OK – I know. The setting for this film is a little bizarre. It’s a Jimmy Stewart film set in Budapest. Jimmy Stewart—the all-American boy living and working in Hungary? Strangely, neither Stewart nor Maureen Sullivan have Hungarian accents. Or dress Hungarian. Or act European in any way. Basically, this movie could have (and should have) been set in America, but since it’s based on a play by Hungarian playwright Miklos Laszlo, film director Ernst Lubitsch must have decided to leave the setting alone. Getting past that, this is a charming, endearing film that will surely become a favorite if you like romantic comedies. This is one of the best of the genre. Lubitsch is known for his stylized and sophisticated romantic comedies and even though this one lacks a little of the polish of some of his earlier works, it still satisfies. Stewart plays a head shop clerk and Sullivan plays his co-worker/nemesis/pen-pal. Even by today’s standards the dialogue is crisp and alive, with nothing to date it after all this time. And Stewart and Sullivan are a great pairing, seeming just as perfect together when they are bickering as when they are kissing. You’ve Got Mail was a re-make of this classic, but the 1998 film lacks the style and wit of the original.

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A sophisticated romantic comedy directed by George Cukor about a rich, spoiled socialite (Katharine Hepburn) who learns some things about who she is and what she really wants on the eve of her second marriage. Cary Grant co-stars as her former husband who cleaned up his act and hopes to make amends with his ex-bride. Jimmy Stewart (who won his only Best Actor for this role) also stars as a reporter who gets caught up in the whole mess. Definitely the perfect film cast, the three stars do some of their best comic work in his film, especially Hepburn, who rose back to the top of Hollywood after this starring role. Reconceived as the musical High Society in 1956 with Bing Crosby, Frank Sinatra, and Grace Kelly, but this original film didn’t need music to be a fun, entertaining ride!

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When simple-minded, big-city lawyer James Stewart arrives in the town of Shinbone, he butts heads with town bully John Wayne as they fight over a woman and over how to run Shinbone. After notorious outlaw Liberty Valance comes to town, Wayne and Stewart set aside their differences to fight him. Stewart and Wayne shine as both tortured souls in their own ways. Not Ford and Wayne’s finest pairing, but with the addition of Stewart, this one is a must-see classic Western. On a side note, this film trademarked Wayne’s “pilgrim” expression, which he uses too many times to count here.

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OK—everyone has seen it. Everyone knows the story. Some people can even recite the dialogue (I would have to confess, I’m in this category). When you get right down to it, this is a great movie. Sad thing is that it gets so over-watched around the holiday season that many people have the “not again” mentality. PLEASE don’t disregard this movie just because it has been overplayed, colorized and basically abused. What director Frank Capra does here is capture a little slice of Americana—something that Capra excelled in. Unlike Capra’s other Americana films (most notably Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, Meet John Doe, and Mr. Deeds Goes to Town), this one has a dark edge—a hardness that makes us think for a second that maybe America is not all that it’s cracked up to be. That is where Jimmy Stewart’s acting genius kicks in. His portrayal of the lowly, always-disappointed George Bailey has the audience rooting him on, even when he’s at his most weak. I mean, here is Bailey, standing by a bridge, looking down into the icy waters of the river, waiting for the perfect moment to jump. Does anyone really believe he will? No—not with the genuine way Stewart breathes life into Bailey. No one with that much compassion in their heart could really ever end it all? But, that’s why Stewart is perfect as Bailey. He does give Capra a “hard” edge, all while keeping the film, at its core, a feel-good film…one that can and should be enjoyed ANY time of year, not just in the holiday season.

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When a wealthy and ultra-conservative banker’s son (James Stewart) falls for his secretary (Jean Arthur)…a stable girl from a flighty yet fun family…comedy ensues. Lionel Barrymore steals the show as Arthur’s happy-go-lucky grandfather. Based on the Pulitzer-Prize-winning play, this film won Oscars for Best Picture and Best Director (Frank Capra). Not Capra’s best work but a fun film to watch for good, entertaining amusement.

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Director Otto Preminger really proved he was a filmmaker with clout by being able to make a film like this. Even in 1959, when Hollywood was actually THINKING first and making money second, this film was a risk. First, its dialogue gets pretty graphic (for the day). Secondly, much of the second half of the film is set ONLY in the courtroom, leaving the audience nothing to do than watch lawyers bickering and objecting. Preminger must have known what he was doing when he made this black and white, two-and-a-half-hour courtroom drama…because I dare you to take your eyes off this one for even a second. Yes, I said two-and-a-half-hours…much of it set in court with more dialogue than action. But, somehow, it works. It is a truly captivating film. James Stewart plays a quirky small-town lawyer who takes the case of an Army lieutenant who gets arrested for killing a man who allegedly raped his wife. We find this out right in the beginning and then the rest of the film is how Stewart goes about setting up his case and what steps he takes before and during trial. Sounds dull, right? Well, as I said, Preminger must have had magic up his sleeve for this one because this film is never is dull. It clips along through witness testimony and presented evidence, and all that legal fun stuff. And trust me, there is plenty of tension…I mean all along we’re wondering if Stewart is going to be able to achieve what he set out to achieve…getting Lt. Manion off for the murder…a murder Lt. Manion has NEVER denied he committed. But, it’s more than just a movie about suspense…it’s a movie about the process of the law…about how our justice system works and about how lawyers plug along and make their case. A fascinating film about a subject that could have been un-fascinating, if put in the wrong hands. Thankfully, Preminger’s hands were the right ones.

