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Posts Tagged ‘James Stewart’

The same year that James Stewart and Kim Novak starred together in Hitchcock’s classic ‘Vertigo’, they also starred in this romantic comedy.  Kim Novak is Gillian Holroyd, a beautiful young woman who hates her publisher neighbour Shepherd Henderson’s (James Stewart) fiancee, so casts a spell to split them up.  But then Shepherd falls for Gillian, unaware that she is a witch.  Jack Lemmon also stars, as Gillian’s adorable warlock brother Nicky.

Although the storyline might be considered a bit corny, the stellar cast of Novak, Stewart and Lemmon, who are ably supported by Ernie Kovacs, as an author of books about witches, who is a bit too fond of bourbon (or whisky, or whatever else is on offer) and Elsa Lanchester as Gillian’s aunt Queenie, who is also a witch, raise the standard of this film.  Let’s be clear – the witches are above all endearing and definitely not frightening (nor are they intended to be!)  Lemmon is just adorable – but when isn’t he? – as Nicky, and Novak is, if you’ll excuse the expression, completely bewitching.  It’s hard not to imagine Shepherd falling for her with or without the use of witchcraft to move things along.

James Stewart pretty much stopped playing the romantic lead type role after this film, feeling that he was too old for it.  He was indeed 25 years older than Novak, but somehow I hardly seemed to notice – they had great chemistry together.  The story was amusing, if not laugh-out-loud funny (the funniest parts were courtesy of Lemmon and Lanchester), and very sweet.  Special mention for Gillian’s familiar, the lovely cat Pyewacket (Novak ended up adopting the cat after filming was completed).  The ending is fairly predictable, but there are a few surprises in store along the way.

All in all, I would say that this is not the best film in the back catalogue of any of these actors, but it is an enjoyable and heartwarming story, and a lovely way to spend a couple of hours.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Richard Quine

Producer: Julian Blaustein

Writers: John Van Druten (play ‘Bell, Book and Candle), Daniel Taradash

Main cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Jack Lemmon, Elsa Lanchester, Ernie Kovacs, Janice Rule

 

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Famous for being the film upon which Tom Hanks/Meg Ryan film, You’ve Got Mail (1998) was based on (and also the film upon which the Judy Garland/Van Johnson musical, In the Good Old Summertime (1949) was based on), The Shop Around the Corner was itself adapted from a play called Parfumerie, by Miklos Laszlo.

The film is set in Budapest, and tells the story of two employees at the same store, who do not get on with each other, but who, unbeknownst to them, are each other’s anonymous penpal.  Through their letters, the two correspondents fall in love with each other, but will love win through when their real identities are revealed?

James Stewart plays Alfred Kralick (presumably meant to be Hungarian, but uses his instantly recognisable American accent throughout!) and Maureen Sullavan is Klara Novak (also with an American accent!)  Actually, my mention of the accents is in no way intended as a criticism – I do believe that you have to suspend disbelief in certain circumstances, and in actual fact, this is a delightful and thoroughly charming film.

It is a romantic comedy, but make no mistake – there are themes of loneliness, adultery, suicide and betrayal running through the story, which somehow balance perfectly with the funnier and sweeter moments.  James Stewart is perfect in roles like this – sometimes Alfred can be irascible, and sometimes he can be insensitive, but he also conveys vulnerability and honesty.  Sullavan was also very endearing as Klara, the young lady falling in love with a man she has never met (or at least, who she believes she has never met), and who has high hopes for their future.  However, what really elevates this film above others of the genre is the excellent supporting cast.  Frank Morgan as Hugo Matuschek – the owner of the store – is by turns funny and sad.  His performance has real pathos, and heart.  Also terrific is Felix Bressart, as Alfred’s friend and co-worker Pirovitch, and William Tracy as errand big Pepi Katona.

The ending is lovely, if somewhat predictable, but what does it matter if we know all along how things are going to turn out.  In a film like this, the joy is not in reaching the destination, but the journey we take to get there.  And it’s a lovely journey, filled with great moments.  Highly recommended.

