Lock Yourself in Weekend: Jimmy Stewart

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The “aw-shucks” persona. The easy-going drawl. And, let’s just say it. It’s a Wonderful Life. If you mention Jimmy Stewart to most people and ask them what comes to their mind, chances are they will say one of the former. They may be reacting to Dana Carvey’s impersonation of Jimmy Stewart, or to their own childhood memories of watching Wonderful Life. Although he did tend to play characters that were average men put into extraordinary circumstances (like George Bailey), there is infinitely more to Jimmy than just that one iconic role.  Buy, rent or borrow these 8 classic films, cook up some hot fresh popcorn, and clear out your weekend.  You can grab some of these on Netflix Instant right now, also check out instant rentals at Amazon.com, or iTunes.

1.  It’s a Wonderful Life

You didn’t think this would be left off the list, even though everyone knows it, did you? How could it be? It’s the quintessential Jimmy Stewart film. Not just his most famous, and a perennial favorite, but if you really look at the performance it’s a fantastic combination of light comedy and some very dramatic moments. And Jimmy pulls them all off with equal aplomb.

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2. Mr. Smith Goes to Washington

Another one of the amazing offerings that made 1939 one of the best years in film ever, Mr. Smith is a success in no small part due to Jimmy’s central performance. Playing one of the most committed Americans ever put on film, his Mr. Smith is sent to Washington as a junior senator with all of his beliefs intact- beliefs which are promptly put to the test when he soon faces the reality of political corruption. This one is worth watching just for the explosive final sequence, which is a tour-de-force for Stewart, who gets to really sink his teeth into an emotional monologue.

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3. The Shop Around the Corner

Forget about Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan getting mail. This is the original. Back in the days before AIM, e-mail and texts, when the art of writing letters could really set one’s heart aflutter, Jimmy Stewart and Margaret Sullavan really got it right. Try to get past the Hungarian setting, the odd names and people speaking English without any kind of Hungarian accent. Just focus on the charm of the people who populate this little gift shop, where both Jimmy and Margaret work and don’t get along. They don’t realize, of course, that they are one another’s pen-pal, with who they are in love. Jimmy is unbelieveably charming in this one, and it’s difficult to think any woman would not like him, even without his writing.

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4. The Philadelphia Story

Jimmy Stewart, Cary Grant, Katharine Hepburn. Enough said. With just those names, you can imagine the tuxedos, gowns, witty dialogue and sweet love story touched with cynicism that The Philadelphia Story is full of. Jimmy plays a tabloid reporter, covering heiress Katharine’s wedding, while her ex-husband Cary hangs around to cause trouble. Stewart shows his facility for light comedy in this one, particularly when bantering with Hepburn. Their chemistry is fantastic – as Jimmy’s seemingly is with everyone, and it’s hard to know whether to root for him to wind up with Hepburn or his partner-in-crime, photographer Ruth Hussey.

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5. Harvey

Jimmy Stewart could not be more likeable if he tried. Familiar territory for Jimmy, since he had starred in the play on Broadway for 3 years, he received his fourth Academy Award nomination for the… crazy? alcoholic? perfectly sane? Elwood P. Dowd, who makes friends with a 6’3 rabbit named Harvey that only he can see.

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6. Rope

Stewart worked with Alfred Hitchcock in a handful of films, most more famous than Rope, but none as pared-down and straightforward as this retelling of the Leopold & Loeb story. Probably most famous for taking place in real time and containing only 10 shots– the longest lasting as long as each roll of film could hold– there is more to this film than just Hitch’s experiment. Two young men pull off what they think is the “perfect crime”, and invite people over as a dare to be caught. Jimmy plays their Philosophy Professor, who is smarter and more astute than the boys give him credit for. A bit of a departure for Jimmy, who plays a bit of a stuck-up, nihilistic character in this one.

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7. The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Jimmy made a slew of Westerns in the 1950s, but it was this one from 1962 co-starring John Wayne that may be his best. Stewart again plays an extremely ethical man put into circumstances nearly beyond his control when the unethical (and psychopathic) Lee Marvin begins to torment a small frontier town. Should Jimmy go against his own non-violent principles in order to stop a violent outlaw? It’s a moral conundrum that this exquisitely-filmed John Ford extravaganza explores.

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8. Anatomy of a Murder

So ahead of it’s time for the subject matter alone, Anatomy of a Murder was also controversial for featuring words like “bitch”, “contraceptive”, “rape”, “slut”, “sperm” and “panties”. Banned in Chicago, Jimmy Stewart’s father even took out an ad in his local paper advising people not to see this film starring Jimmy as a small-town lawyer defending a man who kills his wife’s rapist.

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