James Maitland Stewart
(May 20, 1908 – July 2, 1997)
Jimmy Stewart, surely one of the greatest movie actors of all time, was born 111 years ago today.
Having just finished a commentary for Kino Lorber’s upcoming Blu-Ray of Anthony Mann’s Thunder Bay (1953), and Bend Of The River before that, I’ve been marveling at Stewart’s craft — over and over again. Nobody underplays quite like he does, and nobody uses their own personal quirks to such a huge advantage.
But, of course, it doesn’t stop at the movies. Stewart also flew in the Air Force during World War II and beyond — something he rarely spoke about, and never waved around to bring attention to himself. They guy was a real national treasure.
Directed by Anthony Mann
Starring James Stewart, Joanne Dru, Gilbert Roland, Dan Duryea
Always liked Thunder Bay (1953), and I’m a bit embarrassed to admit that all its technical stuff is where a lot of my enthusiasm comes from. It was shot for 1.37, but Universal-International made it their first widescreen film — cropping it to 1.85, giving it stereophonic sound and making a very big deal about it all.
It’s turned up on DVD in various parts of the world in both 1.37 and widescreen. Not sure how the upcoming Kino Lorber Blu-Ray will be presented, but one thing’s for sure — I’m working a commentary for it. They’ve got it listed as an “early 2019” release.
From The New York Daily News, May 15, 1953.
Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Ray Milland, Marjorie Reynolds, Carl Esmond, Hillary Brooke, Percy Waram, Dan Duryea, Alan Napier
There’s something subversive about Fritz Lang’s movies. Maybe subversive isn’t quite the word. As brilliant as they are, and as polished as they might seem, there’s a B Movie vibe running through a lot of them. Stuff like Western Union (1941), Rancho Notorious (1952) and The Big Heat (1953) are like Republic or Monogram pictures with a much bigger budget, while The Testament Of Dr. Mabuse (1933) feels like an art-house Republic serial. (Goebbels had Mabuse banned in Nazi Germany, so it’s got that going for it. Of course, we can thank the Nazis for sending Lang our way in the first place.)
Ministry Of Fear (1944) finds Lang in fine form, turning Graham Greene’s novel into a noir-ish study in paranoia. Ray Milland leaves the nuthouse and is plunged right in the middle of a web of Nazi intrigue. This is the kind of stuff Lang was so good at, offering up one cool sequence after another. I love his American films!
Along with Milland, this one’s got a few of my favorites in it: Dan Duryea (king of the bad guys), Hillary Brooke (who was great on The Abbott & Costello Show) and Alan Napier (Alfred on the Batman TV show).
Anyway, Ministry Of Fear is making its way to Blu-Ray from Powerhouse in the UK in August. Henry Sharp’s cinematography deserves the boost in definition.
Directed by Fritz Lang
Starring Edward G. Robinson, Joan Bennett, Raymond Massey, Edmund Breon, Dan Duryea
After seeing Man Hunt (1941) in high school, I figured that if Fritz Lang did it, it was in my best interest to watch it. One of the first movies I tracked down after this realization was The Woman In The Window (1944). It proved my theory.
Mild-mannered professor Edward G. Robinson sees a painting in a store window, then notices that the beautiful woman in the painting (Joan Bennett) is standing next to him. One thing leads to another, and before you know it, Robinson is in a helluva mess and Lang has you completely tangled up in knots.
Kino Lorber is bringing this noir-y masterpiece to Blu-Ray in June. Highly, highly recommended.