Archive for the ‘Jimmy Stewart: ACTING GOD’ Category

The Shop Around The Corner

03 Dec

The Shop Around The Corner – Directed by Ernst Lubitsch. Romantic Comedy 1 hour 33 minutes Black And White 1940.


The Story: Much ado about two young folks who bicker but, unbeknownst to one another, are writing pen-pal love letters to one another all along.
It’s always been a great story, and Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing is but its extreme variant. Here we do not have nobility and rapiers and Dogberry. Instead, we have MittleEuropean pastry by its greatest chef, Ernst Lubitsch. If we are not in Vienna we are in Budapest, and if not there, at least in the high season of that Hollywood middle-class bliss, light comedy. With a truth all its own.

It’s a perfect Christmas movie. For it works itself toward snow and galoshers, and decorating the holiday shop window as a plot twist.

Margaret Sullivan has top billing because everyone in those days adored her; indeed Jimmy Stewart in his early acting days had a crush on her, but his friend Henry Fonda married her. Yet Lubitsch focuses his camera on Stewart, for as we all know to our joy he was one of the great comic actors of film.

Comic actor?

Yes, but not the Jerry Lewis sense. You might better say, or I might better say “an actor of comedy of character.” Which is to say he appears to be unwitting in his effects, although a master of them.

Well, he’s marvelous for actors to watch, and endearing to us all. In Stewart’s delivery, when he wants, there is something inherently humanly humorous. What is it, would you say?
His attack on the material is preceded by a resident forgiveness. It simply has not gone out of date. But why do we root for him? Of course, he’s an accessible type, but with the most sensual of mouths. Skinny. With a voice like the spring on an old screen door.

In all this, I must stop. I am raving. For he is is surrounded by tip-top actors. Joseph Schildkraut as the unctuous nephew of the boss played with hearty bluster by Frank Morgan and by that true-blue actor Felix Bressart as Stewart’s buddy in the shop.

The Shop Around The Corner is generally considered to be a perfect film. It is thought of as Lubitsch’s greatest comedy, one of the greatest comedies ever made.

Is it, though? Join the line and find out. Or find out again. I saw it when it first came out in 1940 and remember it fondly. I saw it again last week and, as you can see, remember it fondly.


JImmy Doolittle: An American Hero

06 Feb

Jimmy Doolittle: An American Hero — Directed by David Hoffman. Documentary. 1988 Black and White and Color.,


During the Thirties and Forties, his name was a household word. At the time I was too young to get a focus on him. Now as we see him in pictures of the period, he is a handsome, fearless, and virile young man hyped on airplanes. And, also, we see him as a quite old man, still virile, quite humorous, and as wise as a tortoise. Between these two periods we see his great feats and his personally leading his most renowned exploit, the first bombing raid on Tokyo. The background of that enterprise, the bravery it took, and its results are well described and shown. Those who made that daring raid still meet, and as they do every year, while role-call is made when the names of the deceased are called out, those remaining still say, “Present!” His men loved him – and why? It’s interesting to find out what was his unerring and priceless gift of leadership, what was that quality in him? It is one we might all consider as we choose our own leaders today. His life and work were well documented at the time, and this collection-documentary is thoroughly interesting – an admirable record of a type of American alas no longer with us. Narrated by James Stewart, Robert Stack, Jimmy Doolittle.



02 Feb

Bandeolero – Directed by Andrew V. McLaglen. Western. A jailbreak, the abduction of a beautiful woman, a chase through Mexico badlands, brother against brother. 106 minutes Color  1968

