Rose Marie 1936

Directed by W. S. Van Dyke II

MGM B/W


Jimmy, Jeanette and the mountie!

Jimmy Stewart only played villains four times in his career and this was the first one. He was John Flower, Jeanette MacDonald’s no-good, mountie-murdering brother being pursued by Nelson Eddy and just a “Wanted” poster for the first 2/3rds of the film. “I didn’t have too many scenes but everyone talks about this character and at the end of the film I get my big scene”, Jimmy recalled.

It was director Woody Van Dyke who described Jimmy as “unusually usual” and he got to know Stewart very well. They roomed together on location for this picture and Woody kept asking Jimmy to play the accordion so he could get to sleep! They would make 2 more pictures together….”After The Thin Man” later that year and “It’s a Wonderful World” in 1939.

The Capra Films…

You Can’t Take it With You 1938
*Mr. Smith Goes To Washington 1939
*It’s A Wonderful Life 1946

 

Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939

Directed by Frank Capra

Columbia B/W

Frank Capra’s success in the late 1930s was due largely to the 3 films that starred Jimmy Stewart. This movie was the 2nd of the trio and caused the most controversy by far.

The film premiered in Washington , DC before an audience well-peppered with Congressmen who didn’t take it lightly at all. They wanted the film scrapped and tried several times to do just that. Critics on the other hand, loved the film. Over in France , during a face-off with their Nazi invaders who gave theater owners 30 days to convert their playbills to German-made films, the film played the entire month!

Note: That filibuster scene proved exhausting for the entire crew. Jimmy had his throat coated by a doctor to further enhance the hoarseness he needed. The set itself, a perfect replica of the U. S. Senate chamber was the most expensive and elaborate set ever built up to that time.

It’s A Wonderful Life 1946

Directed by Frank Capra

RKO B/W

This was Jimmy’s last movie with Capra. It is the one that Humphrey Bogart screened every Christmas for his family and friends and cried every time! Today it is the one classic Christmas movie that is played every holiday season in almost every town in America. And when Clarence says” every time a bell rings, some angel gets his wings” crying is permitted.

Now Jimmy was the perfect George Bailey and Donna Reed the perfect Mary but somehow Henry Travers as Clarence was icing on the cake. Lionel Barrymore was his caustic self as Mr. Potter. Truth be told, it is more popular today than when it was released to critics’ dismissal as just another piece of “Capra-cornia”. What a difference a day makes! No, really? Has it really been 59 years?

The Shop Around the Corner 1940

Directed by Ernst Lubitsch

MGM B/W

The All-American boy played the role of a Hungarian shop clerk so flawlessly that it took some time to recognize it as one of Stewart’s finest performances to date. It also clearly defined what was usually alluded to as the “Lubitsch touch”. The film was shot almost entirely on one set and looked seamless.

The chemistry between Jimmy and Sullavan still was apparent and left little doubt that intense feelings were there off screen as well. Frank Morgan played the cuckolded shop owner with sensitivity and humor while Joseph Schildkraut was great in the role of the shop clerk who turned out to be the wife’s lover. Felix Bressart as the senior shop clerk is at his best.

Destry Rides Again 1939

Directed by George Marshall

Universal B/W

This was Jimmy’s first Western….but it was satire pure and simple. And it was proposed by producer Joe Pasternak to showcase Marlene Dietrich. Westerns were usually B features with action but no quality in the 1930s until some top directors like Mann, Ford and Curtiz began to polish the genre.

Pasternak was infatuated with Dietrich but the heat on the set was being generated between Dietrich and Jimmy. She even lured him into her dressing room with a life size replica of…Flash Gordon! From then on, they were a red-hot item!

Note: In the barroom brawl scene, the studio wanted to use a stunt double for Dietrich but she insisted on doing her own “fighting”. She really got into it and Jimmy had to duck fast several times.

The Philadelphia Story 1940

Directed by George Cukor

MGM B/W

Katharine Hepburn bought the rights to the hit play and then sold it to the highest bidder…MGM! Cary Grant got top billing but Jimmy walked away with the Oscar for his role as a photographer who gets embroiled in the unresolved emotions between the bride and her ex!

Jimmy was now getting more comfortable in comedy scenes. It helped when he was playing opposite a genius at comedy timing, Cary Grant. They even got together and improvised the hiccups in the champagne scene.

Note: Cary donated his entire fee for this film to the British War Relief Fund.

The Hitchcock Films….

