James Stewart remains one of the most beloved film actors in Hollywood history. Well, at least in the United States, where Frank Capra's It's a Wonderful Life and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington are considered the apex of studio-era filmmaking.
Stewart's shy, naive, wholesome, aw-shucksy boy-next-door (later man-next-door) manner continues to endear him to millions whose idea of shyness, naiveté, wholesomeness, and boy-next-doorishness has nothing to do with mine. In fact, I wonder if anyone anywhere, whether in the United States or elsewhere, has ever lived next door to a “boy” who acted, sounded, romanced, and punched – lest we confuse shyness with softness – like Stewart. I'm glad I haven't.
Today, Turner Classic Movies has been presenting several James Stewart movies as part of its “Summer Under the Stars” film series. Right now, TCM is showing John Ford's The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962), considered by many the director's best post-The Searchers effort. Personally, I much prefer the much-derided 7 Women, what with Anne Bancroft, Betty Field, Margaret Leighton, and Mongolian barbarians. But that's just me. (See further below James Stewart Movie Schedule.)
Anyhow, I've never been a fan of myth-making, which seems to be the moral lesson found in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance: lies are okay when they're intended to boost morale and the revenues of media companies. Oh.
Next is Henry Koster's British-made No Highway in the Sky (1951), which I haven't seen. The supporting cast is fine: Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns, Jack Hawkins, Janette Scott, and Elizabeth Allan. It must – at the very least – be worth a look.
Anatomy of a Murder is perhaps the best American movie of 1959. Otto Preminger must have left the flag-waving, anti-sex freaks of the Production Code Administration all apoplectic with this tale of rape, murder, and lack of ethics in the U.S. Justice System. Stewart is actually fine as the defense attorney – nothing shy, naive, or wholesome about him – fighting for the freedom of a military man (Ben Gazzara) who has killed the man who (allegedly) raped his sex-kittenish wife (Lee Remick, replacing Lana Turner). Aided by screenwriter Wendell Mayes' first-rate adaptation of John D. Voelker's novel, the cast is generally outstanding, especially Gazzara as the slimy military psycho, Remick as the gal who enjoys a little spanking, and Eve Arden as Stewart's no-nonsense secretary.
Anatomy of a Murder was – deservedly – a huge box office hit upon its release. It was nominated for seven Academy Awards, but lost in every single category. The big winner that year was the mammoth blockbuster Ben-Hur, which just happened to be a monumental bore as far as I'm concerned. I should also note that Gazzara, Remick, Arden, and director Preminger were all bypassed by the Academy.
Tim Whelan's The Murder Man (1935) is a weak B thriller, with Stewart supporting a pre-stardom Spencer Tracy. Tracy, here paired with Virginia Bruce, was a mere leading man until Fury, San Francisco and Libeled Lady catapulted him to stardom in 1936.
Sam Wood's The Stratton Story (1949) tells the All-American tale of baseball player Monty Stratton (James Stewart), who loses a leg but not his love of baseball playing. MGM's attempt to repeat the success of Samuel Goldwyn's The Pride of the Yankees (1942) – also directed by Wood, and starring Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig – The Stratton Story offers a concoction of sickeningly syrupy situations and characterizations that, needless to say, guaranteed it major box office returns upon its release and an Oscar for Best Writing, Motion Picture Story (Douglas Morrow). The film's one saving grace is June Allyson, an underrated actress who usually brought honesty and spunk to her characters, whether in dramas or comedies, and no matter how phony the screenplay.
Lee Remick, Eve Arden, James Stewart in Otto Preminger's Anatomy of a Murder
Schedule (ET) and synopses from the TCM website:
6:00 AM THE LAST GANGSTER (1937) When a notorious gangster gets out of prison, he vows revenge on the wife who left him. Dir.: Edward Ludwig. Cast: Edward G. Robinson, James Stewart, Rose Stradner. Black and white. 81 min.
7:30 AM THE SHOPWORN ANGEL (1938) A showgirl gives up life in the fast lane for a young soldier on his way to fight World War I. Dir.: H. C. Potter. Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Walter Pidgeon. Black and white. 85 min.
9:00 AM MR. SMITH GOES TO WASHINGTON (1939) An idealistic Senate replacement takes on political corruption. Dir.: Frank Capra. Cast: Jean Arthur, James Stewart, Claude Rains. Black and white. 130 min.
11:15 AM WIFE VS. SECRETARY (1936) A secretary becomes so valuable to her boss that it jeopardizes his marriage. Dir.: Clarence Brown. Cast: Clark Gable, Jean Harlow, Myrna Loy. Black and white. 88 min.
12:45 PM VIVACIOUS LADY (1937) After a whirlwind courtship, a nightclub singer has to adjust to her professor husband's conservative family. Dir.: George Stevens. Cast: Ginger Rogers, James Stewart, James Ellison. Black and white. 90 min.
2:30 PM THE SHOP AROUND THE CORNER (1940) Feuding co-workers don't realize they're secret romantic pen pals. Dir.: Ernst Lubitsch. Cast: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan. Black and white. 99 min.
8:00 PM THE MAN WHO SHOT LIBERTY VALANCE (1962) An experienced gunman and a peace-loving tenderfoot clash with a Western bully. Dir.: John Ford. Cast: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles. Black and white. 123 min. Letterbox Format.
10:15 PM NO HIGHWAY IN THE SKY (1951) An engineer fights to prove that a new model airplane is not safe. Dir.: Henry Koster. Cast: James Stewart, Marlene Dietrich, Glynis Johns. Black and white. 98 min.
12:00 AM ANATOMY OF A MURDER (1959) A small-town lawyer gets the case of a lifetime when a military man avenges an attack on his wife. Dir.: Otto Preminger. Cast: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara. Black and white. 161 min. Letterbox Format.
2:45 AM THE MURDER MAN (1935) A hard-drinking reporter specializes in murder cases, until he becomes a suspect in one himself. Dir.: Tim Whelan. Cast: Spencer Tracy, Virginia Bruce, Lionel Atwill. Black and white. 69 min.
4:00 AM THE STRATTON STORY (1949) True story of Monty Stratton baseball star who fought to continue his career after losing a leg. Dir.: Sam Wood. Cast: James Stewart, June Allyson, Frank Morgan. Black and white. 107 min.
Turner Classic Movies website.