Actor Spotlight: James Stewart

Jandy Hardesty

Jandy is especially drawn to classic, off-beat, and foreign film, but loves a good blockbuster action sequence, too. You can find her on Flickchart as faithx5. She also writes at The Frame, and co-hosts the occasional podcast Not at Odds at Row Three.

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7 Responses

  1. David Conrad says:

    “…three years after his beloved wife Gloria – they had been married since 1949, one of the longest and happiest marriages Hollywood has ever seen.”

    And I believe they lost a son in Vietnam, yes?

    Though probably not deserving of a spot in the top 12, “Flight of the Phoenix” is interesting for the fact that he plays a pilot, which he once was, and for being another example of a movie in which he is a fundamentally decent member of a fragmented social group, trying in vain to keep it together.

    • Jandy Hardesty says:

      They did indeed have a son, Ronald McLean (Gloria’s son from a previous marriage who James adopted), killed in action in Vietnam in 1969. I could’ve thrown in a line about that, but I…uh…didn’t. Thanks for adding it. Even happy marriages have their tragedies.

      Flight of the Phoenix is #19 on his chart, and it’s one I still have yet to see. It’s on my list to check out eventually, of course. He played a pilot a few times, notably Charles Lindbergh in The Spirit of St. Louis – Lindbergh was a childhood hero of his, but seems like the production of the film wasn’t very happy, nor did it turn out to be that good. Disappointing, I’m sure.

  2. Great article. I’m a big fan of James Stewart. I’ve seen many of these, but this is a baker’s dozen I need to complete.

    • Jandy Hardesty says:

      There’s not a dud in the bunch, Ben! I actually rewatched The Shop Around the Corner for this because I didn’t care for it the first time I saw it, but found it quite charming this time around. Harvey is the other one I’m a little iffy on, but I rewatched a few minutes and definitely saw the appeal. It does surprise me that Harvey is quite as highly-ranked as it is. It’s another one that has caught on with the “casual classic movie fan” crowd for some reason.

  3. Ahh! So many of these movies are ones I love and just reading about them makes me want to rewatch them. And definitely agree with you on your choice for number one. I just love Grace Kelly and I don’t think Edith Head ever designed an ugly dress in her life….together with James Stewart, Thelma Ritter and one great story (with all the little stories of the neighbors thrown in) makes it a great film.

  4. I think the key to James Stewart’s screen success is that in each film, his character handles things as we like to think we would. Or, at least, we like to think that there are people out there who are handling things that way. It’s that kind of vicarious triumph that makes movies so engaging. There’s an earnestness to Stewart’s performances that make not only him endearing, but the films themselves accessible and even acceptable in some instances. Harvey, for instance, would be an easy one to botch. It would be easy to make it about scoffing at Elwood, but instead Stewart’s sincere sweetness is so sympathetic that the absurdity of having a 6’3″ invisible rabbit – despite being discussed throughout the picture – doesn’t run roughshod over his character and his relationships with the others. In a lot of ways, this might be the perfect microcosm movie for Stewart, who retained his nice guy persona to the very end.

    As for my personal faves, I hated It’s a Wonderful Life…until 2012. I saw a midnight screening of it just before Christmas with my brother and our cousin, and I can only say that I’m grateful it made me laugh so much because otherwise I don’t know that I could have gotten through Act III.

    The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance was an instant favorite of mine, which I first saw on VHS about 20 years ago. It’s the Western I tend to recommend to people who dislike Westerns, and so far, it’s won over everyone I’ve gotten to see it. This is one of those uncommon instances of Hollywood improving on literary source material. I read Dorothy M. Johnson’s original short story several years ago, and I was roundly disappointed to discover that she wrote Ransom Stoddard as being just as much a straightforward hero archetype as Tom Doniphon. It’s entirely devoid of the richness and nuance that the movie offers, to say nothing of missing out on its terrific supporting cast. (I get a kick out of every single time Edward O’Brien, who is not Burgess Meredith, appears on screen as Dutton Peabody.)

    I was underwhelmed by Vertigo when I finally saw it a few years ago, but I do intend to revisit it at a later date to see what I missed. I also wasn’t particularly smitten with Winchester ’73; I sort of lost interest by the end of the second act. Even in those two instances, though, I’ve nothing bad to say about Stewart’s presence in them. If anything, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have enjoyed as much from them as I did without him.

    Of your further viewing recommendations, I’ve seen Destry Rides Again. That one is absolutely delightful, a sort of lighthearted anticipation of Liberty Valance.

    My brother’s favorite James Stewart movie is The Rare Breed. I still haven’t seen it, but whenever conversation turns to Stewart, he makes mention of it. I’ll get to it eventually…just like the others in his filmography I’ve not yet seen!

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great list. I’ve seen all of them except Winchester ’73, You Can’t Take It with You, and The Shop Around the Corner. I’m a Vertigo fanatic. The film can do no wrong in my eyes. It completely mesmerized me upon first viewing, and every viewing thereafter just kept getting better and better until I just forced myself to stop watching it all the time. Rope is a film that I just can’t seem to put my finger on why I love it so much. I’d never argue that it’s a flawless film, but I love it as if it were. Then there’s Rear Window. I just love the campy feel of this and Rope for that matter.