 

Rope 1948
*Rear Window 1954
The Man Who Knew Too Much 1956
*Vertigo 1958

 

 

Rear Window 1954

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Paramount Color

This was Jimmy’s second picture with the rotund master of suspense and he did the whole movie sitting down! He had hesitated doing the picture because his first Hitch was “Rope” six years before and it was a box office disaster.

This film was done on one big set….thirty apartments all viewed from one across the court by the man in the chair! And, without moving out of that chair, James Stewart gave one of the greatest performances of his career. The most suspenseful moment occurred when the killer (Raymond Burr) surprises Grace Kelly in his apartment and all Jimmy could do was watch helplessly from across the courtyard.

Kelly, Burr, Wendell Corey and especially Thelma Ritter as the nurse gave great performances as well.

Vertigo 1958

Directed by Alfred Hitchcock

Paramount Color

The tension on the set during filming was so heavy you could cut it with a knife. Hitch had wanted Vera Miles for the role of Madeleine. When Jimmy demanded rewrites on the script, the delay made Vera unavailable and Jimmy got the blame. Hitch didn’t like Kim Novak and took a lot of his disappointment out on her, too. Nonetheless, today this film is considered one of Hitchcock’s best.

Stewart plays a cop, whose attacks of paralyzing fear of heights (acrophobia) and dizziness when more than a few feet above terra firma, causes the death of a fellow officer and costs him his job. Then his obsession with a decoy in a murder almost destroys him.

Note: Hitch got even by delaying the filming long enough to get Cary Grant for the part he promised to Jimmy….the lead in “North by Northwest”!

The Mann Films….

*Winchester ’73 1950
Bend of the River 1952
The Naked Spur 1953
Thunder Bay 1953
The Glenn Miller Story 1953
The Far Country 1955
Strategic Air Command 1955
*The Man from Laramie 1955

 

 

 

Winchester ’73

Directed by Anthony Mann

Universal B/W

This was not the same old Capra-esque James Stewart. Both Mann and Jimmy wanted a hero…with flaws! A tough, driven, angry and edgy James Stewart that would breathe new energy into the suffocating Western genre. The two would team together for 8 films and all but 2 were Westerns.

It took over two months just to find the right hat! But Jimmy wear that same hat in all their westerns together and beyond. He also found a horse to ride called Pie. The gal who owned him warned Jimmy he would probably get thrown but horse and actor struck up a fast friendship and Pie was Jimmy’s choice in every western he made.

Note: Look for Tony Curtis as a young cavalry soldier and Rock Hudson as an Indian!

The Man From Laramie 1955

Directed by Anthony Mann

Universal Color

 

As in all of Mann’s Westerns, it was location, location. He always followed the storyline and resisted old, tired landscapes. This took Jimmy to the bleak part of the New Mexico wilderness to enhance a character bent on vengeance.

The film is violent and far more brutal than other American films of the period. Jimmy wanted to do one scene without a stunt double but Mann was against it. It was the famous scene where he had ropes tied to his hands and he is dragged through sand and fire. Jimmy finally got his way and they did the scene in one take. He came through it without a scratch!

This was the last film he would do with Tony Mann.

The Ford Films….

*Two Rode Together 1961
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance 1962
How The West Was Won 1962

Two Rode Together 1961

Directed by John Ford

Columbia Color

 

This movie came along when Jimmy was feeling his lowest. He had been completely devastated by the suicide death of Margaret Sullavan a few months before.

Ford wanted John Wayne for this picture but the Duke was busy elsewhere. The story dealt with a storyline not unlike “The Searchers” but put more emphasis on the prejudice accorded women who were rescued from the Indians often with children they bore their captors. Jimmy was just right for the part of the marshal hired to do the tracking. But Ford complained about everything….including Jimmy’s old worn out hat! Jimmy never warmed up to Ford but had a lot of fun with co-star Richard Widmark.

Widmark always talked about how all three were hard of hearing and conversations were always prefaced with “What?…What?… What?”

The Greatest Show On Earth 1952

Directed by Cecil B. De Mille

MGM color

Jimmy always remembered back to his boyhood when the circus came to Indiana, Pa. On occasion, the circus people came into his father’s store with items to barter. When he heard that De Mille was planning a big circus movie, he asked if he could be a clown! He got the part and wore the signature clown grin for the entire movie.

He was Buttons, the clown with the little dog and the secret past. After a spectacular train crash, Buttons saved the day but lost both his little dog and his freedom.

It is one of my favorite movies!