Friday, September 6

The Jimmy Stewart Movies I Own

I could sing the praises of this actor until the proverbial cows came home.  He had a persona that transcended mere movie-making.  In him and his roles I always found honesty, heroism, determination, goodness and so much more (space doesn't allow).  More than anything there was a familiarity and a unique affection for him and it seemed comfortable to call him Jimmy.  I usually walked out of his movies feeling a whole lot better than when I walked in.  

I have seen most all of his films.  Two of them are part of my 50 Favorite Films but most are truly favorites of mine.  By and large, he simply made wonderful movies.  I think, too, that most people who know his work would say that.  His library of work is bountiful.  I have 17 of them in my collection so I thought I'd just highlight those.  You may find it interesting which ones I don't own... and don't want to.  Hold on to that thought... we'll leave that to the end.

Here's what I have:

Wife v.s. Secretary (1936) is actually one I could give up.  It was a gift actually; I don't think I would have bought it.  Nonetheless, it's only one of two Stewart films from the thirties in my collection.  His part is peripheral to the the main story (hey this was only his second year in films) which concerns a professional man's wife who thinks her husband is cavorting with his secretary.  Real tame stuff with Clark Gable and two of his frequent costars, Myrna Loy and Jean Harlow, but there is some of that-- what did they call it-- snappy repartee.

Destry Rides Again (1939) is a classic and so wonderfully showcases that straw-in-the-mouth demeanor Stewart so ably forged.  You can get the boy out of Indiana but not... oh you knew.  It is equally a monument to the talents of Marlene Dietrich.  She is Frenchy, the gambling hall queen who has a love-hate thing for the new, timid sheriff who doesn't wear a gun but has come to clean up an ass-kickin' town.  The fact that the two had a real-life affair adds to the allure.  Stewart was single.  

The Philadelphia Story (1940) is a fabulous movie.  It is, of course, about a rich girl's wedding to a man she doesn't really love and the unwanted presence of her ex-husband and two gossip reporters on the day of the nuptials.  It was the fourth and final teaming of Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant and the only Oscar-winning performance of James Stewart.  Funny thing is I don't think he deserved the Oscar, good as he was.  His buddy Henry Fonda should have taken the little golden man home for The Grapes of Wrath.

Rope (1948) was the first of four teamings for Stewart and director Alfred Hitchcock.  It has been maligned over the years and I don't know why.  It's not a whodunit but more a how-are-they-gonna-get-caught.  Two roommates kill a friend and hide his body in a chest in their living room.  An amusing angle is that the roommates are obviously more than that, although it's not specifically discussed, and added to that they are played by real-life gay actors, Farley Granger and John Dall.  Stewart was the detective trying to unravel the thorny issue.

Broken Arrow (1950) was the second of back-to-back westerns Stewart made, the other being Winchester 73.  They firmly established him in the terra firma of the cowboy.  He would continue to make many different kinds of films, but he would once and for all add westerns to that impressive library.  It co-starred Jeff Chandler as Cochise and was a very kind portrait of native Indians.  The whites were the bad guys, except for Stewart, of course.

The Greatest Show on Earth (1952), I just mentioned in my list of 50 Favorite Films and since you are probably still reeling from digesting all that I said, we will not put you through this again.

The Naked Spur (1953) was one of eight movies Stewart made with director Anthony Mann.  Five of them were westerns.  Although their collaborative relationship at the end was less than cordial, they made wonderful movies together.  We got a new side of Stewart, something the actor had never shown much of.  Anger.  Mann brought out the actor's dark side.  No more comedies with Margaret Sullavan, no more affable stooge or eager suitor or worker.  Now he was vengeful, mean, maybe in the right, but with a decided hair trigger,  This film is one of the best Stewart-Mann westerns... full of rage and fury about a bounty hunter transporting a wanted man and unwanted tagalongs to the sheriff.

Thunder Bay (1954) is pretty much a B-effort and while Stewart didn't make many of those, there were some.  This was also directed by Mann, which probably provided the impetus for doing it.  It was the story of a clash between Louisiana shrimpers and oilmen when the latter start drilling in sacred shrimping grounds.  Along for the shenanigans were Joanne Dru, Gilbert Roland and Stewart buddy Dan Duryea.

The Glenn Miller Story (1954), also directed by Mann, is one damned treasured childhood favorite... my parents saw to that.  They loved Miller's music and his orchestra, perhaps the most popular of the Big Band era.  Miller's mysterious disappearance and assumed death during WWII only adds to the mystique.  Hair and makeup virtually turned Stewart into Miller and the addition of June Allyson in her second of three teamings with her pal Jimmy sent this film into the stratosphere.