* * * *

Really curious how appealing Dean Martin remains after all these years – even in a Western. He was a man whose languor required him to be out of place everywhere but in a nightclub and even then only at three in the morning. He has no sense of period style. But still there is something inwardly graceful, kind, humorous, and sadly sensual about him that makes him acceptable, as though it were the settings themselves that were miscast and he not. One roots for him. And of course one roots for Jimmy Stewart, even when, as in these later films of his, he is playing curmudgeons and cranks and hard-hearted dudes and where his character does not hold the romantic reins – in this case leading to the sex-witch Raquel Welch, who is herself humanly appealing aside from her flabbergasting figure. George Kennedy moons over her, and early on she has a great scene where she describes how she was sold as a child into prostitution by her father, and then sold again. A very well written scene, and worth watching for the writing and for the way Welch plays it. The filming is strong, a mixture of sound stage and stark out of doors Southwest. Stewart once again rides his beloved horse Pie. At the time it came out I was not watching Jimmy Stewart films any more; I had turned to Brando. Visiting them for the first time now, I find them better than I would have expected.


It’s A Wonderful Life

06 Dec

It’s A Wonderful Life – Directed by Frank Capra. Comedy/Drama. A home-town man teeters suicidally rather than bankrupting himself and his fellow townsfolk. 130 minutes Black and White 1946.

* * * * *

Clint Eastwood remarked how violent James Stewart was in the Anthony Mann Westerns he made in his late middle age. But they are nothing to compare with the rudeness, insolence, insult, and threat he delivers in this supposedly down-home performance of a would-be suicide learning about the life he has lived before it is too late. The insanity with which he throttles the foolish Thomas Mitchell is terrifying. He is violently mean to his children (as indeed one must be at Christmas to have a really meaningful Yule.) But the picture as a Christmas Classic probably looms as large as it does for the same reason that Dickens’ A Christmas Carol does – because of the Scrooginess of Stewart, as George Bailey, followed by the ghastly death-threat visions before he mends his ways. Jimmy Stewart is remarkable in the role, and except for the final scene of the sanctimonious, Deus ex-macchina rescue by the townsfolk of Bedford Falls, where there is something wrong with his singing and his smile, we have a great performance by a master of his craft. It is said that the film was not successful in its day, but I’m not so sure. I saw it when it came out, and I remember it vividly. And both it and Stewart and Capra were nominated for Oscars that year. Or perhaps there is not something wrong with that final smile. Perhaps what I see behind it is a hangover of his own nasty brush with the afterlife. Stewart had been away at war, one of the first big stars to enlist, and he bravely piloted more bombing missions over Europe than was good for any mortal man. Everyone was changed by The War, and what changed most in Hollywood was the virtual inability of its male stars to play comedy any more. Tyrone Power had been marvelous in light comedy; so had Henry Fonda; so had Stewart; George Stevens never directed another one, and screwball comedy never really returned. They came back from The War changed men. Solutions now weren’t so easy as they once were in Capra’s great, good-hearted comedies of the 30s. Capra never made a convincing comedy after World War II, and his career petered out. Here however he is in the last chapter of his topmost form. Every scene is beautifully written, every scene is perfectly begun, played, ended, and edited. Like Normal Rockwell’s paintings, what is illustrated here – and It’s A Wonderful Life is essentially a genre painting and an illustration – is the value of the truth of American community, which is that we must get along with people quite different from ourselves in personal style, race, and national derivation, and that to do so is to survive by the only means possible for survival: love. Love is what needs to survive. And love is what survives us. To make the illustration clear Capra does exactly what Rockwell does: he makes his humans almost caricatures. Like Rockwell, Capra’s characters live in gawky motion, and their gesture is strategized in the direction of endearing folly. All this is still true of America and Americans. Forgetting love’s survival through cooperation and public service and remembering it again is our national drama. This is what makes It’s A Wonderful Life the one film of Capra’s that will not date. To force the illustration, Capra has cast the story perfectly: first with Lionel Barrymore, the perennial Scrooge of radio in those days, as the meanie Mr. Potts, and he eats the role alive. Then with Ward Bond as the cop, Beulah Bondi as the mom, Donna Reed as the feisty wife, Gloria Graham as the town gal of questionable morals, Henry Travers as The Angel Clarence, Frank Faylen as the cabbie, Sheldon Leonard as the bartender, and a huge heterogeneous cast of townsfolk. It’s A Wonderful Life is a wonderful movie.

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