WEIRDLAND: July 2013

Wednesday, July 31, 2013

The Pyschological Splitting of Film Noir

Fred MacMurray and Claire Trevor in "Borderline" (1950) directed by William A. Seiter

One of the strange things about travel South of the Border is that it can have one of two contrasting effects: either reveal the real you, stripped down in elemental conflict with destiny (no better example of this than 'The Wages of Fear', but see also 'The Treasure of the Sierra Madre'); or it can be an opportunity for reinvention and masquerade. And this paradox, that Latin America is the site simultaneously of both truth and falsity, is not so dissimilar from the paradox that it instantiates both nature and culture at the same time.

In 'Borderline', which is a sort of film noir lite, Mexico is the site of duplicity and pretence.

Which is why the film rather goes against the conventions of noir, and becomes more a comedy of errors.

Claire Trevor plays Madeleine Haley, and ambitious young cop sent south to infiltrate and investigate a gang of drug-traffickers headed by one Pete Ritchie. She takes on the name "Gladys LaRue" and the character of, first, dancehall floozy and, then, gangster's moll to gain access to the formidable Ritchie, played by Raymond Burr. Yet she ends up kidnapped by another gang boss, who sends her North with a consignment of drugs in the company of hardman Johnny Macklin.

Little does she realize, however, that Macklin is, like her, a cop in disguise, tender-hearted Johnny McEvoy under his tough-guy exterior. Source:

Kirk Douglas and Lana Turner in "The Bad and the Beautiful" (1952) directed by Vincente Minnelli

Joseph Cotten as Holly Martin in "The Third Man" (1949) directed by Carol Reed, scripted by Graham Greene & Orson Welles

Borders and Borderers: The American film noir is a cinematic tradition whose representations are thoroughly liminal: the protagonists of these films characteristically find themselves straddling the border between competing forms of identity, as they often enter into perilous rites de passage through a nightmarish version of contemporary urban reality. Only seldom do these borderers emerge from that “dark city” (which is sometimes just a moral or psychological condition) to enjoy the transfiguration and triumph of a conventional happy ending.

In Billy Wilder’s 'Double Indemnity' (1944), an adulterous couple plot and then carry out a crime that is meant to be understood as an accident. To carry off the required elaborate masquerade, Walter and Phyllis become performers as soon as they begin plotting. In addition to playing at remaining “himself” even as he rejects that identity, Walter is even called upon to impersonate the dead man at one point.

After carrying out the murder, the pair must stay “in character,” which proves difficult after the accident theory is shown by the insurance company investigator to be untenable. A key effect of the narrative is that it highlights the willed, constructed nature of social roles, whose “naturalness” is thereby called into question. For once Walter and Phyllis determine to become other than what they were, they are forced by the very logic of their plan to inhabit self-consciously, and inauthentically, the roles they had previously performed unthinkingly: the pleasant housewife loyal to her husband and the successful insurance agent dedicated to his company’s financial well-being and the steady advancement of his own career.

Their situation comes to resemble closely that of those involved in what anthropologist Victor Turner terms “cultural performance,” those rituals and other modes of symbolic action that seem part and parcel of the everyday, but in which, Turner argues, “violence has to be done to commonsense ways of classifying the world and society” because performers must remain themselves even as they strive to inhabit another identity. Cultural performance, so Turner believes, therefore does not simply express or reflect “the social system or the cultural configuration,” but “offers a critique, direct or veiled, of the social life it grows out of, an evaluation (with lively possibilities of rejection) of the way society handles history”.

As Walter and Phyllis discover, the critical nature of the experience resides chiefly in the fact that, to quote Turner, “the ‘self’ is split up the middle—it is something that one both is and that one sees and, furthermore, acts upon as though it were another.” For anthropologists like Turner, the characteristic cultural performance is ritual, in which participants find themselves on the border between “secular living and sacred living,” in a “limbo that was not any place they were before and not yet any place. This doubleness, as James Naremore brilliantly demonstrates, also characterizes the viewer’s experience with the film’s foregrounding of performativity, for the “performances” of Walter and Phyllis as “themselves” are managed by MacMurray and Stanwyck as revealing the strain between the need to adopt one’s self as a mask and the powerful force of inner expression that defines the characters’ psychological states.

