Showing posts with label James Stewart. Show all posts
Showing posts with label James Stewart. Show all posts

Saturday, 8 March 2014

Bend of the River




Bend of the River is a serviceable 1952 James Stewart Western. Directed by Anthony Mann, Stewart plays Glyn McLyntock, a remorseful ex border raider who is leading a band of settlers from Missouri to Oregon. Following a treacherous journey and a brief stop in the quiet town of Portland, the group reach their isolated destination but when their much needed supplies don’t arrive, McLyntock journeys back to the town to find it very changed. The film features themes of redemption, trust and romance and while it held me attention for its 91 minutes, it’s far from a classic and not quite as good as Mann and Stewart’s 1950 collaboration, Winchester ’73.

Many of the landscapes and sets become interchangeable and the film manages to deceive the viewer by switching between location and studio shots. The on location shooting is back dropped by beautiful vistas and unspoiled landscapes. This is certainly a good looking film and the beauty is exaggerated by the vibrant Technicolor. The costume design is also very good and I enjoyed the first visit to the tiny settlement of Portland, a mere dot on the map compared to the large city it has become. The difference between McLyntock’s first and second visit is also well done if not a little over done.

Sunday, 26 January 2014

Mr. Smith Goes to Washinton



Nominated for eleven Academy Awards but having the misfortune of being released in the same year as Gone with the Wind, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political comedy-drama that stands the test of time. Though produced and set in 1939, the film feels as fresh and relevant as the day of its release and contains the breakthrough performance of one of Hollywood’s greats, James Stewart. Stewart plays Jefferson Smith, the head of the Boy Rangers, local newspaper owner and all around good guy. When one of his state’s Senators unexpectedly dies, the local political machine looks for a replacement that will be popular with the people but keep his nose out of their shady political dealings. After much deliberation it’s decided that Smith is their man and he heads off to Washington, wide eyed and wet behind the ears.

Although this is very much Jimmy Stewart’s film, he was given second billing to co-star Jean Arthur. Arthur was already a star by 1939 whereas Stewart was very much on his way up, on the back of strong supporting roles in the likes of Navy Blue and Gold and You Can’t Take It With You, which as with Mr. Smith was directed by Frank Capra. Stewart launches himself with this role though and despite his long and successful career, this is remains one of his defining performances.

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Destry Rides Again



This 1939 Western is one of several produced around the Destry character of the 1932 novel. This version is only loosely based on the novel though, with many characters and events differing significantly. In the fictional Western town of Bottleneck, saloon owner Kent (Brian Donlevy) reigns supreme. With the help of saloon singer Frenchie (Marlene Dietrich) the town is under his control through fear, intimidation and extortion. A series of Sheriffs come and go with the latest being shot by Kent himself. In order to avoid the unwanted attention of the law, Kent and his Mayor (Samuel S. Hinds) give the job to one of the town’s many drunks, Washington Dimsdale (Charlie Winniger). ‘Wash’ surprises the town though by cleaning up his act and hiring a new Deputy from Montana. The son of a once feared lawman, Destry (James Stewart) turns out to be a disappointment. Against guns and seeming a bit of a wimp, Destry hides behind his polite exterior, a man willing to uphold the law, whatever it takes.

Destry Rides Again pulled me in two directions. Occasionally I thought the film was far too broad and frothy, full of poor jokes and songs but every now and then it surprised me with a cutting line, wonderful metaphor or ferocious fight which gave me the impression of watching two films accidently cut together as one.

