Just like one of my very favourite actresses, Grace Kelly, James Stewart was born in Pennsylvania. I’m happy to have seen this garden state twice in my life, when I was on my way to Washington DC… I can’t remember exactly what was the very first James Stewart’s film I saw, but it was probably an Hitchcock’s film. Vertigo, Rear Window? Or maybe it was something completely different like It’s a Wonderful Life. Well, one thing is sure, it immediately gave me a good impression of James Stewart. Actually, the first time I SEE him was in my book, “Les Stars de Cinéma”. Just with a simple photo, I was curious to see his films. My first number one favourite actor was Marlon Brando, but, one day, I said to myself: “Naaah, it’s not Brando anymore, it’s James Stewart”. I was a little sad to put Brando in the second place (and he still is my second favourite actor, which is really good), but now I have no regrets, because, today, if someone asks me who is my favourite actor, I can proudly, with joy in my voice, tell him or her: “It’s James Stewart!” 😀 I decided to write this tribute to James Stewart because, yesterday, on May 20th 2015, we were glad to celebrate his 107’s birthday! That seems old, but Jimmy unfortunately left us in 1997 at the noble age of 89. As he was a wonderful man and a wonderful actor, we would have whished that he lived forever. Anyway, let’s not talk about sad things like this, let’s talk about Jimmy, my love for Jimmy.
I must admit, I appreciate James Stewart very much as an actor and from what I’ve read, I know he was someone with a great personality, a kind and courageous man. However, as I’ve never read a biography, I can’t say I know him perfectly. What is his best book biography? If you have suggestions, please tell me, I’ll be so happy to discover another side of my favourite actor. If you remember my Audrey Hepburn’s text tribute that I’ve written not a long time ago, you know that I mentioned that, when I see her make her first entrance in a film, it always makes me smile. Well, that’s the same story with James Stewart. I can’t help having a big smile and saying to myself “Aww, that’s my Jimmy!” ❤ It’s also and actor with whom I would have liked to be friend. Well, I’ve met James Stewart… in a dream. Better than nothing isn’t it? Oh, and Hitchcock was in my dream as well and signed me his autograph. In every James Stewart’s films I saw, there’s always something that makes him nice in a way or another, even in Vertigo where he plays a… necrophile (well, sort of). We agree, Scottie is not very nice with Judy, but, at the beginning of the film, before the real problems start, he seems to be a nice fellow to hang with. His only problem is his acrophobia. Anyway, let’s not forget that this is a film, it’s not the real Jimmy. It’s only one of the numerous things that proves us that he was an incredible actor and that he was capable of a great versatility.
Before I wrote this text, I calculated how many James Stewart I’ve seen so far. That’s a total of 13 films. You may wonder which one is my favourite. It is, without any doubts, It’s a Wonderful Life. You may have noticed that the logo of this blog is a picture of this film. Everything’s perfect about this movie, not to mention that it is also my 3rd favourite film of all times and also my favourite James Stewart’s performance. It’s a Wonderful Life was also James Stewart’s personal favourite (among his films). He indeed said some great things about this gem: “Such a pure movie. It wasn’t taken from a novel or a play. It was developed from one little paragraph. Simple story, no message, no violence, no mob scenes. When the movies have a story like this, they do it better than any medium there is.” (IMDB) Jimmy makes us feel good in this film. He has a great humour and is part of some wonderful moments. I love the part when he dances with Donna Reed and then they fall in the pool! Of course, there are some saddest moments and here James Stewart plays a sad and angry George Bailey just as well has he plays a happy and funny George Bailey. I can’t imagine some other actors playing this character. James Stewart was so perfect for the part and we know that he was a favourite of Frank Capra’s.
I just talked to you about Vertigo and It’s a Wonderful Life. Well, because of those two films, I think that Jimmy was very talented to express the feeling of fear. And that’s kind of fascinating. That means he’s an actor who can share strong feelings only with his eyes or facial expressions. In Vertigo, I’m referring to the moment when he wakes up from his bad dream. For It’s a Wonderful Life, I’m referring to the scene where he is on the bridge and looks at the water… Jimmy really could express any emotions and was always convincing. I can’t talk to you about all the James Stewart’s films I’ve seen, but here is a quick overview of his performances for each one of the 11 other films, the ones I haven’t talked about yet:
In Rear Window, Jimmy has nothing to do except spy his neighbourhood. He then discovers something terrible about one of them. At the begging, he plays someone with a great sense of humour. He seems not to care much about his girlfriend, but when she’s in danger, that’s when Jimmy will perfectly express the feeling of anxiety.
In Harvey, Jimmy couldn’t be more adorable. He has an imaginary friend, a big Rabbit called Harvey. His family thing he’s crazy, but he’s the one who seems to enjoy life the most.
In The Spirit of Saint-Louis, some may think he was not the perfect Charles Lindberg, but I say I was happy to see another picture with him. His best acting talent in this film belongs to the scenes where he is alone in his plane with the only company of a little fly. He is quite funny in some of the flashback scenes.
In The Man Who Knew Too Much, James learns a terrible secret and then has to save his son with his wife. He plays a good father who will do anything to save his family. He plays an ordinary man who will live extraordinary adventures.
In Mr Smith Goes To Washington, Jimmy is a model for the youth. He plays a strong young man who proves us that, with perseverance, we can always reach our objective. One of my favourite moments in this film is when he visits Washington DC. He is so fascinated and looks like a little boy. 🙂
In The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, James Stewart is a judge who wants to protect a city. He is a wise man and a will learn to a beautiful girl how to write and read. When we watch this film, we would like to go in the screen to protect him from the mean Liberty Valence.
In The Philadelphia Story, Jimmy is a journalist who makes a wonderful team with Ruth Hussey who plays a photographer. He won the Oscar and was hilarious, especially in the scenes where he is drunk.
In How the West Was Won. Jimmy is a trapper. I can’t say it was the perfect role for him, but it remains a nice performance to watch.
In The Shop Around the Corner, Jimmy loves a girl and doesn’t really appreciate her at the same time. Well, he thinks those two feelings belong to two different girls, but he won’t make long to discover that it is the same girl and will try to fix things.
In Destry Rides Again, Jimmy is welcomed in a town by some people who are not very kind to him because he is not the person they were expecting. One more time, he proves us that he is a real hero. Just like in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, he believes that gunfights are not the perfect solution to solve a problem. Peace Jimmy.
Finally, in Rope, James Stewart is invited to a morbid dinner where he discovers with horror that his two students had done something unforgivable. He plays there a fascinating character with whom we would like to discuss for hours.
James Stewart is certainly one of the most iconic Hollywood stars. He will always be remembered and known as a true legend. He’s my favourite, but he is the favourite of many persons. Is it possible not to like James Stewart?
Long life to your memory Jimmy!