"Double Indemnity" evokes a secular limbo. Walter and Phyllis, to use the term popularized by Turner, find themselves in a liminal social space, defined by its bordering engagement with contradictory social spaces. Within this paradoxical space, the ordinary forms of everyday living are shown by Walter and Phyllis as what they always already are, that is, performances whose authenticity is by definition in question. Part of Wilder’s genius, in fact, is he stages the “random” encounters between the two “actors” in places where the contrast is greatest between their deadly plotting and the forms of everyday living they now act out. Unstable from the outset, these performances eventually breakdown completely, as Walter discovers within himself the capacity, and then the desire, to love a decent woman with whom he can imagine an ordinary life. It is, in fact, because he continues to inhabit his accustomed role that he has the opportunity to meet and get to know a woman who belongs solidly to ordinariness.

More spectacularly, Phyllis reveals herself less devoted to the coldly calculating accumulation of wealth and more driven by a psychopathic impulse to kill and passionately embrace her own destruction. In both cases, however, Walter and Phyllis discover the impossibility of remaining on the border between law-abiding normality and its oppositional heterocosm (the negative space in which the denial of the social contract plays out). The plot’s inexorable logic leads them to mutual murder. Realizing that she loves Walter after fatally wounding him, Phyllis gives herself over to her erstwhile lover’s embrace—and, shockingly, receives the answering shot he fires through her heart. Fleeing the scene, Walter eschews medical treatment for his wound, preferring instead to bleed to death while providing in his office a Dictaphone confession to the crime. This moment of Wilderian black humor suggests how Walter never manages to escape the all-too-solid identity of the company man devoted to closing the books on every case, even his own. Like the James M. Cain novel on which it is based, "Double Indemnity" exposes the self-defeating nature of that desire for self-fashioning whose trajectory it traces. So powerful is the demand that we be who we are and have been that the shedding of the self can only be achieved through the artfully inauthentic preservation of the self that has been shed.

Alida Valli and Joseph Cotten in "The Third Man" (1949)

The Noir Chronotope: In a groundbreaking study, Vivian Sobchack argues that film noir is most deeply marked by its unique representational response to a culture in transition between the collective, public experience of a world war that required the widest marshalling of all the nation’s resources and the desired, collective return to “the family unit and the suburban home as the domestic matrix of democracy”. This national experience of inbetweenness finds its most substantial visual reflex in what Sobchack argues are the “recurrent and determinate premises” of this Hollywood type, its obsession with the dark city. Earlier critics, most notably Paul Schrader, located noirness in a cinematographic style heavily indebted to Weimar filmmaking, but Sobchack importantly turns critical attention toward mise-en-scène, the characteristic settings of this film type such as “the cocktail lounge, the nightclub, the bar, the hotel room, the boardinghouse, the diner, the dance hall, the roadside café, the bus and train station, and the wayside motel”.

Gloria Grahame and Humphrey Bogart in "In A Lonely Place" (1950) directed by Nicholas Ray

These are the publicly accessible spaces of entertainment, dining, travel, and lodging, whose function is to provide for those literally, and also metaphorically, in transit. They substitute for what cannot be obtained in a world where nothing is “settled,” where the family home is unimaginable because it would depend on relationships (economic, sexual, and nurturant) that in noir narratives are not yet finalized. Such formal elements of mise-en-scène, Sobchack plausibly suggests, are the geographical reflexes of “existential, epistemological, and axiological uncertainty.”

The opening sequences of 'Act of Violence' juxtapose a gloomy urban neighborhood with the sun-drenched suburbs, a decaying East Coast with the vibrant prosperity of California, a young veteran, glorying in his beautiful wife and child who is celebrated for his charitable work with a lone cripple dressed in trench coat and fedora who shuffles painfully to his run-down apartment to remove a .45 automatic from the dresser drawer. An insert shot of Enley’s name and address provides something of a motive for the mission he embarks upon.

Robert Ryan and Janet Leigh in "Act of Violence" (1948) directed by Fred Zinnemann

Intercutting joins these two worlds until Parkson arrives in California, where he seems out of place (as upon his arrival he walks across the Memorial Day parade whose purpose in part is to celebrate the man he has come to kill). Enley hastens to a place that is transparently “other,” a paradoxical projection of Enley’s desires and his moral needs that exemplifies what Iser identifies as one of the most important characteristics of fictionality, the way in which it “becomes the epitome of inner-worldly totality, since it provides the paradoxical opportunity for human beings simultaneously to be in the midst of life and to overstep it”.