Year of release: 1940

Director: Ernst Lubitsch

Producer: Ernst Lubitsch

Writers: Miklos Laszlo (play ‘Parfumerie’), Samson Raphaelson, Ben Hecht

Main cast: James Stewart, Maureen Sullavan, Frank Morgan, Felix Bressart, William Tracy, Joseph Schildkraut, Inez Courtney, Sara Haden

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In this 1938 comedy, James Stewart plays Peter Morgan, a college professor.  While on a trip to New York City, he meets nightclub singer/dancer Francey  Brent (Ginger Rogers), and after a whirlwind romance, they get married.  But when he takes her home to meet his family, he finds it difficult to tell his very conservative parents about his wedding…

What a gem of a film this turned out to be.  Stewart and Rogers were both extremely funny and likeable as the mis-matched but devoted couple, and as one thing after another conspired to keep them apart, the laughs kept coming.  An excellent supporting cast – especially Beulah Bondi as Peter’s mother, and James Ellison as his cousin Keith – who has also fallen for Francey – further enhanced the film.

It is a mixture of screwball comedy and romance, and both aspects balance each other out nicely.  It is a very light-hearted film, and I defy anyone not to laugh during it, and not to have a broad smile on their face at the end of it.

Vivacious Lady is not the most famous film featuring either Stewart or Rogers, but it does deserve to be better known.  The cliche ‘they don’t make ‘em like that anymore’ is certainly true here.  Sadly, this film doesn’t seem to come on television very often, so if you do see it in programme listings, don’t miss out on the opportunity to watch this delightful picture.

Year of release: 1938

Director: George Stevens

Producer: George Stevens

Writers: I.A.R. Wylie, P.J. Wolfson, Ernest Pagano, Anne Morrison Chapin

Main cast: James Stewart, Ginger Rogers, James Ellison, Beulah Bondi, Charles Coburn, Frances Mercer

 

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James Stewart is Paul Biegler, a former District Attorney turned small town defence lawyer. He is called upon to defend Frederick Manion (Ben Gazzara), an Army Lieutenant accused of shooting dead the man who Manion believes raped his wife Laura (Lee Remick). As Paul digs deeper into the circumstances surrounding the crime, he realises that things are not as clear-cut as they initially seem. And that is before he has to face the fearsome – and fearless – prosecutor Claude Dancer (George C. Scott)…

Well….WOW! This is a superb film. I actually put off watching it for a long time because of it’s length; it runs at 2 hours 40 minutes, and I don’t generally like films that are much longer than two hours (blame it on my attention span). However this film gripped me from the word go, and once the action moved to the courtroom – about an hour into the film – it really became compelling viewing. The role that James Stewart will always be most remembered for is probably George Bailey in It’s A Wonderful Life. And while that certainly is a wonderful film, I preferred him here, and thoroughly enjoyed his performance as the morally ambiguous Biegler. He was not let down by the rest of the cast either – it’s hard to pick any one performance as outstanding, because everyone in the cast was excellent. Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Eve Arden (as Biegler’s smart, loyal but long suffering secretary), Arthur O’Connell (as Biegler’s friend, the alcoholic Parnell McCarthy, who finds a reason to stop drinking and start living, as he works with Biegler on the case), and George C. Scott. If this were any other cast, Scott would probably steal the show with his excellent performance!

The story ticks along nicely, with plenty of twists and turns, and I found myself switching points of view, and never quite sure what the truth was. There was tension, atmosphere and even a few laughs as the story unfolded.

However, I do have one gripe with this film and that was the ending! By that, I mean the last 7 or 8 minutes, which is not too bad for a film of 160 minutes. I won’t give anything away, but for me, the ending was unsatisfactory and not what I was hoping for. Nonetheless, it was a hugely enjoyable film, and I would certainly recommend it, especially to fans of courtroom drama – this is one of the best!

Year of release: 1959

Director: Otto Preminger

Producers: Otto Preminger

Writers: John D. Voelker (book), Wendell Mayes

Main cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O’Connell, Eve Arden, Kathryn Grant, George C. Scott, Murray Hamilton

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This 1958 movie was the final of four collaborations between Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart. The film performed modestly in cinemas, and Hitchcock apparently blamed Stewart for this, saying that at 50, Stewart was too old to draw in large audiences anymore. (Hitchcock also made a few less than complimentary comments about female star Kim Novak.) Regardless of it’s initial viewing figures, it has since become regarded as one of Hitchcock’s best films, and a classic of the genre.

