In honour of the 111st birthday of the 2nd Air Division’s own James Stewart, here’s a list of my eleven favourite performances by the legendary actor.
1) David Graham in After the Thin Man (1936) – In this sequel to the hit film The Thin Man (1934), Stewart had his first noteworthy role, a seemingly nice guy with a dark secret.
2) Sen. Jefferson Smith in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) – Director Frank Capra helped establish Stewart’s iconic persona as small-town Americana in juxtaposition to big city cynicism.
3) Macauley “Mike” Connor in The Philadelphia Story (1940) – Stewart won his only Oscar for partaking in this love rectangle with Cary Grant, Katherine Hepburn, and Ruth Hussey.
4) George Bailey in It’s a Wonderful Life (1946) – In his first film after returning from the war, Stewart reunited with Capra for their quintessential collaboration.
5) Elwood P. Dowd in Harvey (1950) – As the first film that I saw starring Stewart, this story about a man whose best friend is a giant invisible rabbit holds a special place in my heart.
6) Howard Kemp in The Naked Spur (1953) – For the first time since After the Thin Man, Stewart really embraces his nasty side as a greedy bounty hunter.
7) Glenn Miller in The Glenn Miller Story (1954) – While I’m not generally a fan of biopics, Stewart’s turn as the legendary trombonist is a highpoint for the genre.
8 and 9) L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries in Rear Window (1954) and Det. John “Scottie” Ferguson in Vertigo (1958) – Across these two collaborations with director Alfred Hitchcock, Stewart showed his malleability as an actor and hinted at the darkness and weakness that lay beneath his soft-spoken persona.
10) Paul Biegler in Anatomy of a Murder (1959) – Once again, Stewart complicates the small-town persona he had honed under Capra, now portraying a self-described “humble country lawyer” who is anything but.
11) Ransom Stoddard in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance (1962) – As the intellectual Yankee to John Wayne’s swaggering cowboy, Stewart along with director John Ford deconstruct the Western myths these three men had helped create.
What do you think of this list? Are there any I’ve left out? What are your favourite Jimmy Stewart performances?
If you want to learn more about Jimmy Stewart, be sure to check out the following books from the 2AD Memorial Library:
- Jimmy Stewart: A Life in Film (Roy Pickard, 1993)
- Jimmy Stewart: Bomber Pilot (Starr Smith, 2006)
- Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend (Michael Munn, 2013)
- Mission: Jimmy Stewart and the Fight for Europe (Robert Matzen, 2016)