James Stewart

Come Live with Me (1941, Clarence Brown)

Come Live with Me features exquisite direction from Clarence Brown. Whether he’s pacing out a reveal, directing a conversation or just being inventive with composition, he does an outstanding job. George J. Folsey’s photography helps, as do the fantastic sets.

It’s a shame good direction can’t overcome a truly lame screenplay from Patterson McNutt. The first hour or so of Live is fine, even if Hedy Lamarr is weak–the rest of the cast make up for her–but the final third is a disaster.

Lamarr is an exile from Nazi Germany who’s about to get sent back; she’s been carrying on with married man Ian Hunter. Hunter and his wife, Verree Teasdale (who’s magnificent), have a “modern” marriage, meaning they both step out as long as its stringless. Live is very good about implying.

But then Lamarr needs to get married to stay in the States and she finds James Stewart. Even though she’s an awful person, he falls for her and must win her over. So what wins her over? Good old American country Christian values. Well, New York upstate Christian values.

Adeline De Walt Reynolds is fine as the grandmother who convinces Lamarr, but her function in the narrative is pure laziness. Stewart’s playing a novelist; a decent narrative should be one of Live‘s imperatives.

Donald Meek and Tom Fadden are excellent in very small roles, compensating a little for Lamarr.

But nothing can make up for the script. And Herbert Stohart’s silly score certainly doesn’t help.

1/4

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Clarence Brown; screenplay by Patterson McNutt, based on a story by Virginia Van Upp; director of photography, George J. Fosley; edited by Frank E. Hull; music by Herbert Stohart; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring James Stewart (Bill Smith), Hedy Lamarr (Johnny Jones), Ian Hunter (Barton Kendrick), Verree Teasdale (Diana Kendrick), Donald Meek (Joe Darsie), Barton MacLane (Barney Grogan), Edward Ashley (Arnold Stafford), Tom Fadden (Charlie Gephardt) and Adeline De Walt Reynolds (Grandma).


The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956, Alfred Hitchcock)

The Man Who Knew Too Much is Hitchcock’s only remake and, as such, it probably ought to be a whole lot better. The resulting film suggests he really wanted to make a Moroccan travelogue and symphony picture… assuming he didn’t set out to make a turgid thriller.

There’s also something else awkward about Man–Doris Day. For the first twenty-five minutes or so, Day is the protagonist. And not just a protagonist, but a forceful one. Then, once the plot gets going at the thirty-minute mark, James Stewart takes over. Previously he was ineffectual and unobservant, but then he becomes a more standard hero. For a while, anyway.

The conclusion ocelates between Day and Stewart, though Stewart is never as effective as Day in her early scenes.

John Michael Hayes’s mediocre (at best) script is clearly Man‘s most debilitating problem. Still, given the film ends with a fantastic opportunity for an end cap (without the accompanying opening bracket), Hitchcock holds some responsibility too.

The Albert Hall sequence–the film’s first ending–is absolutely amazing. It’s brilliant filmmaking and, tellingly, doesn’t need the rest of the film to be appreciated.

Bernard Herrmann and Arthur Benjamin’s score is often amazing too. There’s a great scene with quiet, suggestive sublime music while Day suspects newfound friend Daniel Gélin. The score’s better than the film deserves.

Stewart and Day are solid, neither exceptional. Gélin and Brenda De Banzie are excellent. Bernard Miles is awful.

Man‘s a mixed bag, but undeniably well-made.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Produced and directed by Alfred Hitchcock; screenplay by John Michael Hayes, based on a story by Charles Bennett and D.B. Wyndham-Lewis; director of photography, Robert Burks; edited by George Tomasini; music by Bernard Herrmann; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Dr. Benjamin McKenna), Doris Day (Josephine Conway McKenna), Brenda De Banzie (Lucy Drayton), Bernard Miles (Edward Drayton), Ralph Truman (Inspector Buchanan), Daniel Gélin (Louis Bernard), Mogens Wieth (Ambassador), Alan Mowbray (Val Parnell), Hillary Brooke (Jan Peterson), Christopher Olsen (Hank McKenna), Reggie Nalder (Rien), Richard Wattis (Assistant Manager), Noel Willman (Woburn), Alix Talton (Helen Parnell), Yves Brainville (Police Inspector) and Carolyn Jones (Cindy Fontaine).