I find Hitchcock’s movie’s somewhat hit-and-miss. To Catch A Thief and North by Northwest are both superb (maybe it’s the Cary Grant effect) and if you haven’t seen them, you definitely should! This is the third Hitchcock/Stewart I’ve seen, and is my favourite of all three, although it’s not perfect by any means.

Stewart plays John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson, a detective who leaves the police force, due to suffering from acrophobia. An old friend named Gavin Elster asks Scottie to tail his wife Madeleine, as Gavin is concerned about Madeleine’s unusual behaviour and fears that she will end up hurting herself. Scottie accepts the job, but quickly becomes obsessed with Madeleine…

There was a lot to enjoy about this film – Stewart (whatever Hitchcock thought) was perfect in the role of Scottie, a man who finds his equilibrium disturbed by the elusive and beautiful Madeleine. Personally, I thought this was one of the best roles I had ever seen Stewart play. I also really liked the dynamic between Scottie and his friend Midge (Barbara Bel Geddes). Kim Novak looked stunning as Madeleine, and she gets the chance to really demonstrate her acting chops in this film. There was real chemistry between Stewart and Novak.

The story itself is pretty straightforward, but there is a big twist, which I absolutely refuse to disclose here. Had I known about it before viewing the film, it would certainly have spoiled it for me, so I won’t spoil it for anyone else.

However, the film raises as many questions as it answers. There is an air of implausibility about the whole thing – a common thing with Hitchcock films – and one scene in particular, while intruiging enough, seems to serve no real purpose. I also find the use of highly dramatic music at moments of tension to be unnecessary, although I appreciate that at the time that the film was made, it was probably a very effective technique. (I always just feel that I don’t need dramatic moments to be signposted; I can spot them for myself).

In the hands of less capable actors, this film could have fallen flat. However, the talents of the two main stars keep things tense and interesting, and fans of the genre, and I would recommend watching it at least once.

Year of release: 1958

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Writers: Alec Coppel, Samuel A. Taylor, Pierre Boileau, Thomas Narcejac, Maxwell Anderson

Main cast: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

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This utterly charming and occasionally hilarious film from 1950, stars James Stewart (and really, who can’t be charmed by James Stewart?!) as Eldwood P. Dowd, a genial, mild-mannered man…whose best friend is a giant rabbit named Harvey. Elwood is a great embarassment to his sister Veta (Josephine Hull) and his niece Myrtle Mae (Victoria Horne), who live with him, due to his insistence on introducing everyone he meets to Harvey!

When Veta attempts to have him placed in a psychiatric institution, a mix-up occurs, and there then follows a comedy of errors, as the doctors try and chase the unwitting Elwood around town. But when they get to know him, they find that Elwood is perhaps not the only person who is charmed by Harvey’s presence…

I liked this film on a couple of levels. It is first and foremost, a gentle comedy, and Elwood is played beautifully by James Stewart. It was impossible not to like the character, and Stewart was an ideal actor for the role. The film also raised the question of whether it is necessary or right to try and cure someone of a condition that makes them happy (for there is no doubt that Elwood enjoyed Harvey’s friendship, whether it was real or not) and does not cause harm to anyone else. By the end of the movie, the viewer questions whether in fact Elwood was the one with the problem at all!

Josephine Hull was great – if a little ‘shrieky – as Veta Simmons, and injected a lot of humour into her role. I found the character of Myrtle Mae a little harder to warm to, but I don’t believe that she was intended to be a sympathetic character.

A lovely film, which will surely make you smile. I definitely recommend this.

