Scene That I Love: The Run From It’s A Wonderful Life (In Memory of James Stewart)

114 years ago today, James Stewart was born in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  In honor of the birth of one of my favorite actors, here is a scene that I love.

From It’s A Wonderful Life:

Scenes That I Love: The Cemetery Scene From It’s A Wonderful Life

Over the past 11 years, I’ve shared so many scenes from It’s A Wonderful Life that I’m a bit worried that I’m gong to run out of moments to share. It’s A Wonderful Life is one of my favorite films of all time, along with being a Christmas tradition. I watched it earlier this month and I’ll be watching it tonight with my family.

Below is one of the more somber but important scenes in It’s A Wonderful Life. George and Clarence go to what would have been Bailey Park if George had been born. Instead, it’s now a cemetery and buried there is George’s brother, who would have died if George hadn’t been born. And, as Clarence explains, every man that George’s brother saved would have died as well. “Each man’s life touches so many other lives,” as Clarence puts it.

Here is a scene from a wonderful movie called It’s A Wonderful Life.

Suspense Film Review: Rope (dir by Alfred Hitchcock)

Rope, an odd little 1948 experiment from Alfred Hitchcock, opens with a murder.

Two wealthy young men, Brandon (John Dall) and Philip (Farley Granger), invite their friend, David Kentley (Dick Hogan), up to their apartment.  When David arrives, they strangle him and hide his body in a wooden chest.  As quickly becomes obvious, Brandon and Philip killed David largely to see if they could pull off the perfect murder.  Brandon is sure that they did and, that by doing so, they proved the concept of Nietzsche’s Übermensch,  The alcoholic Philip is less sure and starts drinking.

Brandon and Philip don’t just have murder planned for the day.  They’re also planning on throwing a little dinner party and, among those on the guest list, are David’s parents, his girlfriend, and his girlfriend’s former boyfriend.  Also attending will be Brandon and Philip’s former teacher and housemaster, Rupert Cadell (James Stewart).  In fact, Brandon regularly claims that he got the idea to commit the perfect murder as a result of discussing philosophy with Rupert.  Apparently, Rupert turned Brandon onto Nietzsche….


Well, fortunately, the dinner party conversations reveals that Brandon and Philip misunderstood what Rupert was trying to tell them.  They assumed, using the same type of logic that currently fuels most debate today, that just because Rupert mentioned something that meant that he approved of it.  As it becomes clear that Rupert would not approve of what his students have done and as Rupert himself starts to suspect that something bad has happened at the apartment, Brandon and Philip start to plot against their former mentor….

Now, it can be argued that Rope is not a horror movie.  And indeed, if your definition of horror is ghosts, vampires, werewolves, or any other type of paranormal creature than yes, Rope has none of those.  Instead, the horror of Rope is the horror of human cruelty.  It’s the horror of two privileged young men who have so twisted the words of their mentor that they’ve become monsters.  The horror in Rope comes from the fact that, in 1948, Brandon and Philip have embraced the same philosophy that, only a few years earlier, had plunged the entire world into war.  While families mourned their dead and Europe struggled to rebuild, Brandon and Philip showed that they had no understanding of or concern for the trauma that humanity had just suffered.  And making it even more disturbing is that they found the justification for their crimes in the lessons taught by the epitome of American decency, Jimmy Stewart.  The idea of that is more terrifying than any Hammer vampire flick.

Of course, Rope is best known for being a bit of an experiment.  Hitchcock edited the film to make it appear as if it was all shot in one take and events, therefore, played out in real time.  It’s an interesting idea and, as always, you have to admire Hitchcock’s ingenuity and, even in a film as grim as this one, his playfulness.  At the same time, Hitchcock’s technique makes an already stagey story feel even stagier.  Some of the actors — like James Stewart, John Dall, and Cedric Hardwicke in the role of David’s father — are able to give naturalistic and convincing performances despite the staginess of the material. Others, like poor Farley Granger, find themselves overshadowed by the film’s one-shot gimmick.

Rope is an experiment that doesn’t quite work but flawed Hitchcock is still a pleasure to watch.  The final few minutes, with Stewart and Dall finally confronting each other, are among the best that Hitchcock ever put together.  I appreciate Rope, even if it doesn’t quite succeed.

Scenes That I Love: The Phone Call From Sam Wainwright From It’s A Wonderful Life

Tonight, NBC will be airing It’s A Wonderful Life.

