Today marks the 100th birthday of American screen legend James Stewart, who passed away in 1997, over a decade ago. It seems as good a time as any, then, to ask which Stewart performances you most treasure.
Among the great actor's many career highlights: Stewart's "aw shucks" performances immortalized by Frank Capra, his gritty post-war Anthony Mann western efforts and his sometimes imbalanced or at least slightly askew Alfred Hitchcock turns.
I'm personally a big fan of his performance in Mann's The Naked Spur, which casts him against type as a ruthless bounty hunter trying to bring in bad guy Robert Ryan for a handsome sum. Ryan was sometimes a showman of an actor, and Stewart lets him chew some scenery while he quietly burns. It's a perfect case of an actor allowing another to hit the broad beats as he soaks up all of the nuances of the yarn. As Stewart's character is the morally conflicted of the two, and therefore somewhat at war with himself, this only makes sense. And it befits Stewart's persona.
Stewart was a leading man all the way, and many of his films rested on his slender shoulders. Yet he never seemed to approach his roles with even the slightest bit of self-absorption, but rather with a limpid, determined teammate's perspective.
The late Charlton Heston said to TCM host Robert Osborne that at the 1960 Oscars, when he and Stewart were pitted against one another for the Best Actor prize (Stewart nominated for Anatomy of a Murder while Heston, who went on to win, was nominated for Ben-Hur), before the show began, Stewart approached him, held his arm and flatly but friendly said, "I hope you win." Heston told Osborne, "No other actor would ever say that." Stewart said it and he meant it, and Heston noted that it still caused him to choke up, and indeed it was making the star of Planet of the Apes choke up while telling the story.