This doubleness is figured by the fact that Enley’s flight (he abandons both Parkson and Edith, thereby surrendering what anchors his self to the past and the present as well) actually moves him toward a reclamation of his true self, as he pays the price for his betrayal and simultaneously saves Parkson from having to commit murder.

From the uptown hotel, Enley hurries fearfully (and ever descending—one shot shows him stumbling down a huge flight of stairs) toward the dark side of the city, which seems a jumble of decaying factories, run-down tenements, and streets empty of passersby. As in the pastoral, the laying aside of identity (Enley here dons the mask of anonymity) leads him to what Iser calls the “counterimage . . . permitting what was excluded by reality,” as the world reshaped by the imagination allows the inner truth of the world imprisoned by mimesis to emerge.

Van Heflin as Frank R. Enley in "Act Of Violence", directed by Fred Zinnemann for MGM.

In this journey, imaged at a length far in excess of its importance to the narrative, the film engages with what Northrop Frye calls “the fabulous . . . something admitted not to be true” but which nonetheless possesses great significance. But it is also a place where “great rewards, of wisdom or wealth, may await the explorer,” even though, at its “structural core is the individual loss or confusion or break in the continuity of identity.” Even to the very end, Enley is liminal man, inhabiting the permeable border between past and present, between a self he has become and the self he would reclaim. -"The Divided Self and the Dark City: Film Noir and Liminality" (2007) by R. Barton Palmer

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Raymond Chandler!

Q: Isn't this dark aspect of the middle class what Chandler was describing with the image of meek housewives feeling the edge of a knife as they stare at their husbands' necks?

Wilder: Chandler was more of a cynic than me, because he was more of a romantic than I ever was. He has his own odd rules and thought Hollywood was just a bunch of phonies. I can't say he was completely wrong, but [he] never really understood movies and how they work. He couldn't structure a picture. He had enough trouble with books. But his dialogue. I put up with a lot of crap because of that. And after a couple of weeks with him and that foul pipe smoke, I managed to cough up a few good lines myself. We kept him on during the shooting, to discuss any dialogue changes. Source: imagesjournal."

Producers, Chandler found, were generally ‘low-grade individuals with the morals of a goat and the artistic integrity of a slot machine’, though there were enough ‘able and humane’ ones to give hope. The same proportion of integrity applied, Chandler decided, to the world of agents, directors and publicists: there were abundant bad ones to make Hollywood stink, but always enough decent, friendly and amusing ones to make working there enjoyable. Had that not been the case, he insisted, the money alone would not have been enough to keep him there: Money buys pathetically little in Hollywood beyond the pleasure of living in an unreal world, associating with a narrow group of people who think, talk and drink nothing but pictures, most of them bad, and the doubtful pleasure of watching famous actors and actresses guzzle in some of the rudest restaurants in the world.

Edward G. Robinson and Fred MacMurray as Barton Keyes and Walter Neff in "Double Indemnity" (1944) directed by Billy Wilder

In the character of Keyes, played by Edward G. Robinson, Chandler also had a Marlowe-type figure to play with. Keyes is Neff’s colleague, and nemesis, at the insurance company, where he is the company’s chief claims investigator. In Cain’s novel, he was a minor character of authority, but in the screenplay he is a fully sketched and cynical bachelor. He is fond of Neff and has an innate suspicion of all women which, in the case of Mrs Dietrichson, proves justified. At the start of the film he tries to persuade Neff to change departments and work under him as an investigator. It is a promotion, but Neff turns it down because he likes selling. Keyes isn’t impressed: ‘I thought you were a shade less dumb than the rest of the outfit. Guess I was wrong. You’re not smarter, just taller.’ Like Chandler, Keyes is a suspicious eccentric in his mid fifties and, like Chandler, he smokes throughout the film. It has been suggested by one critic that the screenplay version of the Neff–Keyes relationship became a subconscious commentary by Wilder and Chandler on their own working relationship: antipathy tempered by grudging respect. -"Raymond Chandler: A Biography" (2010) by Tom Hiney

Tuesday, July 23, 2013

Ordinary Heroes: James Stewart & Fred MacMurray

“That’s the great thing about the movies… after you learn — and if you’re good enough and God helps you and you’re lucky to have a personality that comes across — then what you’re doing is — you’re giving people little, little, tiny pieces of time, that they never forget.” -JIMMY STEWART, quoted by Peter Bogdanovich