Watching It’s A Wonderful Life on Christmas Eve is a tradition for many people.  It definitely is for me and my family.  I’ve watched It’s A Wonderful Life so many times that I’ve practically got the entire movie memorized.  It’s not only my favorite Christmas movie but also one of my favorite movies of all time.

Everyone knows, of course, that It’s A Wonderful Life is a film about a man named George (played by Jimmy Stewart) who gets a chance to see what the world would be like without him.  What I think is often overlooked is that it’s also a powerful and poignant love story and that the scenes between George and Mary (Donna Reed) are some of the most intensely romantic ever filmed.

In the scene below, George and Mary get a phone call from Mary’s ex, Sam Wainwright.  Sam has a business opportunity but George has more on his mind than staying in Bedford Falls and making money.  This scene, which begins with Mary upset and George feeling lost, ends with one of the most powerful kisses of the 1940s.

This is a scene that I love from a movie that I love and I look forward to watching it tonight!

The Stratton Story (1949, dir. by Sam Wood)

Monty Stratton was one of the greats.

He was a Texas farmboy who knew how to throw a baseball.  Recruited by the Chicago White Sox, he spent five years in the majors.  From 1934 through 1938, he compiled a 36–23 record with 196 strikeouts and a 3.71 ERA in 487.1 innings.  In 1937, he won 15 games with a 2.40 ERA and five shout-outs.  The next season, he won another 15 games and completed 17 of his 22 starts.  For those of you who might not speak baseball, that all means that he was a really good right-handed pitcher.

When Stratton wasn’t playing baseball, you could find him down on his farm in Greenville, Texas.  He lived there with his wife, Ethel.  On November 27th, 1938, Monty Stratton was hunting rabbits when he accidentally shot himself in his right leg.  While Stratton survived the shooting, his leg was amputated, bringing Stratton’s major league career to an end.

No longer able to play in the majors, Monty Stratton spent the next few years as a pitching coach and helping to start a semi-pro team in Greenville.  With the help and encouragement of his wife, he continued to practice his pitching and he eventually trained himself to the point where he could transfer his weight effectively onto his artificial leg so that he could effectively throw a baseball.  In 1947, Monty Stratton made a comeback, pitching in the minors and ending the season with an 18–8 record and a 4.17 earned run average.  Stratton spent the next six years pitching in the minors before retiring from the game.  He went on to start the Greenville Little League program.  If you go to Greenville, you can still find Monty Stratton Field near Greenville High School.

The Stratton Story was made in 1949, shortly after Stratton’s comeback and while he was still playing in the minors.  James Stewart plays Monty Stratton while June Allyson plays his wife.  The movie follows Stratton from his early days on the farm through his major league career, his accident, and his eventual comeback.  Though the real Monty Stratton served as a technical advisor to the film, I don’t know how historically accurate it was.  The movie, for instance, seemed to condense the timeline so that it seemed like Stratton went straight from losing his leg to practicing for his comeback when it actually took ten years for Stratton to eventually get signed to a minor league team.  Even if it does take some liberties from the facts, The Stratton Story is still a good movie.  The baseball scenes are great and Jimmy Stewart is convincing when he’s throwing the baseball.  He’s also convincing in the scenes where Stratton sinks into a dark depression after losing his leg.  Stewart was so good in the role that, when Stratton finally started to practice his pitching again, I wanted to jump up and cheer.

I liked The Stratton Story.  It probably helps that I love baseball but it’s also a good movie about an inspiring story.

A Blast From The Past: Tomorrow’s Drivers

Jimmy Stewart Standing Beside One Of His Many Cars

Since this is the ten year anniversary of the Shattered Lens, I’ve been making an effort to observe notable birthdays here on the site.  I’m sad to say that somehow, I missed the birthday of Jimmy Stewart!

Jimmy Stewart was born on May 20th, 1908 in Indiana, Pennsylvania.  He’s my favorite of the Golden Age stars, not to mention the star of one of my top films of all time, It’s A Wonderful Life.  He also served bravely in World War II and I think it can be argued that he was Jimmy Stewart before he went to war and James Stewart afterwards.

