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?

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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.

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Silents: The Artist

Liz: The Artist: 2011 award winning silent film about silent film star George Valentin struggling to transition to talkies and rising star Peppy Miller who tries to help him.

It sounds strange to say, but I like George Valentin’s face. He has a great smile and looks like someone from time period of the movie—the late twenties to early thirties. The film felt as if it were shot during that time. The costumes, the movie studio, the bits of silent films on the silver screen, all reminiscent of Singing in the Rain, made the movie fun to watch regardless of the plot.

The Artist was well done with regards to acting and cinematography. I loved the music, and the occasional use of sound (in a dream and at the end) was brilliant (Jaz: agreed!) and worked great with George’s trouble moving from silent to talkie pictures.

I didn’t like that George was married when his attraction to Peppy became obvious. He didn’t cheat on his wife, but he did treat her poorly. “I’m unhappy,” his wife said. “So are millions of us,” he replied. She wasn’t perfect either, but I don’t blame her for leaving the arrogant fool. I really wanted to like the guy, but there were times when it was difficult. In fact, several times I wanted to shake him and remind him he was married or tell him to get over himself, quit moping and get back to work. Although I can’t approve of Peppy’s infatuation with the married George, I admire her devotion to him even after he loses his career, his wife, his money, and his self-respect.

I also thought George’s love of the spotlight and his depression were overplayed a bit. I got the idea well before the plot moved on.

All in all, I enjoyed the movie and would watch it again.

Jaz: I’m just going to say it: Jean DuJardin is no Gene Kelly. Okay … Dujardin had to learn tap for The Artist, whereas Kelly started dance lessons when he was eight. So I can’t really compare them. Dujardin’s performance was pretty impressive. Still, with all the obvious parallels to Singin’ in the Rain (falls in love with a cute extra, tap dancing scenes, similar appearance, silent-talkie shift) it’s hard to ignore.

Now that that’s out of the way, The Artist is a great film. Clever, tongue-in-cheek, and the cinematography is refreshing. Some scenes are heavy on the melodrama, as when Dujardin maniacally burns reels of film, but who doesn’t like the occasional bit of melodrama? Especially in black and white. I’ve always thought the latter allows for more creativity in the film medium.

Dujardin and Bérénice Bejo’s talent and chemistry work well, so much so that the supporting actors didn’t steal the show. And that’s saying something, because Clifton the chauffeur (played by James Cromwell) and Jack the dog were ridiculously likable.

The Artist got a lot of critic attention – less so from American audiences on its opening weekend. When I went to see it there were about four other couples in the theater. Sigh. Silent films just don’t make a lot of noise with U.S. audiences anymore…