across," along with the snipe from the back:
The snipe reads:
"GREETING PRINCESS -- Carole Lombard doesn't seem to be particularly impressed with Fred MacMurray's greeting as she descends from a car in front of the Paramount sound stage where she and Fred are appearing in 'The Princess Comes Across.' Maybe it's all in fun."
The look on Lombard's face perfectly conveys the faux Garbo persona of her "princess" character, despite MacMurray's genial glance.
Next up -- "Swing High, Swing Low." It wasn't a comedy, but that didn't prevent the two stars from having some fun...as they stood on a giant swing (get it?) for publicity:
Finally, their last collaboration, "True Confession," Lombard's final film at Paramount. Several rather goofy publicity photos were distributed by Paramount:
The two were even joined by supporting actress Una Merkel for a few silly shots:
Another photo with the trio featured a snipe on the back: