Happy 100 Jimmy Stewart!

Posted on May 20, 2008 at 2:00 pm

Jimmy Stewart, number 3 on the American Film Institute’s list of the top 100 male movie stars of all time, was born 100 years ago today in Indiana, Pennsylvania. The Oscar he won for The Philadelphia Story was on display at his father’s hardware store there for 25 years. While he did not always play the good guy, he is best remembered for the way he exemplified the American ideal of decency, integrity, and unpretentious authenticity. And he was a genuine hero, enlisting in the Air Force (the skinny actor had to gain five pounds to meet the minimum weight requirement) and serving on active duty. He became a colonel and earned the Air Medal, the Distinguished Flying Cross, the Croix de Guerre and seven battle stars. In 1959, serving in the Air Force Reserve, he became a brigadier general.Stewart300dpi.jpg

It is easy to underestimate his skill as an actor because he made each performance look effortless. But if you watch these classics carefully you will see the brilliant subtlety of his steady gaze. These films show the range of his work, from light comedy to romantic drama, from all-American guy-you-wish-lived-next-door to menace and obsession. Every one of them is well worth watching and re-watching. Happy birthday, Jimmy!

1. The Philadelphia Story Since I was in high school, this incomparable romantic comedy with Katharine Hepburn and Cary Grant has been my all-time favorite movie. Stewart’s performance as cynical reporter Mike Connor won him his only Oscar.

2. You Can’t Take it With You This Best Picture Oscar-winner about the delightfully nutty Sycamore family stars Stewart as the boss’s son. Watch for the scene in the restaurant.

3. Harvey In this gentle comedy Stewart plays Elwood P. Dowd, who explains his philosophy of life: “Years ago my mother used to say to me… She’d say ‘In this world Elwood, you must be oh-so smart or oh-so pleasant.’ Well, for years I was smart…. I recommend pleasant. You may quote me.” Dowd has an invisible friend, an enormous rabbit-looking creature named Harvey, and Stewart’s interactions with Harvey (who is never shown) are so charming and convincing you may think you see him, too. You will certainly want to.

4. It’s a Wonderful Life Stewart’s favorite of his own films (and also the favorite of director Frank Capra) is this Christmas classic about a man who thinks he has nothing until he finds out what the world would have been like if he had never existed.

5. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington Stewart and Capra again — this time Stewart plays an idealistic young man who is appointed to fill out a term in the U.S. Senate by corrupt politicians.

6. Mr. Hobbs Takes a Vacation Not as well remembered as some of Stewart’s classics, but this is one of my own favorites because it is the quintessential story of a multi-generational family vacation at the beach. Impossible relatives, sulky teenagers, and an even sulkier hot water heater in the rental house, this is an affectionate salute to the American family at play.

7. Anatomy of a Murder This fact-based murder trial has Stewart as a former prosecutor turned defense attorney, defending a solider who killed a man for allegedly raping his wife. Brilliant performances by the whole cast, including Ben Gazarra, Lee Remick, Eve Arden, and Arthur O’Connell, but especially real-life American hero Joseph Welch as the canny judge. Fans of “Law and Order” will love this one.

8. Bell, Book and Candle The other Stewart pairing with Kim Novak, Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo,” may be better remembered, but I think Stewart’s performance in this romantic comedy is often overlooked. Stewart is a publisher who falls for a sultry witch. Watch his eyes when he drinks the potion to break the love spell.

9. The Shop Around the Corner“You’ve Got Mail” was based on this charming romantic comedy about co-workers who think they are enemies because they do not realize that they have fallen in love with each other by letter.

10. Destry Rides AgainStewart plays a young deputy sheriff who does everything he can to avoid using a gun in this classic Western.

Other great Stewart classics: “Rear Window,” “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance,” “The Spirit of St. Louis,” “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” “Magic Town,” “Call Northside 777,” “Next Time We Love,” and many, many more.

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Gregory’s Girl

Posted on May 12, 2008 at 8:00 am

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: PG
Profanity: None
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: None
Diversity Issues: A theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: May 26, 1982

Gregory (John Sinclair) is a gangling but amiable Scottish teenager who is mildly befuddled by just about everything, especially Dorothy (Dee Hepburn), who takes his place on the soccer team. In contrast, the girls he knows, including his ten-year-old sister, seem to understand everything (except why boys are so fascinated by numbers) in this sweet, endearing comedy with a great deal of insight and affection for its characters.

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I Remember Mama

Posted on May 9, 2008 at 10:07 am

Kathryn Forbes’ memoirs of her Norwegian immigrant family are lovingly brought to life in this classic, often found on television on Mother’s Day. Mama is played by the luminous Irene Dunne, far from the sophisticated comedies and glossy romances she appeared in with Cary Grant, Charles Boyer, and Spencer Tracy. She presides over a large extended family with wisdom and good humor, and, in the best possible sense of the term, family values. A daughter’s adored cat who is injured, a roomer who skips out on the rent, a shy sister who wants to marry her timid gentleman friend, a gruff uncle who is not going gently into that good night, another daughter who wants to write—she handles them all so smoothly that it isn’t until the writer daughter sits down to tell her story that they see what she has done for all of them. i%20remember%20mama.jpg
This movie provides a good opportunity for a discussion of honesty. Mama bends the rules more than once. She pretends to be a washerwoman at the hospital when she is told that her daughter cannot have visitors. She gently blackmails two of her sisters so that they won’t tease the third about her fiancé. She doesn’t tell Dagmar the truth about her cat. And, she lies to her children about the bank account so that they will feel secure. Yet she has an essential honesty and all of her actions are grounded in her devotion to her family and her strong sense of values, lovingly communicated to her children.

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Great Characters: Eve Arden

Posted on April 30, 2008 at 8:00 am

You know the character of the leading lady’s wisecracking best friend? No one ever filled that role better than Eve Arden (real name: Eunice Quedens), whose birthday we celebrate today. Seen-it-all but not cynical, she was the ideal sidekick for stars like Jimmy Stewart (“Anatomy of a Murder”), Katharine Hepburn (“Stage Door”), or Joan Crawford (she was Oscar-nominated for “Mildred Pierce”). On radio and then on television, she played “Our Miss Brooks,” the teacher who often battled with crusty principal Mr. Conklin and a crush on meek science teacher Mr. Boynton. It was this role that inspired her appearance as the principal in “Grease.” (more…)

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The Red Balloon

Posted on April 29, 2008 at 2:09 pm

B+

red%20balloon.jpgTwo recent films showed the influence of this classic French film about a little boy befriended by a red balloon and now the original is available on DVD for the first time. “CJ7” from China and “The Flight of the Red Balloon” from France (with a Taiwanese director) both make direct visual references to the 1956 short film, the only Oscar-winner for best screenplay without a single line of dialogue.

The Red Balloon is the story of a lonely boy (Pascal Lamorisse, son of writer/director Albert Lamorisse) who finds a large red balloon on the way to school. It has a mind of its own, following him to school like Mary’s little lamb, waiting patiently for him outside his bedroom window when his mother will not allow it in the house. The balloon is an imaginative and playful friend. When it is attacked by bullies, it seems that Pascal’s friend is lost. But an unforgettably joyous ending reminds Pascal of the power of friendship.

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