Year of release: 1950

Director: Henry Koster

Writers: Mary Chase (play), Oscar Brodney, Myles Connolly

Main cast: James Stewart, Josephine Hull, Peggy Dow, Charles Drake, Cecil Kellaway, Victoria Horne, Jesse White

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This film from 1946 has rightly become classic Christmas viewing.  It was James Stewart’s favourite of his own films, and it’s easy to see why.  He plays George Bailey, a kind hearted businessman who has looked after others and sacrificed his own dreams to help his own family, but now he finds himself contemplating suicide as his business looks set to fail, and he faces jail for a mistake that he didn’t even make.  An angel named Clarence (Henry Travers) is dispatched to earth to help George (Clarence hopes that if he can help George, he might finally earn his wings), and shows George what life would be like in his town, if George had never existed.

This is just such a lovely film.  It certainly isn’t particularly light-hearted or funny (it touches on themes of poverty, lost dreams and suicide), but it is still a film that makes you feel happier for having watched it.  James Stewart had such a likeable manner about him, and nowhere is it put to better use than here.  He plays George as a thoroughly decent and generous man, but he is not without flaws.  Indeed his sense of generosity makes him a less than brilliant businessman, and he keeps employing his hapless uncle -a decision that may lead to George’s downfall.  Donna Reed is luminous and beautiful as George’s wife Mary, and is certainly not just a token wife.  She is a strong and kind woman, who dearly wants to see her husband happy.  Henry Travers is adorable as Clarence the angel – he might not be a very intellectual angel, but he has buckets of compassion.  The villain of the piece is Lionel Barrymore as Henry Potter – a rich businessman who threatens to get rid of George and his business – and make many of the citizens of the village poor and trapped in unhappy lives.  Barrymore is excellent in this type of role!

The ending is perfect, and yes I was sitting there with tears rolling down my face!  It’s a perfect film to watch at any time of year (but especially at Christmas), and really reminds us of how all of us can make a difference to others.

Year of release: 1946

Director: Frank Capra

Writers: Philip Van Doren Stern (short story),  Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, Frank Capra, Jo Swerling, Michael Wilson

Main cast: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Henry Travers, Toff Karns

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James Stewart is terrific in this 1948 documentary-style drama.  He plays journalist Jim McNeal, who is sent to cover a story of a man who has been in prison for eleven years, for murdering a policeman found guilty – on the testimony of just one eyewitness (despite two other witnesses saying that he was not the killer).  The film is based on the the true story of Joseph Majczek, although here his name is changed to Frank Wiecek.

Initially, McNeal is sceptical and thinks that Wiecek is probably guilty, and covers the story purely because his editor )Lee J. Cobb) wants him to.  However, as he uncovers more about what happened, McNeal starts to believe that the man is innocent and becomes determined to try and prove it.

The documentary-style really works, with a voiceover – which isn’t overused and therefore isn’t intrusive – giving salient facts to the viewer, and showing the action through McNeal’s eyes.

This is the sort of role that James Stewart was perfect for – a crusader for truth – and he is just wonderful.  He always has an immense likability, which means that it doesn’t matter if occasionally his character is irascible…and we like him for his tenacity.

The supporting cast are great too – especially Lee J. Cobb as McNeals boss Brian Kelly, and Kasia Orzazewski as Weicek’s mother.

I kind of guessed how things would turn out, despite not knowing the outcome of the real story at the time – and I was right – but nonetheless I found myself silently cheering McNeal and hoping that he would find the much needed proof of innocence.

Definitely an enjoyable film – exciting not because of action – but because of the viewer’s desire to see justice done.  It’s not one of James Stewart’s most popular films, but it’s definitely worth seeing.

Year of release: 1948

Director: Henry Hathaway

Writers: Jerome Cady, Jay Dratler, Leonard Hoffman, Quentin Reynolds, James P. McGuire (articles), Jack McPhaul (articles)

Main cast: James Stewart, Richard Conte, Lee J. Cobb, Betty Garde

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In this comedy from 1962, James Stewart plays Roger Hobbs, a happily married man who is looking forward to spending a month off work getting away from it all with only his wife Peggy (Maureen O’Hara) for company.  But Peggy has other ideas, and she rents a beach house to which she invites their entire family, including sons-in-law and grandchildren!  Problems arise when the beach house turns out to be dilapidated – but that’s nothing to the problems caused by a voluptuous fellow holidaymaker who seems to take a liking to Roger; the marital problems of one of the daughters; the son’s obsession with western movies; and the youngest daughter’s determination not to enjoy herself!