Saturday, 13 April 2013

The Man Who Knew Too Much



Alfred Hitchcock’s remake of his own 1934 film of the same name is not one which will remain in my memory for long. Lacking the tension and intrigue of his best work, The Man Who Knew Too Much is nonetheless a solid thriller, albeit one with flaws. A family are vacationing in Morocco when they briefly meet a mysterious Frenchman who is inquisitive as to their past, present and future. Dr. Ben McKenna (James Stewart) talks freely with the man while his ex-actress wife Jo (Doris Day) begins to wonder why the man is taking such an interest in the couple and their young son Hank (Christopher Olsen). The McKenna’s meet a friendly English couple (Brenda De Banzie and Bernard Miles) who take Hank with them on a tour of the market. When Hank doesn’t return and the Frenchman Bernard turns up dead, the couple embark on a dangerous mission of counter subterfuge amidst an assassination plot to bring their son home.

The plot of this thriller is a bit like Taken for adults. If you removed all the xenophobia and hitting people in the face from the Liam Neeson film and added some middle class sensibilities and brains then you’ve pretty much got the same film. Sort of. Much like Taken I was disappointed with The Man Who Knew Too Much although I didn’t want to end my own life when I saw Hitchcock’s movie.

Sunday, 7 April 2013

Shenandoah



Shenandoah is a late period James Stewart Western set against a back drop of the Civil War. Charlie Anderson (Stewart) is the patriarch of a large Virginian family whose sons he is desperately trying to keep out of the war. Anderson is fiercely independent and although against slavery is equally against war in any form. As such his farm is caught in a no man’s land of peace, surrounded on all four sides by the sounds and smells of war. As the war begins encroaching on his farm and on his family he battles hard to remain neutral but when his youngest son is mistakenly taken as a prisoner of war by the North he is forced to act and sets out with his other sons to bring his youngest home.

It took me a while to get into Shenandoah but by the end it was the closest I’d come to crying in a film since I last saw Schindler’s List. The film’s final act is incredibly emotional and without going into spoiler territory, shares some similarities with the plot of Saving Private Ryan. I was moved by Anderson’s steadfast attitude but change of heart when someone he loved was affected and Stewart is sublime in the lead role.

Tuesday, 2 April 2013

Winchester '73



Winchester ’73 was the first in a string of successful Westerns to be directed by Anthony Mann and starring James Stewart. Stewart, who was worried about his career following a number of post war flops, decided he needed to branch out as an actor and jumped at the role of Lin McAdam in this story of one man’s search for his gun. Audiences were initially surprised at the casting but Stewart went on to have a successful career in Westerns alongside the dramas and thrillers for which he is better known. McAdam (Stewart) enters Dodge City with his friend High Spade (Millard Mitchell) on the eve of a Centenary Rifle Shoot Competition. His main rival for a once in a lifetime prize of a priceless Winchester ’73 rifle is the outlaw ‘Dutch Henry’ Brown (Stephen McNally) and it soon becomes obvious that the two have history. McAdam wins the rifle but it’s stolen by Dutch and passes through several hands before the two can square off again to decide once and for all who should own the precious gun.

With a plot that goes back and forth from interesting to really boring and some incredibly clich├ęd and reductive dialogue, Winchester ’73 runs the risk of being just another Western. The poor generalising of Native Americans and stereotypical female character only chalks up marks in its negative column but there is something about the movie which gives it a spark. I personally think that spark is the gun. I have no interest in firearms and have never held a real one, let alone shot one but the film turns the gun into something else. It isn’t a gun, it’s a symbol. It’s a symbol of masculinity, success and triumph and every male character in the movie wants it.

Sunday, 3 March 2013

Harvey



Harvey is the film that is often regarded as the one which gave James Stewart his finest performance. I’m fairly new to discovering his talents but it is certainly the finest I’ve seen so far. Harvey is an incredibly sweet and funny film which I’m certain wouldn’t work today. The central character’s innocence and kindness simply wouldn’t sit right in twenty-first century cinema. As sweet as the film is though it is also notable for having a less than favourable view of mental illness and in keeping with Hollywood movies of the time, it depicts the fear and misunderstanding which surrounded illness of the brain although it slightly rectifies its position towards the end.