"I think it would be true to say that Jim actually has gone out of his way many times to be particularly attentive to me. The more beautiful and glamorous his leading lady was, the more attention he paid to me. I asked him once why he did that, and he said, ‘Because I want you to never feel anything less than the most special thing in my life". -Gloria Stewart

These are the spectacular and spectacularly disturbing opening moments of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1958 classic Vertigo, in which James Stewart, at the absolute peak of his acting form, plays the tragically flawed, insanely obsessed, and deeply existential John “Scottie” Ferguson. In Vertigo, Stewart’s style of acting perfectly reflected not only his familiar cinematic persona—the ordinary man adrift, perhaps trapped in an abnormal world, longing to find his rightful physical, emotional, and spiritual place in it—but also to a greater degree than in any other movie he made, his real-life personality.

Jimmy Stewart in 'Vertigo' (Alfred Hitchcock, 1958)

The crucial difference between the character Scottie and the actor Stewart lay in their relative sanity. Scottie’s ultimate undoing is brought about by his belief in the power of possessive, obsessive sex as a curative, a liberating, redemptive act even after it has caused the death of his (so-called) loved one, a fatal trap disguised as a letting go that leads him eventually to the brink of suicide. The foundation of Jimmy’s sanity, meanwhile, lay in his abject refusal to ever let go of his unwavering faith in the curative, redemptive liberation of love as the reflection of the moral righteousness of Western Christian ideology. These beliefs, in turn, helped him realize the power of his continual on-screen persona, that of a spiritually based, romantic all-American beacon of enlightenment to millions of Americans for more than half a century of turmoil and upheaval.

In Stewart’s best work, the amazingly expressive eyes and face helped define his characters’ quests to maintain their moral purity, their innocence threatened by an attractive if corrupting temptation that was almost always sexual in nature. In Hitchcock’s Vertigo (1958) and Rear Window (1954) it takes the human form of the director’s familiar, fetishistic icegoddesses (Kim Novak and Grace Kelly), in other films it manifests itself in alluring objects— the eponymous experimental plane in Billy Wilder’s The Spirit of St. Louis (1957), the phallic rifle in Mann’s Winchester ’73, a seat in Congress in Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington(1939). These external manifestations triggered moral conflicts that repeatedly brought Stewart’s characters to the brink of selfinflicted, near-crucifixionlike tragedy, until they were in the end rescued, redeemed really by the sheer force of their own will, the visible power of their inner spirituality (except for Vertigo, which makes the point by the sheer absence of redemption).

He was the only son of three children of Alexander M. and Elizabeth Stewart. Alex, as his charismatic father was known, owned and operated a popular hometown hardware store, but was, at heart, an adventurer who loved to periodically run off to play soldier as much as, if not more than, staying close to home and protecting the nest. When he was around, he proved a tough taskmaster who ruled his brood with an iron heart. When he was gone, his absences caused young Jimmy to assume the filial duties as “the man” to his mother and two sisters, a task that left indelible marks on his malleable personality, instilling at once a sense of manly responsibility and a resistance to the overly protective instincts of the women of the house. The result was the development of a Presbyterian courtliness and sexual aloofness in the boy that would, one day, form the basis for Jimmy’s on-screen persona.

Five years and dozens of combat missions later, including one final bombing sortie into the heart of Berlin, Stewart returned to America a highly decorated, if extremely war-weary, hero. Indeed, despite all the smiles and the post-mission medals, it was apparent to even the most casual of observers that the ravages of combat had profoundly changed him, both physically and psychologically. The boyishness of his face was finally gone, replaced with a tougher, more grimly etched visage. His body seemed stiffer and more defensive. His demeanor was no longer that of a callow youth but a hardened man.

At Fox, Henry Fonda had first struck up a relationship with Lucille Ball, who then fixed up her girlfriend, twice-divorced Ginger Rogers, with Fonda’s roommate, Stewart. Rogers had recently dissolved her marriage to actor Lew Ayres. For Jimmy, dating a hot beauty like Rogers was an especially unbelievable rush, for it was not so very long ago, while still a student at Princeton, that he had sat alone in the Arcade Theater, mind-lusting after the young blond beauty. Now here he was, getting personal lessons from her at some of Hollywood’s most famous nightclubs on how to do the carioca.

Not surprisingly, he was totally smitten with Rogers, the first woman to bring his long-suffering manhood to the altar of love. With the quiet, assured logic that Fonda would become known for on-screen, he tried to alleviate the massive dose of postcoital guilt Stewart was reeling from by reminding him over and over again that he wasn’t Rogers’s first and that she wouldn’t be his last, and the world hadn’t come to an end because of what happened.

