Saturday, July 31, 2010

Jimmy Stewart, Back Atcha

I am a huge (if rather secret) fan of the long-legged actor  James Stewart, who left his mark on suspense, comedy and westerns so many years ago. How many actors can claim to change each of these genres? Not many...but he did. Not only was he someone to rely on -- but he also had WEAKNESSES. And got ANGRY. Failed sometimes. But wasn't afraid to show it! (See his anguished face when he loses his love off the bell tower in Vertigo, and you'll see what I mean.)

Now comes along Doug Dibben to argue that Jimmy singlehandedly wiped out the golden age of Hollywood classic film -- because audiences couldn't handle his obvious anger. And failures. And mental lapses. No more lavish extravaganzas? Deep mental dramas?

All Jimmy's fault. Dibben even tags him as "The Angel of Death."

After seeing Winchester 73 last night for the umpteenth time, I'd beg to differ. This is an especially tough one -- Jimmy is out not only to regain the fancy rifle he won in a trick shooting contest, but to avenge his father's murder -- by his brother. Somehow Stewart has to convince us he's set on drawing blood -- without being bloodthirsty. He manages it, but I'm still not sure how.

Certainly Stewart's earlier movies don't bring out the range of emotion he shows in the later ones...but I personally think that makes the later ones all the better. I would argue that if classic cinema changed (and I'm not sure it did that much), it actually became more realistic, and able to appeal to the average person. It acted not only as a release from the cares of the moment -- but it also gave some possibilities for solving them.

I may get a kick out of seeing Fred Astaire dance around a room -- ceiling, then walls, then floor. (In fact, I did like it, in Royal Wedding.)  However, I got a lot more out of it being used to make a (fighting) point in Inception.


Jimmy, wish you were still here. No doubt you'd be making some amazing movies.

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