Shenandoah (1965, Andrew V. McLaglen)

In addition to being the first film of Andrew V. McLaglen’s I’ve seen (which is quite an achievement, considering how much he directed), Shenendoah is the first film I’ve seen where James Stewart plays the patriarch. Unless Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation counts and I don’t think it does, not like Shenendoah. The film sets Stewart as the father of seven sons and one daughter, Virginian farmers sitting out the Civil War. In its approach, initially anyway, the film owes a lot to Friendly Persuasion. There’s a calm friendliness to the family and the first forty minutes is spent listening to Stewart’s fatherly monologues (half of them are excellent, half are mediocre; the one he gives future son-in-law Doug McClure is wonderful). The film establishes its primary characters in these forty minutes–besides Stewart, the youngest son and the married son (played by Patrick Wayne, who’s great) get the spotlight, as does the courting McClure and the daughter–but there’s little distinguishing about the five other sons. They have names, except only one of them even approaches being recognizable, and their purpose in the film is to support.

At the forty-minute mark, or around it, the film changes gears and becomes the most startling anti-war film I’ve seen about the Civil War. Unfortunately, the film’s politics are incredibly safe–these Virginians don’t own slaves because they don’t think its right not to do your own work (my frequent observation about people with lawn crews who have such pride in the foliage they picked from a catalog) and they wouldn’t help a friend fight for his slaves, which doesn’t really matter since the family seems not to have any friends–but there’s never any comment about slavery being wrong. Shenendoah is a Western and Western filmmakers knew their audiences. There’s a little bit of the friendship between the youngest son and a same-aged slave to distinguish it, but it’s hard to believe Stewart’s frequent monologues would never broach the subject. As an anti-war film, though effective, it’s as unbiased as Gone With the Wind. Shenendoah shows the South and the Confederate soldiers as passives, only being acted upon by the aggressive and, at times, evil North. George Kennedy–youngish–shows up for a minute as a kind-hearted Northern officer, but he’s the single humane portrayal of the North in the whole film.

Even more complicated is the film’s morality. Tragedy strikes Stewart’s family in some awful (and unexpected) ways. It’s a bit of a rough film–even though the score maintains the playfulness of the first forty minutes–and those minutes were spent making the audience care for the characters. Even if their names aren’t clear. It’s an intentional move, so the question arises whether the tragedy is Stewart’s just reward for sitting out the Civil War, for abandoning his duty to Virginia. As complicated as those questions could be, Shenendoah doesn’t invite much analysis. It’s entertains and makes the viewer care about what’s going on. The rest isn’t particularly important (its greatest crime is giving Wayne the small part).

As for director McLaglen… if I didn’t know his name from so many other Westerns, I’d never bother to look it up or to have noticed it. He’s fine but wholly unimpressive except for the battle scenes, which are some of the finest I can recall.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen; written by James Lee Barrett; director of photography, William H. Clothier; edited by Otho Lovering; music by Frank Skinner; produced by Robert Arthur; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring James Stewart (Charlie Anderson), Doug McClure (Lt. Sam), Glenn Corbett (Jacob Anderson), Patrick Wayne (James Anderson), Rosemary Forsyth (Jennie Anderson), Phillip Alford (Boy Anderson), Katharine Ross (Mrs. Ann Anderson), Charles Robinson (Nathan Anderson), Jim McMullan (John Anderson), Tim McIntire (Henry Anderson), Gene Jackson (Gabriel), Paul Fix (Dr. Tom Witherspoon), Denver Pyle (Pastor Bjoerling) and George Kennedy (Col. Fairchild).


After the Thin Man (1936, W.S. Van Dyke)

The last time I had a Thin Man marathon–which must have been five years ago, maybe more (I had the LaserDisc set, so I’m trying to remember when I started concentrating more on DVD), I thought After the Thin Man, the second film in the series, was disappointing. Now I’m not having a marathon, just watching the film, and that opinion was wrong. It seems to have come from comparing it to the first film too much (specifically, the first film’s brevity). After the Thin Man is excellent and establishes a lot of good sequel mechanisms… ones I don’t think the other Thin Man sequels employed (as they became closer in pacing to MGM’s other film series).

Coming into the second film, the audience has a few expectations–the banter and the mystery. After the Thin Man concentrates on the banter first, dedicating almost the entire first act to catching up with Nick and Nora. Dashiell Hammett actually wrote the story for After the Thin Man, they weren’t just being nice and putting his name on it–I have a copy somewhere, but never read it. Hammett started the story differently, with a dying man showing up on their doorstep. The film’s measured pacing, however, reminds the audience just why they liked the first film so much.

