GREAT PERFORMANCES YOU MAY NOT HAVE SEEN:
The Cheyenne Social Club (hilarious Western stint, opposite his pal Henry Fonda)
The Shootist (his last real performance, opposite his pal John Wayne)
Shenandoah (the patriarch of a family swept up in the Civil War)
Anatomy of a Murder (the defense attorney with the impossible job)
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (the man with a past)
It’s A Wonderful Life (actually, not successful at its opening)
Philadelphia Story (Academy Award)
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (Oscar-nominated)
You Can’t Take it With You
Vertigo (actually, not successful at its opening)
The Man Who Knew Too Much
The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance
One of the best loved and certainly the most imitated of actors, Jimmy Stewart actually has three distinct personas/styles, which correspond somewhat to the three most prominent genres he played. There is the All-American, for which he is perhaps most well known; the Hitchcockian, portraying a dark side just under the All-American surface; and the old guy.
A war hero, Jimmy Stewart really did live that All-American image. In his most famous characters, though, he reveals an astonishing complexity, certainly beyond either “all-American” or “movie star” labels. He crosses over the line, most often in the company of Alfred Hitchcock, but also in portraying an alcoholic (“Harvey”) or a man driven to attempt suicide (It’s A Wonderful Life”). But in all the dark side and complexity, he gives us himself – honest, straightforward, modest, kind and good. These are not the traits of an actor, but, as he himself said, a re-actor.
The old guy is the one people imitate, even though it’s not really like most of his work. Returning to the Western genre, from which he started, Stewart’s tenor changed to a crackling drawl; his long, beautiful speeches, shortened to quick punches or stuttering insights.
BITS AND QUIRKS:
We all know them well. The stutter. The wide-eyed stare with the eyebrows raised to make his face, impossibly, even longer. The stance that makes him look sometimes not quite completely assembled. The all-American phrases like “Boy, oh, boy!” The fluid speech that doesn’t seem to have any commas and certainly no period in it. And, The Whisper! Listen carefully to how much of “Rear Window,” “Harvey,” “It’s A Wonderful Life” and even “Vertigo,” particularly in the most dramatic parts, are The Whisper!
When he got older, it seemed like the eyebrows lowered as if tired of fighting gravity. The wide eyes turned into piercing slits, often gazing through the lowered eyebrows. (This was also a quirk of his early years in Westerns). The stutter remained, mostly in the comedies. As he used his lanky body before, he now used his stoop to effect dramatic poses. Perhaps not joking, he admitted that, like everyone else in America, he imitated Jimmy Stewart, too.
IT’S A WONDERFUL LIFE -
The “phone scene” where he proposes to Donna Reed. > His scenes on the bridge. > Dancing into the swimming pool in high school.
PHILADELPHIA STORY -
Getting drunk with Kate.
MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON -
The filibuster scenes, particularly the last impassioned, hoarse appeal to the better natures of the senators.
YOU CAN’T TAKE IT WITH YOU -
He tricks Jean Arthur into screaming in the fancy restaurant.
REAR WINDOW -
The showdown with Raymond Burr.
Getting dizzy in the bell tower. > Transforming Kim Novak into a blonde.
The dinner table scene, particularly the prayer. > Going to church at the end. > Sitting on the front porch, philosophizing.
THE SHOOTIST -
Examining John Wayne.
OKAY, YOU MAY ALSO LIKE:
Destry Rides Again
The Shop Around the Corner
Call Northside 777
The Greatest Show on Earth
The Glennn Miller Story
The Spirit of St. Louis
Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation
How the West Was Won
The Flight of the Phoenix
The Big Sleep
IF YOU REALLY LIKE HIM, YOU PROBABLY DIDN’T LIKE:
Airport ’77 (that’s no way to treat a star)
Most of the Westerns (except for the noted exceptions)
The FBI Story (he only did it for his pal J. Edgar)
Bell Book and Candle (he thought he was miscast)
Rope (just an experiment which also miscast him)
The Unknown Early Stuff
GO TO THE... JIMMY STEWART BIO