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Tag Archive: Jimmy Stewart


Review by C.J. Bunce

If Turner Classic Movies says that Die Hard is a Christmas movie, then the discussion is over finally, right?

It’s that time of year again and Turner Classic Movies is back showing some of the best Christmas movies from across the decades.  This year host Ben Mankiewicz is interviewing author Jeremy Arnold before and after the screening of movies Arnold has selected to feature in his new book, TCM: Christmas in the Movies–30 Classics to Celebrate the Season.  And yes, Arnold’s list includes Die Hard.  So as the British say, “end of.”  Most readers and movie fans will likely agree with at least twenty of the selections discussed in the book, and the rest are there ready for some good discussions with friends over some egg nog this holiday season.

It’s also likely this bucket list of movies has several films that even avid movie watchers may have missed.  I set up my DVR to pick up a few in the book I hadn’t seen yet and was surprised at how superb a selection Holiday Affair is.  It stars Janet Leigh, Robert Mitchum, Wendell Corey, Henry Morgan, plus young Gordon Gebert in what must be the best-ever performance by a child actor in a Christmas movie.  This is exactly the kind of value you get with a book like Christmas in the Movies–this movie will now be added to my own favorite Christmas movie list.  For each entry Arnold discusses the actors, plot, audience reception and the impact of the film, and why it’s a good Christmas season film for audiences today.

Along with Die Hard, which is smartly defended by Arnold, you’ll find the usual suspects like Miracle on 34th Street, It’s a Wonderful Life, White Christmas, A Christmas Story, and Elf, plus some lesser known gems, like Remember the Night, the first of four films that would pair Barbara Stanwyck and Fred MacMurray, plus Ginger Rogers and Joseph Cotten in I’ll Be Seeing You, and Humphrey Bogart in We’re No AngelsArnold picks up genre films Gremlins and The Nightmare Before Christmas, and even a few Westerns, including 3 Godfathers starring John Wayne.

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It’s one of Alfred Hitchcock’s finest and most celebrated films.  Pairing Jimmy Stewart and Kim Novak, Hitchcock explored the ultimate con, the perfect murder, and a hopeless love story.  In Hitchcock’s stylish 1958 film Vertigo, the director also paints one of the most beautiful travelogues for the San Francisco Bay area.  The American Film Institute has declared it the all-time best mystery, the #12 best film score, the #18 best romance, the #18 best thriller, and the ninth best movie of all American films.  Over the years international critics’ polls have seen Vertigo move back and forth with Citizen Kane for the designation of best film of all time.  Celebrated directors François Truffaut and Martin Scorcese have heralded the film.  Vertigo is also the only film that featured Hitchcock himself as a trumpet player–you’ll just need to keep a watchful eye for his cameo.  And you can do that this weekend, as Vertigo is returning to theaters nationwide for two days to celebrate its 60th anniversary beginning this Sunday, March 18, 2018, as part of Turner Classic Movies, Universal Pictures and Fathom Events’ retrospective screenings of film classics.

Even more so than Otto Preminger’s haunting 1944 film Laura, Vertigo delves into obsession like no other film.  Stewart’s take on an ex-cop observing the beautiful wife of an old friend at that friend’s request is a character far removed from any other role Stewart had ever taken on.  And Novak really plays two women as the film is cracked into two halves–one a dangerous and enigmatic stranger, the other a young romantic from Salina, Kansas, trying to escape the decisions of her past.  You, too, will find it hard pressed to avoid becoming obsessed with the film (I’ve seen it at least twice in theaters and dozens of times on home video over the decades).

Behind the scenes film aficionados will appreciate that Vertigo was the first film to use the dolly zoom, the camera taking the dolly out while zooming in, thereby creating the dizzying vertigo effect throughout the movie.  John Whitney used an M5 gun director–an actual World War II anti-tank firing predictor, along with famed graphic designer Saul Bass’s spiral motifs, to create the film’s unusual opening title sequence.  Edith Head’s spectacular designs were behind Novak and Stewart’s memorable wardrobes.  The film was nominated for two Oscars, George Dutton for sound, and Hal Pereira, Henry Bumstead, Sam Comer, and Frank R. McKelvy for Art Decoration/Set Decoration.

But probably most significantly for the ambience of the film, Bernard Hermann’s score is one of Hollywood’s finest, and Martin Scorcese summed up the music his way:  “Hitchcock’s film is about obsession, which means that it’s about circling back to the same moment, again and again…  And the music is also built around spirals and circles, fulfilment and despair.  Herrmann really understood what Hitchcock was going for — he wanted to penetrate to the heart of obsession.”  Years later the 2011 Oscar winner for best picture The Artist would use the spiraling love theme from Vertigo to achieve the emotion needed for its key scene.