Rear Window (1954) is the second of Stewart's three partnerships with Hitchcock and my fingers are tingling just writing about it.  Not only was there Stewart but my girlfriend of the moment, Grace Kelly, my older and just as delightful girlfriend Thelma Ritter and nasty ol' Raymond Burr along to put me in moviefan heaven.  We know it's about a photographer with a broken leg who has nothing better to do than sit in a wheelchair and look out his window and who comes to believe a neighbor murdered his wife.  This film is classic Stewart, one of his great gems.

Vertigo (1958) originally had a strange effect on me.  They had movie ushers in those days and I lied about my age and became one.  (TMI, I know, but I have never lied since.)  I walked in and out of the auditorium a million times and thought what in the hell is going on.  At the time, so asked most of the public and the film bombed.  But in the years to come, this final teaming with Hitchcock is considered a super classic.  And it deserves it, too.  Stewart thought he was miscast but he delivered a performance different from almost any he had ever given.  He lusted after Kim Novak and I mean lusted.  Jimmy didn't lust.  But here he lusted.  His wounded-puppy character was more flawed than most he played as well.  He was unusually vulnerable as a retired detective who reluctantly agrees to tail a man's wife and then hopelessly falls in love with her with dire consequences.  This is the film I think he should have won the Oscar for and he wasn't even nominated.

Bell, Book and Candle (1958) is not only another movie with Kim Novak but another one in which Stewart always said he was miscast.  The part of a regular guy dizzingly in love with a witch was a delightful little comedy which might have been better played by a younger man.  It also featured a Siamese cat, Pyewacket, and I love Siamese cats.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) was also in my list of 50 Favorite Films so we have had some discourse on this already.

How the West Was Won (1962) was a hugely imagined, hugely produced, hugely executed look at the settling of the west.  Brought to us in the Cinerama process, it was a jaw-dropping moviegoing experience at the time, the work of several famed directors and featuring one of the most dazzling casts ever assembled.  In Stewart's segment are Debbie Reynolds, Carroll Baker, Karl Malden, Agnes Moorehead and Walter Brennan.  Also saddling up are John Wayne, Gregory Peck, Richard Widmark, Robert Preston, Thelma Ritter, George Peppard, Henry Fonda and more filled in various roles. 

The Flight of the Phoenix (1965) is a film filled with so much quality... acting, direction, writing.  It concerns a group of men stranded in the Sahara Desert after a plane crash and one man's belief that he can turn the salvage into a flyable plane.  Hardy Kruger is that man and Stewart plays a flawed and angry pilot who doesn't believe him.  Their sparring is glorious.  It was one of those darker Stewart performances.

The Rare Breed (1966) is by no mean a great film, but hey, it is a western and more importantly it costarred Maureen O'Hara.  I thought she and Stewart were a great screen team (although I took a pass on their earlier Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation).  Here as an Englishwoman, she and her daughter have brought a prized Hereford to introduce to the American west.  Stewart helps them in their journey.

The Shootist (1976) was a small role for Stewart which he took because the star, his pal John Wayne, asked him to do it.  In Wayne's final film, Stewart is a doctor who tells Wayne's character he is dying of cancer, and in real life, it was soon to be true.

There are four Stewart films that I don't own nor do I have any interest in owning.  The thing that I do know, however, is that they are considered classics or near-classics.  Maybe I should just turn in my platinum movie ticket and never enter a theater again. Here they are (gulp):

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) I liked... once.  I didn't love it.  Most political movies I do not cotton to despite being pretty politically driven in real life.  This was good but a bit tiresome to me and I just couldn't watch it again.  I was as exhausted watching the filibuster scene as Stewart was acting it.

It's A Wonderful Life (1949) I saw once in its entirety and too many damned times in clips here and there and I say just shoot me, I don't care.  I thought it was horrid, the downer of all Christmas movies and who needs it when I had to spend the day with my family?  Big deal, a little upper at the very end.  Stewart's big, dazzling smile only makes me say too friggin' late, George, too friggin' late.  He no longer wants to commit suicide and I do.

Harvey (1950) I have seen only in assorted clips.  I guess corny, fanciful stuff like this just leaves me vacant.  I guess the kid in me left too soon.  I know a lot of folks think this is one of Stewart's best films.  I am trying to live down The Greatest Show on Earth... I don't need Harvey, too.

Anatomy of a Murder (1959) is basically a good film, generally considered another comet shining light on the Stewart galaxy.  I thought he did a wonderful job in it, too.  Great dialogue.  Dramatic court scenes.  Superb direction by Otto Preminger.  Super Eve Arden performance as his secretary.  It was also such a sleazy movie, everyone felt oily and I could not relate to trying to save Ben Gazzara or his trampy wife Lee Remick.  Who cared?  Let 'em burn.  But they didn't.  Ugh.  Pass. 

The American Film Institute, on its list of the 50 greatest male screen legends of all time, lists Jimmy Stewart as number 3.  We accept.

Next Posting:
Review of Adore

No comments:

Post a Comment