Classic Movie Actor Spotlight: James Stewart

Most people think of James Stewart as the upright, fight-for-your-ideals, invite-to-the barbecue-for-a-beer kind of guy. But the iconic actor did play a villain. Twice. Yes, all of TWO times. Not surprisingly, he played the roles early in his career. The films hit the box office in 1936, two years after his debut in the short Art Trouble. In both, he’s so overshadowed by ridiculously famous on (and off) screen couples that he appears as a mere whisker on the cinematic canvas.

Jeanette MacDonald/Nelson Eddy fans will remember Rose-Marie, in which Eddy plays a dashing Canadian Mountie pursuing MacDonald’s no-good, on-the-lam brother played by – guess who – James Stewart.

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Stewart led in handcuffs by Eddy, who proves that no one looks good in Mountie breeches.

Then there’s After the Thin Man, a William Powell/Myrna Loy collaboration, but I won’t say more about it, given that it’s a mystery film and all …

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Did I say too much?

James Stewart milk After the Thin Man

On the set of After the Thin Man with a tall glass of milk and looking … not quite so villainous.

Now for all his good guy films. Everyone knows about It’s a Wonderful Life, thanks to the film’s copyright issues, or rather, lack of them…

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This is the scene I remember most vividly — when realization sets in and he stares into the camera. Creepy.

That and the pool/ensuing camellia bush (?) scene.

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“I could sell tickets!”

Of course there’s his brilliant work in Hitchcock’s films: Rope (’48), Rear Window (’54), The Man Who Knew Too Much (’56) and Vertigo (’58)

And my favorites, both Capra films co-starring Jean Arthur: Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (’39) …

The filibuster scene. Capra was a genius.

… and the screwball You Can’t Take it with You (’38).

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Stewart discussing photosynthesis and the possibility of solar energy (really!) in You Can’t Take it with You.

Stewart also starred in The Shop Around the Corner (’40), on which In the Good Old Summertime (’49) and You’ve Got Mail (’98) were based. I didn’t care much for it. Due to the bickering star couple, cheating spouses and — spoiler alert — an attempted suicide, I found it pretty downbeat (is that a word?) for a romantic comedy.

For big-band lovers like myself, I recommend the delightfully music-saturated film The Glenn Miller Story (’54).

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Stewart accompanied by Louis Armstrong in The Glenn Miller Story.

And Harvey (’50), the hilarious, thought-provoking, poignant film about a rabbit and his visible human companion nominated Stewart for an Oscar (which I think he deserved).

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They had such great chemistry.

As for his personal life, Roger Ebert wrote this tribute on Stewart’s passing in 1997 (Interestingly, Ebert neglected to mention the villainous role in Rose-Marie).

Stewart also starred in a bajillion other movies — including his Oscar-winning film The Philadelphia Story (’40) — of which you and I have neither the time nor patience to read/write about. Suffice it to say, Jimmy Stewart was awesome.

Classic Movie Actor Spotlight: Donald O’Connor

Actor Spotlight: Donald O’Connor

O'Connor,_Donald_01Liz: I enjoyed watching several Donald O’Connor movies over the Christmas holidays, and since several of the movies were new to me, I thought it would be a good idea to share them with you. O’Connor was a very talented actor/dancer/singer whose movies are good family fun, generally hilarious, and have at least one really good dance number.

Singing in the Rain (1952) A favorite that most of you are probably familiar with. Jaz and I talked about it here.

Double Crossbones (1951) Hilarious tale of a clerk in colonial America who accidently becomes a pirate and then has to save the Carolinas from the man who’s a greater thief than the pirates.

Donald O'Connor as Bloodthirtsy Dave in Double Crossbones

Donald O’Connor as Bloodthirtsy Dave in Double Crossbones

Something in the Wind (1947) Deanna Durbin (so you know it has great music) is mistaken as the mistress of a recently deceased wealthy man and is kidnapped by the man’s grandson in an attempt to hide the scandal and get her to relinquish her annuity. My only complaint was the hero–it should have been Donald O’Connor.

The Milkman (1950) WWII vet and son of a wealthy dairy company owner, O’Connor suffers from a peculiar form of PTSD–he quacks like a duck when upset. When his father won’t let him go to work because of it, O’Connor gets help from friend Jimmy Durante and secretly goes to work for the rival dairy company as a milkman. Quite funny and has a milk truck that responds to whistles.

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O’Connor with Gene Kelley in Singing in the Rain

Anything Goes (1956) Bing Crosby and Donald O’Connor are to star in a show. They promise the female lead to two different ladies. I actually didn’t care for this one.

Chip Off the Old Block (1944) O’Connor plays Donald Corrigan, a young man in officer training school for the Navy, who falls in love with the daughter of a family of actresses who believe the Corrigan men are bad luck. As you would expect from an O’Connor film, it’s funny.

Beau Geste (1939) A teenage O’Connor plays a young Beau Geste (the grown Beau is played by Gary Cooper). Three brothers join the French Foreign Legion to escape a secret at home. Rather sad.

Feudin’, Fussin’, and A-Fightin’ (1948) O’Connor plays a salesman who is kidnapped off a stagecoach by the leaders of a small town out west. They want him to run in their annual race against a neighboring town with which they have placed large bets. Marjorie Main and Percy Kilbride of Ma and Pa Kettle fame also star in this fun film.

Francis (1950) Solider O’Connor gets help from a talking Mule named Francis and is too truthful to lie about his source. Hilarious, as are its sequels: Francis Goes to the Races, Francis Goes to West Point, Francis Covers the Big Town, Francis Joins the Wacs, and Francis in the Navy.

O'Connor with Francis the Talking Mule

O’Connor with Francis the Talking Mule

Seen any Donald O’Connor movies I haven’t? What did you think of the ones you have seen?