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Stewart camera Rear Window

Review by C.J. Bunce

One of the first classic movies restored using a state of the art Technicolor dye-transfer process, the restoration of Alfred Hitchcock’s most stylish and suspenseful film, Rear Window, provided 1990s audiences a presentation of the film better than it was originally seen upon its initial release in 1954.  That version was back on the big screen this week, thanks to Turner Classic Movies and the Fathom Events series.  Inspired by a Cornell Woolrich short story about voyeurism and murder, Hitch’s classic piece of cinema still holds up, keeping a 2015 audience completely engaged with his unique use of humor juxtaposed with some pretty grisly circumstances.

Anchored by top performances from Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly, and just as superb supporting performances by Thelma Ritter and Wendell Corey, Rear Window is as atmospheric as any film of its decade.  Hitchcock filmed primarily in the muted brown tones of a sweltering urban summer, but he used targeted deep reds to highlight key imagery: the mercury of a wall thermometer, a bright and significant bed of flowers, a perfect lobster dinner, crisp uneaten bacon, and a certain fashionable socialite’s lipstick in her opening scene.  And yet, unlike Hitchcock’s The Birds or Psycho, the red of blood–and any gore at all–is kept off-stage.  He didn’t need it.  The suspense builds for two hours and even after 60 years, the payoff–and especially what we can’t see–is still able to transfix audiences with nail-biting action.

Stewart Kelly Rear Window scene

Highly memorable is the music–a soaring clarinet rises up above Franz Waxman’s jazz score from the film’s first scene, reflecting the liveliness of the block, the active and important parts of all the lives visible from the rear window of Stewart’s L.B. “Jeff” Jeffries, a war photographer laid up with a broken leg.  Waxman’s stylish music propels the story forward despite Jeff’s claustrophobic, trapped circumstance.  Love themes, like Bing Crosby’s “To See You is to Love You” and “Many Dreams Ago” reflect the seemingly hopeless plight of Miss Lonelyhearts–a single woman longing to find love who is attacked and then plans to commit suicide.  Waxman’s own song “Lisa” takes on its own life, composed over the course of the film by a piano player across the courtyard, to get noticed by Miss Lonelyhearts, and be picked up as the love theme for Jeff and Grace Kelly’s character, Jeff’s girlfriend Lisa Fremont.  And to relieve the tension at story’s end, a rousing accordion plays “That’s Amore” to the curtain.

Rear Window Stewart Corey

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rear window fathom

It’s Alfred Hitchcock’s most suspenseful film, his most engaging and atmospheric, and it features top lead actors with stars Jimmy Stewart and Grace Kelly.  It’s his 1954 blockbuster Rear Window, and if you haven’t seen it on the big screen then you haven’t seen it at all.

Tomorrow, March 22, 2015, and Wednesday, March 25, 2015, as part of the Fathom Event series, theaters across the country will screen the restored cut of the film.  Presented by Turner Classic Movies (TCM) and Universal Pictures Home Entertainment, the film will be introduced by TCM host Ben Mankiewicz.

It’s a steamy, sultry summer, and L.B. Jeffries (Jimmy Stewart) is a war photographer bedridden from an injury to his leg.  He’s being taken care of by nurse Stella, played by Thelma Ritter, and is constantly being prodded for his affections by the beautiful fashion model Lisa Fremont, played by Grace Kelly.  Jeffries’ apartment overlooks a courtyard and the back sides of other apartments, and as Jeffries gets more and more bored he begins following the goings-on out his rear window.  Newlyweds, a musician, an unhappy couple, an older couple, a dancer, a lonely woman.

Grace Kelly Jimmy Stewart

Is the heat getting to Jeffries, or could one of these tenants have committed a murder across the way?

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If you haven’t voted yet.  Go do it.  Longer than usual voting lines are expected today.  But who knows long lines better than Comic-Con fans?  Today is your day.  You can show the others how it’s done.  And why not drag your comic book-toting friends along?  Heck, bring along a stack to read.  It’s going to be a long day.

If you’re like me, you get a bit annoyed in the weeks prior to Comic-Con with people trying to hand out tips for your first Comic-Con.  Like we can’t figure it out.  So, in return, here’s a list you can send to your non-comic book-lovin’, non-genre-lovin’, the “who the heck is Buffy the Vampire Slayer voters” you’ll be stuck with all day.  Here’s a modified advice list snatched from lists of advice for first-timers at past San Diego Comic-Cons, a list which seems to apply well to your neighbors who think they know long lines but don’t:  Continue reading