Tuesday, May 20th, 2008

Today is the wonderful, charming, and completely lovable James Stewart’s 100th Birthday!

Sure, we’ve all seen the big James Stewart classics. It’s a Wonderful Life, Vertigo, Rear Window, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, and so on. But Stewart also made a lot of really great movies that don’t get a lot of love nowadays. So, with this place being all about obscure classics, here are some of my favorite James Stewart movies that deserve more love.

The Mortal Storm (Frank Borzage, 1940)

One of the best films from the master Frank Borzage. The Mortal Storm is a really fantastic movie about pre-war Germany and the rise of Nazism. Sure, Stewart, Robert Young, and Margaret Sullavan might be a little hard to believe as Germans, but they all put in very strong performances (especially Young, in a role that really breaks type) in this heartbreaking film. Definitely a brave movie for 1940.

Come Live With Me (George Cukor, 1941)

Come Live With Me is a really simple, subtle love story. That subtlety really makes the film a beautiful romance. Stewart had great chemistry with Hedy Lamarr. I’m not entirely sure what it is about this movie that I adore so much, but it just feels genuine. It feels very real.

Vivacious Lady (George Stevens, 1938)

Ginger Rogers and James Stewart were a fantastic pairing. I wish they had made more films together. The story is very cute, but Rogers and Stewart together make is a truly great romance.

Made For Each Other (John Cromwell, 1939)

Stewart and Carole Lombard had an excellent chemistry, and I wish they had the chance to make a comedy together before Lombard’s death. Made for Each Other is a very strong romance about the struggles of marriage which comes across as very realistic and honest. One of the best films from the golden year of 1939.


Just wanted to let you guys know where we are on the podcast. It looks like we’ll be able to test the equipment on Thursday night, so hopefully we’ll have out first topic settled on by the weekend. And then we really hope to have the first podcast finished and online by the first week of June.

We really need your help though. We want all of the people who read this blog to participate in the podcasts. For each subject, there will be a little survey that we’ll ask you guys to fill out (which will always be on the Podcast page). However, we could use some help thinking of categories for this survey.

We really don’t have that many thought up right now…

For actors/actresses we have….

Best Film

Best Costar

Best Leading Lady/Leading Man

Best Performance

Essential Scene

Best Director Collarboration

And for Directors we have…

Best Film

Essential Scene

Essential Style

Best Actor Collaboration

Best Collaboration (non-actor)

So, obviously, we need more categories than that so any that you guys can think of would be hugely appreciated. And we’ll take any creative ideas, too. We don’t just need “Best blah blah blah”. If you have any other kind of idea for the survey, we’d love to hear it.

Howdy, folks. Tomorrow is the wonderful Robert Montgomery’s birthday, and to celebrate TCM is showing his films all day long. Here’s the schedule…

7AM Their Own Desire

8:15AM Love In the Rough

9:45AM The Easiest Way

11AM Strangers May Kiss

12:30PM Another Language

2PM Lovers Courageous

3:30PM Live, Love, and Learn

5PM Hide-Out

6:30PM No More Ladies

Year: 1950

Director: Alfred Hitchcock

Starring: Jane Wyman, Marlene Dietrich, Michael Wilding, Richard Todd, Alistair Sim

Stage Fright is in many ways exactly what you would expect from Alfred Hitchcock. It is a brilliant premise mixed with suspenseful twists and turns.

The story follows a young theater student as she attempts to assist the man she loves in clearing his name after he is suspected of murder. She bends over backwards for him, utilizing her unrefined acting skills to go undercover in hopes to uncover the truth.

Considering the potential for tension built in to the plot of Stage Fright I thought Hitchcock fell somewhat short. For him this ends up being mediocre compared to some of his films. Lucky for viewers, mediocre for Hitchcock is quite good compared to so many other filmmakers that have worked throughout the decades the medium has been in existence.

The middle of the film drags a bit but is somewhat redeemed by a very engaging opening act and a killer ending (no pun intended)!

Hitchcock manages to not only tell a tale of suspense and danger, but also include a bizarre love story and a number of very memorable characters.