I’m surprised that this film is not better known – after all it stars one of Hollywood’s best loved actors, Jimmy Stewart (a man who I’m convinced is impossible to dislike).  Here, Stewart is terrific, totally depicting Roger’s love for and frustration with his family.  And his facial expressions and little mannerisms are perfect – I found myself sympathising with him, even while laughing at his predicaments!

Maureen O’Hara is also perfect as his wife Peggy (and she looks amazing).  She is the perfect foil for Roger, and the love between the two of them comes through perfectly, even though they get annoyed with each other two.

Laurie Peters shines as the youngest daughter, and Minerva Urecal is great as the maid, Brenda.  In all honesty the two older daughters and sons in law are pretty forgettable, but that doesn’t detract from the film, as Stewart and O’Hara are terrific in every scene.  The scene when they first arrive at the house to discover that it is run-down and probably dangerous, is a hoot!

If you haven’t heard of this film, I’d definitely recommend it.  Lots of laughs and two very likable main characters make it well worth watching.

Year of release: 1962

Director: Henry Koster

Writers: Edward Streeter (book), Nunnally Johnson

Main cast: James Stewart, Maureen O’Hara, Lauri Peters

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The Philadelphia Story is regarded as something of a classic, and certainly its main cast is made up of three big stars – Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn and James Stewart.  Grant plays C.K. Dexter Haven, the ex-husband of Tracy Lord Haven (Hepburn).  The couple married in haste and repented at leisure, mainly due to Haven’s drinking.  Two years after their break-up  Tracy is due to marry again, and Haven is determined to ruin the wedding.  James Stewart plays reporter Macauley ‘Mike’ Connor, a cynical journalist who really wants to write books.  Connor is sent to cover the wedding (which is all part of Haven’s plan to ruin it) and is as unhappy about it as Tracy herself, who is worried that the report will reveal that her father has run off with another woman.  To further complicate matter, Tracy finds herself attracted to both the reticent Mike, and the rakish C.K. Dexter!  High jinks ensue and all of the characters learn a little bit about themselves and each other along the way…

I can’t say I didn’t enjoy this film – in particular, Grant and Stewart are excellent (Stewart won an Oscar for this role, and I personally think it was deserved – his scenes are a delight, especially when Mike has had a few too many drinks!).  They are both very different actors, and both very charismatic in their own ways.  For me, Cary Grant is impossible to dislike in any role I’ve seen him in yet.

However, I find it harder to warm to Katharine Hepburn – no doubt she was  a celebrated and talented actress, and she was great as the feisty and unforgiving Tracy Lord – for me, the humour and enjoyment in this film was all down to the two leading men.

The storyline turns along nicely, and there are a few genuinely very funny moments, but overall I couldn’t help feeling that it was not quite as good as I had hoped (especially considering it’s reputation as a movie).  However, I do believe that it could well be the kind of film which gets better with each viewing, and I certainly liked it enough to watch it again in the future at some point.  It also makes some interesting points about the nature of celebrity (Mike is reluctant to cover a society wedding for the magazine he works for, and Tracy is reluctant to have her wedding in a magazine.  Both find the idea somewhat vulgar and tacky, and it was clearly not a common thing in those days.  Nowadays of course, trashy magazines are sold on the back of such stories!

As for what happens at the end – I’m giving nothing away.  It was not the ending I expected, but on balance it was probably the ending I would have wanted, and the film certainly finished on a high note.

EDIT: (7.2.13.) Well, I did watch the film again, and I did indeed enjoy it a lot more on second viewing. My favourite scene remains the one where drunken Mike visits C.K. – classic comedy! I also could appreciate Hepburn’s role a lot more second time around.

Year of release: 1940

Director: George Cukor

Writers: Philip Barry (play), Donald Ogden Stewart, Waldo Salt

Main cast: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey

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Click here for my review of the 1956 musical adaptation High Society.

Click here for my review of the 2012/2013 stage production of High Society.

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