Today, past being one of the Thin Man films, it gets no notice. Even the Thin Man series has fallen away (and I remember in the 1980s, when it was such a big deal when all the films came out on VHS). I suppose it’s worthy of a footnote in James Stewart’s filmography, but James Stewart’s not really popular anymore, is he? Films made before 1983, it seems, offer nothing to moviegoers today (that snide remark is based on George Lucas’s “rejiggering” of the original Star Wars films and Peter Jackson remaking King Kong because he didn’t think audiences today should have to watch black and white films). Home video companies dedication to releasing their classic product is probably the best, unexpected benefit of the DVD format (as I type, The Complete Thin Man collection is #69 on Amazon’s DVD sales chart). The format’s introducing new audiences (I hope) to good films.

As a Thin Man film, After the Thin Man has a lot of the classic set pieces–Nick and Nora sleeping all day, after some late night scrambled eggs, is the one I’m recalling most. I was also surprised how funny some of the scenes get… I laughed at a couple as much as I laughed at the last episode of “American Dad.”

I can’t say much else, since I don’t want to spoil anything, but the killer’s unveiling is some damn great acting….

3.5/4★★★½

CREDITS

Directed by W.S. Van Dyke; written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, from a story by Dashiell Hammett; director of photography, Oliver T. Marsh; edited by Robert Kern; music by Herbert Stothart and Edward Ward; produced by Hunt Stromberg; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring William Powell (Nick Charles), Myrna Loy (Nora), James Stewart (David), Elissa Landi (Selma), Joseph Calleia (“Dancer”), Jessie Ralph (Aunt Katherine), Alan Marshall (Robert), Teddy Hart (Casper), Sam Levene (Abrams), Penny Singleton (Polly), William Law (Lum Kee), George Zucco (Dr. Kammer) and Paul Fix (Phil).



This film is also discussed in Sum Up | The Thin Man.

The Philadelphia Story (1940, George Cukor)

George Cukor must have cheated on his wife at every opportunity, given The Philadelphia Story‘s (and The Women before it) rewarding of unfaithful husbands. I watched Philadelphia Story on a lark–I’d never seen it, but had heard of it, and it came up this week. Holy shit–Cukor was gay! I just read it. Huh….

Umm. So, anyway, the movie’s okay. It has a few particularly good scenes, mostly between Cary Grant and James Stewart. Grant was, at this point in his career, at leading status and rarely ever had friends in films (that I’ve seen), only love interests. So seeing him have a friendship is nice. The scenes between Katharine Hepburn and Grant range greatly in quality, mostly because the film is a very strict adaptation of the play. You can see it being performed on stage while watching and that’s never good (Cukor’s other films that I’ve seen–The Women and Dinner at Eight–are both adaptations that suffer the same problem). He does have some interesting composition at times, Cukor does, however. He actually uses soft background on Cary Grant, something I’d never seen before.

The acting ranges too. Grant’s good once his character gets established, Stewart’s okay but miscast, and Hepburn… well, she doesn’t have much to work with. The characters are really thin, which is Stewart’s problem, and Hepburn forces something out of it, but can’t make the character consistent throughout (the script’s at fault for that too–the groundwork for the ending is laid in the last fifteen minutes). The best performance is from the kid sister, Virginia Weidler, who’s just having fun. Similarly, Roland Young is quite good. Ruth Hussey–as another infidelity forgiver–is given an impossible character and she doesn’t have the chops to do anything with it.

The Philadelphia Story is a “class” comedy, where members of the working class mix with the members of the upper class. I’ve never labeled a film or story that one before–though I’m familiar with other folks using the term–and this film is the first time it’s been appropriate… because the makers wanted the audience to label it as such. (I think there might be some homage to it in a scene of Caddyshack II, actually). It’s unintelligible and unbelievable at its best–though still fun thanks to Grant and his chemistry with his co-stars–and propaganda at its worst.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by George Cukor; screenplay by Donald Ogden Stewart, based on the play by Philip Barry; director of photography, Joseph Ruttenberg; edited by Frank Sullivan; music by Franz Waxman; produced by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; released by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.

Starring Cary Grant (C.K. Dexter Haven), Katharine Hepburn (Tracy Lord), James Stewart (Macaulay Connor), Ruth Hussey (Elizabeth Imbrie), John Howard (George Kittredge), Roland Young (Uncle Willie), John Halliday (Seth Lord), Mary Nash (Margaret Lord), Virginia Weidler (Dinah Lord), Henry Daniell (Sidney Kidd), Lionel Pape (Edward) and Rex Evans (Thomas).


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