Getting To Know James Stewart

by Jimmy L. | created - 30 Jun 2011 | updated - 17 Jul 2011 | Public

My personal picks for viewers looking to acquaint themselves with Hollywood legend James Stewart.

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1. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939)

Not Rated | 129 min | Comedy, Drama

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.2/10 X  

A naive man is appointed to fill a vacancy in the United States Senate. His plans promptly collide with political corruption, but he doesn't back down.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: James Stewart, Jean Arthur, Claude Rains, Edward Arnold

Votes: 85,773 | Gross: $9.60M

Stewart's powerful performance as a likable country bumpkin who becomes a puppet congressman was surely worthy of an Oscar (he was nominated). Stewart is naive when he comes to Washington hoping to make a difference. He finds out that politicians are corrupt and that nobody takes him seriously. Fighting for American ideals, he takes a stand in this wonderful Frank Capra fable about the triumph of the "little guy".

2. It's a Wonderful Life (1946)

PG | 130 min | Drama, Family, Fantasy

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 8.6/10 X  
89 Metascore

An angel is sent from Heaven to help a desperately frustrated businessman by showing him what life would have been like if he had never existed.

Director: Frank Capra | Stars: James Stewart, Donna Reed, Lionel Barrymore, Thomas Mitchell

Votes: 311,970 | Gross: $7.27M

Probably Stewart's most loved performance, as a desperate banker forced to reflect on the value of his life in this Christmastime classic. A very uplifting film. Powerful and emotional. Stewart was nominated for an Oscar for the third time.

3. Anatomy of a Murder (1959)

Not Rated | 160 min | Crime, Drama, Mystery

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In a murder trial, the defendant says he suffered temporary insanity after the victim raped his wife. What is the truth, and will he win his case?

Director: Otto Preminger | Stars: James Stewart, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara, Arthur O'Connell

Votes: 50,196 | Gross: $11.90M

Stewart is superb as an ace small-town lawyer who uses every trick he can think of in his defense of a (maybe) murderer. The film is gripping and gritty, and old man Stewart is masterful, convincing as both a humble, small-time attorney and a shrewd legal mind. He earned his fifth and final Oscar nomination for the role.

4. The Philadelphia Story (1940)

Not Rated | 112 min | Comedy, Romance

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When a rich woman's ex-husband and a tabloid-type reporter turn up just before her planned remarriage, she begins to learn the truth about herself.

Director: George Cukor | Stars: Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn, James Stewart, Ruth Hussey

Votes: 54,063

James Stewart won his Oscar for this comedy, playing a cynical reporter who infiltrates a society wedding and falls for the bride-to-be. Stewart shares the screen with big-time stars Cary Grant and Katharine Hepburn. His performance during a drunk scene is particularly impressive. The movie is very witty and is a top-shelf comedy classic.

5. Vertigo (1958)

PG | 128 min | Mystery, Romance, Thriller

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A San Francisco detective suffering from acrophobia investigates the strange activities of an old friend's wife, all the while becoming dangerously obsessed with her.

Director: Alfred Hitchcock | Stars: James Stewart, Kim Novak, Barbara Bel Geddes, Tom Helmore

Votes: 282,364 | Gross: $3.20M

Alfred Hitchcock's acclaimed mystery/thriller has Stewart play a retired detective who takes a job trailing an old friend's wife, becoming infatuated and eventually obsessed with the girl, with tragic results. The story is full of twists and an almost perverse sexual tension. The ending is a classic.

6. Harvey (1950)

Not Rated | 104 min | Comedy, Drama, Fantasy

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Due to his insistence that he has an invisible six foot-tall rabbit for a best friend, a whimsical middle-aged man is thought by his family to be insane - but he may be wiser than anyone knows.

Director: Henry Koster | Stars: James Stewart, Wallace Ford, William H. Lynn, Victoria Horne

Votes: 47,327

Bachelor Elwood P. Dowd (Stewart) claims to be friends with a giant rabbit and it shames his family. Is he just a drunk, or can his invisible friend be real? This crazy comedy is a hoot, with Dowd's family trying to send him to an institution and all sorts of wacky hijinks ensuing along the way. A great comedy with an Oscar-nominated turn by Stewart (his fourth nod).

7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962)

Approved | 123 min | Drama, Western

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A senator, who became famous for killing a notorious outlaw, returns for the funeral of an old friend and tells the truth about his deed.

Director: John Ford | Stars: James Stewart, John Wayne, Vera Miles, Lee Marvin

Votes: 58,155

Scholarly Stewart rivals tough guy John Wayne for Vera Miles's affections. Stewart seeks to bring education out West, but is bullied by local cowboys. Stewart and Wayne team up as diametric opposites, with Stewart as a peace-minded intellectual. Stewart becomes a celebrated politician, but remembers the great man that Wayne was, helping him get there. This John Ford western is notable for the cast, but has a moving story as well.

8. The Shop Around the Corner (1940)

Passed | 99 min | Comedy, Drama, Romance

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Two employees at a gift shop can barely stand each other, without realizing that they are falling in love through the post as each other's anonymous pen pal.

Director: Ernst Lubitsch | Stars: Margaret Sullavan, James Stewart, Frank Morgan, Joseph Schildkraut

Votes: 22,089

In this charming romantic comedy, rival co-workers at a shop are unknowingly romantic pen-pals. The cast and story are great, with James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in the leads. Desperate Sullavan pushes her way into a job as a saleswoman, with Stewart the head salesman looking for a promotion. Stewart catches on to the secret first and sees Sullavan in a new light. It's a nice holiday romance with fun characters.

9. The Man from Laramie (1955)

Approved | 103 min | Drama, Western

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    1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 7.4/10 X  

A stranger, Will Lockhart, defies the local cattle baron and his sadistic son by working for one of his oldest rivals.

Director: Anthony Mann | Stars: James Stewart, Arthur Kennedy, Donald Crisp, Cathy O'Donnell

Votes: 7,608

Jimmy Stewart made several westerns in the 1950s. This is one of them. He plays a mysterious stranger who becomes involved in a local feud, stirring the pot and maybe bringing about some justice. Stewart is tough and smart. A man to be reckoned with, though he bleeds like any other. Stewart wasn't an unbeatable western superhero in these films, but he was crafty and led by strong principles.