Margaret Sullavan had been in Hollywood for three years working steadily at Universal. After starring in John Stahl’s Only Yesterday (1933), the screen adaptation of the play she had appeared in on Broadway, she made William Wyler’s The Good Fairy (1935), a weeper about a girl from an orphanage who becomes the “good fairy” to others, notable for the real-life romance it produced between the director and his leading lady. Sullavan and Wyler were married during the making of The Good Fairy.

James Stewart and Margaret Sullavan in "Next Time We Love" (1936) directed by Edward H. Griffith

In fact, the catalyst for Sullavan’s lobbying for Jimmy had been a chance encounter between the two one afternoon on Hollywood Boulevard, where Sullavan, being driven to the studio from her Beverly Hills home, happened to spot him walking along by himself, hands in his pockets, head down. She had the driver pull over, rolled down her window, and called him over. Soon he was sitting alongside her, reminiscing about New York City and Broadway. Jimmy, whose relationship with Rogers had by now begun to cool—she found him just too inexperienced— was ripe-ready for the return of Sullavan in his life, in any form, while for her, Jimmy was not exactly the one who had gotten away, but one of the many she liked and for one reason or another had let get away. With him, though, she was careful about breaking a heart so tender, one that he wore so plaintively on his sleeve. It was that very nonvoracious quality about him that she had always been attracted to. “She was protective, loving, maternal toward him,” Myron McCormick told Sullavan’s biographer. “She wasn’t usually like this with most men. If she wasn’t getting sexually predatory with them she was indifferent, or contemptuous.”

Margaret Sullavan and Jimmy Stewart in "The Mortal Storm" (1940) directed by Frank Borzage

Stewart remained oblivious to the whispers floating around that the nights he was spending with Sullavan had less to do with rehearsals than romance. Being close enough that he could smell the perfume of her shampoo while she carefully tutored him was intoxicating and, for Jimmy, an act more intimate to his way of thinking and feeling than any he had ever done with Ginger Rogers. And, as a result, he would never be quite the same way as he was before, not as an actor and not as a man. “I’ll never marry until I find a girl like Margaret Sullavan,” Jimmy told a reporter from a Hollywood fanzine.

“I loved being in pictures. Right away—didn’t miss the stage at all. Loved it. All that stuff ya hear ’bout how the big studio was nothing but an enormous factory—this just isn’t true… it was wonderful.” —JIMMY STEWART

His nonsexual on-screen persona had by now led Mayer to wonder if, in fact, there was something “wrong” with him. Whereas other MGM names had to be literally pried loose from the bevy of starlets they were bedding, despite the fact that the men were all married—such as Gable; Franchot Tone, whose suavity had led him into the arms of some of Hollywood’s most fabulous beauties; Spencer Tracy, a known womanizer from the moment he first stepped on a sound stage — Jimmy kept himself away from all of that, preferring the company of one steady woman, and if he didn’t have one, he was content to have none, rather than five.

Six days before Navy Blue and Gold opened, Stewart began work on George Stevens’s Vivacious Lady, which was to be his last role of 1937. It was another loan-out, this time to RKO where he costarred with his ex-lover Ginger Rogers. Although he was, at first, hesitant to take the part, he did so on the advice of his new agent, Leland Hayward, who also just happened to have recently become Margaret Sullavan’s third husband. The picture is a light, breezy romantic comedy involving a shy botany professor, Peter Morgan (Stewart), who falls in love with a dazzling New York nightclub singer, Francey Brent (Rogers), marries her, and then frets over how to tell his gruff father and his sickly mother. Yet again, the parallels to Jimmy’s own family life helped him imbue his acting with an impressive emotional depth. His performance was so good in Vivacious Lady that Stevens gave him equal co-billing with Rogers. Their unexpected on-screen chemistry was so powerful, it delighted audiences; the film did remarkably well, and Rogers once more shimmered in the starlight she craved.

Sullavan had developed a formidable reputation as a man-eating manipulator and a woman who married to advance her own ambitions. Many critics saw her character in The Shopworn Angel as an extension of Sullavan’s public persona, a further cashing-in on the reputation she had built. She more or less plays with the Stewart character, and marries him partly out of the need to want to see him stay alive, but also partly as a joke to be shared with Sam Bailey. However, a deeper look at Sullavan’s Daisy reveals a more complex character. Full of life, talented, famous, and funloving, she is in a relationship with a man she doesn’t love (in many ways a Wyler substitute) and is attracted to and reinvigorated by a younger, innocent boy.

