Just like Alfred Hitchcock is perhaps my most favorite director, James Stewart is probably my most favorite actor. See, not only is he well represented in many of the American Film Institute’s top movie lists (being the most represented actor in the most recent top 100 list), but his acting career spans many different genres. In fact, his one Best Actor Oscar was for the comedy, The Philadelphia Story, in which he acted drunk for most of it. What is more encouraging is that acting wasn’t his whole life. He also went to Princeton, was good at sports, and had a distinguished military career (of which he retired from the US Air Force reserves at the rank of Brigadier General). The fact that someone so talented is also well rounded only makes me want to strive for that level of excellence in my life as well. This week’s two films highlight just a small part (the mystery genre) of James Stewart’s incredible acting career.
Length: 128 minutes / 2.13 hours
Alfred Hitchcock, the master of suspense, could always find James Stewart to act in a cool and clever style that would accentuate the impending peril awaiting the characters in these films. In fact, Hitchcock used James Stewart as many times as he used Cary Grant, just showing that this fantastic director had a great eye for acting talent. Of course, many other directors (like Frank Capra) saw James Stewart’s latent abilities and tended to cast him often in their films. Even though he could play lighthearted roles very well, the same could be said of the more serious and psychological ones as well. The obsession that drives Stewart’s character in Vertigo is portrayed with such a passion and intensity that is rarely seen from many actors now, let alone then.
James Stewart portrays John “Scottie” Ferguson, a cop who had to leave the force after he developed acrophobia when his partner fell to his death in pursuit of a criminal. He then falls in love with Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), a woman that he’s investigating for a friend of his (Madeleine is the friend’s wife). The wife dies when she throws herself off a bell tower, with Scottie unable to save her due to his fear of heights. But this is only half of the story. Because Scottie became obsessed with Madeleine, his mind starts playing tricks on him in the wake of her death. When he finds another woman by the name of Judy Barton, who looks a lot like Madeleine, he uses her to fill the hole that Madeleine’s death had created. Of course, as is the case with Hitchcock films, this trick of the mind turns out to be quite the plot twist.
Length: 112 minutes / 1.86 hours
How can anyone act when they’re constrained to a wheelchair during the entirety of a film? Well, James Stewart certainly knew how to do so. Sometimes the limitations put upon actors just allows them to shine that much more in roles that would make any other actors cringe. Just imagine if you spent the entire film in a full leg cast, or had to perform a 24-hour long filibuster on the floor of the Senate, or pretend you’re drunk for comedic effect? Perhaps since Stewart was so well rounded, he could endure some of these conditions to cement his name in the mind of moviegoers everywhere. Perhaps this is why the American Film Institute has named James Stewart the #3 best American actor of all time (just behind Cary Grant (#2) and Humphrey Bogart (#1)).
#48 on AFI’s top 100 list, Rear Window was shot using only one set. James Stewart plays L. B. “Jeff” Jefferies, a photographer who is now confined to a wheelchair after an accident. In order to pass the time, Jeff takes to looking out his apartment window at all the other people who live near him. Many of his neighbors are interesting to watch, and each has their own story to tell through their open windows. And yet, the voyeurism that Jeff enjoys is causing him to speculate wildly about some strange occurrences. In doing so, he comes across what he believes is a murder when the wife of a man who lives across the courtyard goes missing. With the help of his girlfriend, Lisa Fremont (Grace Kelly), he eventually uncovers the whole truth of the situation.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 James Stewart sensations
Bacon #: 2 (Directed by John Ford / Martin Scorsese -> Oliver Stone: Inside Out / Kevin Bacon)