James Stewart - Collaborations With Hitchcock and Mann

Collaborations With Hitchcock and Mann

Stewart's collaborations with director Anthony Mann increased Stewart's popularity and sent his career into the realm of the western. Stewart's first appearance in a film directed by Mann came with the 1950 western, Winchester '73. In choosing Mann (after first choice Fritz Lang declined), Stewart cemented a powerful partnership. The film, which became a massive box office hit upon its release, set the pattern for their future collaborations. In it, Stewart is a tough, revengeful sharpshooter, the winner of a prized rifle which is stolen and then passes through many hands, until the showdown between Stewart and his brother (Stephen McNally).

Other Stewart-Mann westerns, such as Bend of the River (1952), The Naked Spur (1953), The Far Country (1954) and The Man from Laramie (1955), were perennial favorites among young audiences entranced by the American West. Frequently, the films featured Stewart as a troubled cowboy seeking redemption, while facing corrupt cattlemen, ranchers and outlaws — a man who knows violence first hand and struggles to control it. The Stewart-Mann collaborations laid the foundation for many of the westerns of the 1950s and remain popular today for their grittier, more realistic depiction of the classic movie genre. Audiences saw Stewart's screen persona evolve into a more mature, more ambiguous, and edgier presence.

Stewart and Mann also collaborated on other films outside the western genre. 1954's The Glenn Miller Story was critically acclaimed, garnering Stewart a BAFTA Award nomination, and (together with The Spirit of St. Louis) cemented the popularity of Stewart's portrayals of 'American heroes'. Thunder Bay, released the same year, transplanted the plot arc of their western collaborations to a more contemporary setting, with Stewart as a Louisiana oil driller facing corruption. Strategic Air Command, released in 1955, allowed Stewart to use his experiences in the United States Air Force on film.

Stewart's starring role in Winchester '73 was also a turning point in Hollywood. Universal Studios, who wanted Stewart to appear in both that film and Harvey, balked at his $200,000 asking price. His agent, Lew Wasserman, brokered an alternate deal, in which Stewart would appear in both films for no pay, in exchange for a percentage of the profits and cast and director approval. Stewart ended up earning about $600,000 for Winchester '73 alone. Hollywood's other stars quickly capitalized on this new way of doing business, which further undermined the decaying "studio system".

The second collaboration to define Stewart's career in the 1950s was with acclaimed mystery and suspense director Alfred Hitchcock. Like Mann, Hitchcock uncovered new depths to Stewart's acting, showing a protagonist confronting his fears and his repressed desires. Stewart's first movie with Hitchcock was the technologically innovative 1948 film Rope, shot in long "real time" takes.

The two collaborated for the second of four times on the 1954 hit Rear Window, widely considered one of Hitchcock's masterpieces. Stewart portrays photographer L.B. "Jeff" Jeffries, loosely based on Life photographer Robert Capa, who projects his fantasies and fears onto the people he observes out his apartment window while on hiatus due to a broken leg. Jeffries gets into more than he can handle, however, when he believes he has witnessed a salesman (Raymond Burr) commit a murder, and when his glamorous girlfriend (Grace Kelly), at first disdainful of his voyeurism and skeptical about any crime, eventually is drawn in and tries to help solve the mystery. Limited by his wheelchair, Stewart is led by Hitchcock to react to what his character sees with mostly facial responses. It was a landmark year for Stewart, becoming the highest grossing actor of 1954 and the most popular Hollywood star in the world, displacing John Wayne. Hitchcock and Stewart formed a corporation, Patron Inc., to produce the film, which later became the subject of a Supreme Court case Stewart v. Abend (1990).

After starring in Hitchcock's remake of the director's earlier production, The Man Who Knew Too Much (1956), with Doris Day, Stewart starred, with Kim Novak, in what many consider Hitchcock's most personal film, Vertigo (1958). The movie starred Stewart as John "Scottie" Ferguson, a former police investigator suffering from acrophobia, who develops an obsession with a woman he is shadowing. Scottie's obsession inevitably leads to the destruction of everything he once had and believed in. Though the film is widely considered a classic today, Vertigo met with negative reviews and poor box office receipts upon its release, and marked the last collaboration between Stewart and Hitchcock. The director reportedly blamed the film's failure on Stewart looking too old to still attract audiences, and cast Cary Grant as Roger Thornhill in North by Northwest (1959), a role Stewart had very much wanted. (Grant was actually four years older than Stewart). Today, Vertigo is ranked highest in the 2012 Sight & Sound critics poll for the greatest films ever made, taking the title from veteran favourite Citizen Kane.

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