Elwood P. Dowd (James Stewart) is an overly polite and gentle man who lives with his older sister (Josephine Hull) and niece (Victoria Horne) in their mother’s old house. Despite his amiable personality, charm and kindness, his family are deeply embarrassed by Elwood and try to get him out of the house whenever they have company. The reason for their embarrassment is Elwood’s friend Harvey. Harvey himself is as friendly and polite as Elwood but he happens to be a six foot, three and a half inch invisible white rabbit whom only Elwood can see. After embarrassing Veta (Hull) for the final time, she decides it’s time to institutionalise Elwood.

Thursday, 6 December 2012

Rear Window



Based on Cornell Woolrich’s short story It Must be Murder, Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 Mystery film is regarded as one of the Director’s finest. Having broken his leg while away on an assignment, photographer Jeff Jefferies (James Stewart) whiles away the hours watching his neighbours from the window of his apartment. One day he wakes up to discover that a woman across the courtyard is no longer there and her husband is acting suspiciously. With the help of his girlfriend Lisa Freemont (Grace Kelly), Jeff investigates his suspected murder case from the confines of his window side wheelchair.

I’ve only seen around half a dozen of Hitchcock’s films but I’ve found that my favourites are those which I have heard nothing about. I was a little bit disappointed by North by Northwest but loved Rope and Shadow of a Doubt. Rear Window falls somewhere in between. I can certainly see why it is considered so great but there are films in the Director’s extensive cannon which are just as if not more impressive.

Sunday, 26 August 2012

Rope


In a New York City apartment a faint scream can be heard as two friends’ murder a third before concealing his body inside a large wooden chest placed prominently inside their living room. The crime is committed moments before people who know the dead man arrive for a party. Lead conspirator Brandon Shaw (John Dall) commits the murder as an intellectual exercise in order to prove his superiority over the dead man and other party guests. Fellow conspirator Phillip Morgan (Farley Granger) is less confident about the crime and much more conscious of having a dead body in his midst. Amongst the party guests are the dead man, David’s parents, girlfriend, ex-classmate and all four friend’s ex-prep school housemaster Rupert Cadell (James Stewart) of whom Brandon is most wary of being able to discover the body. 

The film comes off like a play and is indeed based on a play from the 1920s. The entire plot takes place inside one apartment set and mostly within one room of that apartment. Although characters move about the setting I don’t think the camera ever leaves the living room. Adding to the sense of being a play is the editing. The film is shot as though one long, continuous take though is actually broken up into ten separate takes with each cut being masked by a man’s jacket moving across the screen or the back of some furniture. This allowed the director, Alfred Hitchcock the chance to cut scenes and change the magnificent backdrop which indicates the passing of the day.

Wednesday, 15 August 2012

Vertigo

"Scottie, do you believe that someone out of the past - someone dead - can enter and take possession of a living being?"

A Detective, John ‘Scottie’ Ferguson (James Stewart) is chasing down a criminal over the rooftops of San Francisco when he falls and is left hanging on a gutter. When a cop comes to his aid he falls, leaving the Detective racked with guilt and a new found fear of heights which brings on vertigo. After retiring from the police force he receives a call out of the blue from an old college friend (Tom Helmore) who asks Scottie to follow his wife who isn’t herself. Scottie follows the young woman, named Madeleine (Kim Novak) as she drives to strange places then claims to forget ever being there. There appears to be some sort of paranormal explanation to the proceedings as Madeleine keeps returning to the significant places in the life of a long dead relative of hers. Tragedy strikes at an old church which leaves Scottie facing questions about his own sanity. Slowly he must try to bring together the pieces of a puzzle which appears to be come from a box a few pieces short.

I recently read that Sight and Sound voted Vertigo as the greatest film ever. It was a combination of this fact and my recent discovery of Alfred Hitchcock’s films which drew me to this movie. Having now seen it I strongly disagree with Sight and Sound’s placing of Vertigo at number one but still believe it is a good, but not great film.