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Honestly, Rope is far from my favorite Hitchcock film. It is slow-ish and more “talkie” than most other Hitchcock movies…relying more on dialogue than action for its suspense. But, after viewing it again recently, I found that even one of the less satisfying films by the preeminent thriller director Hitchcock is STILL better than most of the thrillers made today. The story is loosely based on the Leopold and Loeb murderers…the two University of Chicago students who decided commit the perfect murder to prove they can because they are intellectually superior humans. So, at the beginning of the film, a murder takes place. And the rest of the film is a will-they-get-caught-or-won’t-they as they entertain guests (including the victim’s parents!) in the same room where the body is hidden. This is one of the films Hitchcock used as an experiment. It’s his first film in color and, like Dial M for Murder’s attempted use of 3-D, the director tries something he’s not done before here. He uses ONLY nine takes to film the almost hour and a half film. These long takes, on their own, do a great job of building to and adding to the suspense. We almost feel like we’re right there…in the apartment…one of the guests watching this story unfold. So, instead of choosing one of the more lame and overly-predictable thrillers made today, try this one. I cannot say it’s Hitchcock’s best but it sure beats most everything else!

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Vertigo is not an easy film to like. This might be why when it first was released in 1958, it was not one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s most successful films. It also is not an easy film to forget and ignore. As years passed, critics began to see the genius in the film and began lauding it as one of Hitchcock’s most brilliant works. What makes it so controversial is that when James Stewart’s character becomes obsessed with a woman he is assigned to follow, he tries to recreate another woman to look like his obsessed love. It’s not exactly the best statement for women’s lib. But, I feel that Hitchcock knew that and he knew that audiences would be shocked and disturbed. An ordinary film comes and goes but one that gets under the skin can never be forgotten. This is not to say that, cinematically, this film is not deserving of all of its adulation. It most definitely is, but the bazaar-ness of the movie kept it alive in the minds of the audience, allowing them to give this classic a much-deserved second chance.

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Rear Window stands as the first highly successful film director Alfred Hitchcock made after a string of critical and commercial flops in the late 1940s and early 1950s. And what a comeback it was! James Stewart, who was appearing here in his second of four Hitchcock films, plays L.B. Jefferies, a man whose leg is broken and his heart is torn between his lady love (Grace Kelly) and his wild, adventurous travels as a freelance photographer. With the broken leg, Stewart is confined to a wheelchair with nothing better to do than look out the windows of his courtyard apartment. While looking out at all hours of the day and night, he sees something that he cannot explain. Was what he saw a murder or just a coincidence? This film, like other Hitchcock films Dial M for Murder and Rope, has the capacity to be a mundane movie, since most of the filming takes place in one room. But, in the hands of master director Hitchcock, mundanity never even enters the picture. The courtyard becomes an intricate part of the story, allowing Hitchcock to open up the movie beyond just Stewart’s apartment. Hitchcock also uses the perfect camera angles to heighten suspense at ever turn. Not only one of Hitchcock’s best, but also the film that marked the return of the true Master of Suspense.

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This film is one of director Alfred Hitchcock’s more underrated films, especially since its only notoriety comes from introducing the song Que Sera Sera to the general public. Even though the famed director often copied styles and plot lines from some of his previous movies, The Man Who Knew Too Much stands alone as being the only true remake Hitchcock ever filmed—it is an updated version of Hitchcock’s own 1934 thriller of the same title. Taking the story of the 1934 film and enhancing it with location and character changes, the 1956 film is a terrific example of how a good film can become a great film. The movie stars Doris Day and James Stewart as an American couple visiting the French Morocco with their young son. After befriending a British couple, they soon find themselves embroiled in a series of terrifying events, including the kidnapping of their son. In addition to Hitchcock’s filmmaking, both Day and Stewart (appearing in his third of four collaborations with Hitchcock) make this film much more than just a standard thriller. The scene in the Royal Albert Hall in London stands out as one of the most intense, nail-biting scenes of pure suspense ever filmed. There is no dialogue and the scene lasts several minutes, but the anxiety of Day’s performance along with the climatic direction by Hitchcock keeps the viewer glued to the screen.

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