This includes Alistair Sim who plays the father of the young actress. He is loving and devoted, yet willing to aid his young daughter in this dangerous quest for truth. One wonders if his lack of hesitance in consenting to and consorting with his daughter’s dangerous antics stems from a vicarious pleasure he receives from the potential danger she faces, not to mention a desire to see his daughter happy and an eagerness to resort to behavior that is frowned upon by established authority. He is a very convincing nonconformist who is enjoyable to watch.

This doesn’t have anything to do with the quality of the film but as you watch pay attention to Michael Wilding who plays a young detective involved in the murder case who I think has a stunning resemblance to the actor, Alan Cumming. I can’t help but wonder if I am alone in seeing a similiarity between the two.

Jane Wyman is adorable in this role and plays her role remarkably well. The innocence portrayed by Jane Wyman deserves a lot of credit for the level of suspense this film is able to pull off. The audience can’t help but be especially concerned for her welfare due to her naivety.

I also think Marlene Dietrich deserves some credit for creating a very despise-able yet simultaneously enticing character that adds to the impact of the movie. She personifies the sexiness of a woman that is slowly beginning to advance in years but is still confident in regards to the sensuality her presence exudes. After all she was 49 when this movie was released, not exactly a spring chicken!

One aspect this film utilizes masterfully is the power of character perspective, especially in the use of flashbacks. Those familiar with the film will understand what I am saying, those who are not will have to take the time to watch it!

This is a solid film that is worth seeing, but at the same time it is somewhat forgettable. Hitchcock doesn’t live up to his genius in this film but still creates a very engaging plot with some delightfully engaging characters.

By Greg Dickson

Year: 1950

Director: Joseph H. Lewis

Starring: Peggy Cummins and John Dall

“Everything’s going so fast. It’s all in such high gear.”

Perhaps this statement by Bart Tare in Gun Crazy is the best description for the feel of this film. Bart Tare is the main character in this lightning fast tale of self destruction. Played by John Dall, Bart Tare is a young man recently back from serving in the military who finds himself involved with a cute-as-a-button young sharpshooter who leads him down a dark path.

This movie which apparently was once called Deadly is the Female (perhaps a better title for the film) features one of the most memorable femme fatales in film history. This woman is psychotic and blood-thirsty yet her greedy and homicidal tendencies are packaged in such an innocent exterior that you can’t help but assume that in Bart Tare’s shoes you would fall for her too. Part of what makes her fascinating is the fact that unlike some femme fatales who seem calculating in their destruction of the leading man, she seems more motivated by greed, a lust for excitement and the pleasure seeking nature of youth. Her name is Annie Laurie Star and she is played exceptionally well by Peggy Cummins. I was especially impressed by her childish mood swings and the physical manifestations of her deadly angst. She has a set of mannerisms that I think demonstrate great acting skill on the part of Peggy Cummins.

Besides her performance and the overall plot one of the aspects of this film that really stood out to me was the cinematography. I believe this movie would be a great source for countless lectures on the technical and artistic aspects of film-making such as camera placement, framing, lighting, and editing. The use of camera placement and framing to convey thematic elements of the story alone is masterful and awe-inspiring. The best example of this being the scene where Annie Laurie Star and Bart Tare first meet at one of her sharpshooting demonstrations. As she enters the stage she is firing her guns and when she spots Bart Tare in the audience she points her gun right at his face and pulls the trigger. Sure, she apparently is only shooting blanks, but the symbolism of that shot in unmistakable as we continue through the movie only to see his naive obsession with her result in dangerous situation after dangerous situation. This is one of the most visually interesting films I have seen in a long time and a significant highlight to this movie for me was the visual style of the film.

This movie is flawed, but for the most part it is very well done. My only real complaints were some sub-par acting at times and some borderline melodramatic moments. A few plot points in the film seem a little contrived as well, but for the most part it is a simple movie depicting the downfall of yet another fool who allows himself to be lead down a very destructive path by a beautiful, yet very dangerous woman.

By Greg Dickson