Anyway, better late than never, here’s a short 1954 film that Stewart narrated, Tomorrow’s Drivers.  The film features a bunch of kindergarten kids learning how to drive.  Apparently, it was a program designed to make sure that kids grew up with good driving habits and didn’t end up becoming a bunch of jerks like their parents.  It actually seems like a good idea to me.  Stewart doesn’t appear onscreen but he provides the narration for the film and, with his tone, he strikes just the right mix of whimsy and seriousness.


Scenes That I Love: The Steak Scene From The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Since today is the 113th anniversary of the birth of John Wayne, I decided to watch the 1962 classic, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance!  And then I decided to share a scene that I love from the film.

The famous steak scene features three of the greatest screen icons of Hollywood’s golden age: James Stewart, John Wayne, and Lee Marvin.  Lee Marvin is the bully who is terrorizing the entire town.  James Stewart is the idealist who thinks that the law, and not violence, is the answer.  And John Wayne is …. well, he’s John Wayne.  He’s the only man in town who can stand up to Lee Marvin but, at the same time, he’s also aware that his time is coming to a close.  In the scene below, all three of the characters display their different approaches to life and a disagreement with steak nearly leads to violence.

This scene — and really, the entire film — features these three actors at their best.  John Wayne is an actor who is often described as having “just played himself” but that’s really not quite fair.  While Wayne’s outsized persona definitely does influence how the audience reacts to any character that he plays, he was a better actor than he’s often given credit for being.  That’s especially evident in The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance, in which Wayne plays a confident man’s man who knows that fate is closing in on him.  The coming of civilization (represented by James Stewart) will be great for the town of Shinbone but it will also leave men like Wayne’s Ton Doniphon with nowhere to go.  The coming of civilization means that the heroes of the past are destined to become obsolete.

Enjoy this scene from The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance:

End of the Trail: James Stewart in Anthony Mann’s THE MAN FROM LARAMIE (Columbia 1955)

cracked rear viewer

I’ve covered several of the  Anthony Mann/James Stewart Western collaborations here. Their final sagebrush outing together THE MAN FROM LARAMIE was shot in Cinemascope and gorgeous Technicolor, features a bunch of solid character actors, has beautiful New Mexico scenery… yet felt like a letdown to me. Maybe it’s because Mann and Stewart set the bar so high in their previous Westerns, but THE MAN FROM LARAMIE is an anti-climactic climax to the director/star duo’s pairings.

Stewart’s good as always, playing bitter Will Lockhart, whose brother was killed by Apaches and whose mission is to find out who’s selling the guns to them. But the film came off flat, feeling like just another routine Western – good, but not in the same category as WINCHESTER ’73 or BEND OF THE RIVER. Those Mann film noir touches are nowhere to be found, replaced by (dare I say it!)… soap opera elements!


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You’re The Top!: Eleanor Powell Was BORN TO DANCE (MGM 1936)

cracked rear viewer

Dancing masters like Fred Astaire, Gene Kelly, and The Nicholas Brothers all agreed… Eleanor Powell was the tops! The 24-year-old star made a big splash in MGM’s BROADWAY MELODY OF 1936, and the studio quickly followed up with BORN TO DANCE, showcasing Eleanor’s tap-dancing prowess in a fun musical-comedy-romance featuring a cavalcade of stars, and an original score by Cole Porter. Yep, Leo the Lion was going big on this one!

The plot’s your typical Boy Meets Girl/Boy Loses Girl/Boy Wins Girl Back fluff, this time around concerning submarine sailors in port and the babes they chase after. Nora Paige (Eleanor) enters the Lonely Hearts Club (no, not Sgt. Pepper’s! ) looking for work as a hoofer (“You don’t use a fan?”, says wisecracking Jenny Saks, played by wisecracking Una Merkel ). Nora shows what she can do in the hot number “Rap, Tap On Wood”, a joyous dance number…

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St. Patrick’s Day Treat: POT O’GOLD (Complete 1941 Movie)

cracked rear viewer

POT O’GOLD Is a fun little comedy-musical starring Jimmy Stewart, who goes to work for his music hating uncle after his music store closes, and gets involved in a feud with a clan of Irish musicians. Jimmy falls in love with the pretty daughter Molly – and since she’s played by Paulette Goddard, who can blame him! Directed by comedy vet George Marshall and featuring Charles Winninger and Horace Heidt’s Orchestra, enjoy POT O’GOLD!:

Happy St. Patrick’s Day from Cracked Rear Viewer!

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