And, of course, there is Jimmy’s portrayal of the soldier. His unrequited love for Sullavan is mirrored by Pettigrew’s for Daisy. Key to the film, Sullavan’s life, and Stewart’s, is the vague sexual relationship that drives the story. Here is what Pidgeon later told interviewer Lawrence Quirk: 'It was really all Jimmy and Maggie, and that was the way it should have been. It was so obvious he was in love with her. He came absolutely alive in his scenes with her. I felt she was more emotionally involved, off-screen, with Jimmy than she consciously was aware she was. Or maybe, being the flirtatious Southern belle she was, in most situations, she got some ego-kick out of his adoration of her. Sullavan was in love with love, and she loved Jimmy being in love with her; it enhanced her feelings about herself.”

Margaret Sullavan and James Stewart as Klara Novak and Alfred Kralik in "The Shop Around The Corner" (1940) directed by Ernst Lubitsch

Alfred Kralik: There might be a lot we don't know about each other. You know, people seldom go to the trouble of scratching the surface of things to find the inner truth.

Klara Novak (Miss Novak): Well I really wouldn't care to scratch your surface, Mr. Kralik, because I know exactly what I'd find. Instead of a heart, a hand-bag. Instead of a soul, a suitcase. And instead of an intellect, a cigarette lighter... which doesn't work.

Where everyone else saw a light, all-American type, Capra picked up on Stewart’s darker, more anguished turn in the film Navy Blue and Gold. “I had seen Jimmy Stewart play this sensitive, heart-grabbing role and sensed the character and rock-ribbed honesty of a Gary Cooper, plus the breeding and intelligence of an ivy-league idealist. One might believe that young Stewart could reject his father’s patrimony [in You Can’t Take It With You], a kingdom in Wall Street.” It was Jimmy’s strong performance that convinced Capra he could turn the gawky, shuffling, stuttery, underused, and overlooked contract player into the most popular movie star in the world.

Although 'You Can’t Take It With You' made James Stewart a top-of-theline star, he was not considered for an Oscar for his performance (except for Spring Byington in the Supporting Actress category, no one else in the cast was even nominated). Robert Riskin was nominated for Best Screenplay, but did not win; nor did Joseph Walker, also nominated, for Cinematography. It is all the more surprising then that the movie itself managed to win Best Picture and brought Capra his third Academy Award for directing.

“I liked taking Marlene out to dinner and to dance back in the days of 'Destry Rides Again' and so we dated quite a few times, which was fairly romantic… I was taken off guard by her adult concept of life.” -Jimmy Stewart

It took less time than it would to remove a six-gun and garter belt before Dietrich had taken Jimmy to her bed and showed him the way European women treated their men. If other women had been turned off by Jimmy, disappointed by his shyness or mistaking it for a rural aloofness, Dietrich was driven crazy by it. She loved playing the temptress, the seducer, and the more passive he was, the more aggressive she delighted in becoming.

'It’s a Wonderful Life' opened in theaters on December 21, 1946 (at the Globe in New York City, and three days later at the Pantages in Los Angeles. The day after Christmas it went into nationwide release). Reviews were mixed. The New York Times began its review with tongue firmly in too sugary a cheek when it said, “The late and beloved Dexter Fellows, who was a circus press agent for many years, had an interesting theory…that the final curtain of every drama, no matter what, should benignly fall upon the whole cast sitting down to a turkey dinner and feeling fine." Bosley Crowther, did however, single out Jimmy for doing a “warmly appealing job, indicating that he has grown in spiritual stature as well as in talent during the years he was in the war.”

The Hollywood Reporter called it “just a wonderful picture.” United Press’s reporter wrote, “Never in all my years of covering Hollywood have I been so moved by a movie as by It’s a Wonderful Life. The Capra film is the season’s climax.” The New York Sun called it movie-goers’ “finest Christmas present.”

James Stewart in "Harvey" (1950) directed by Henry Koster

Despite Harvey’s financial failure, it was part of a film deal that finally gained Stewart entrance into the millionaires’ club, thanks in large part to Lew Wasserman’s adjusted gross clause. After the studio recouped its original production costs, Stewart received 50 percent of the two films’ profits with net limited to 25 percent for distribution and studio overhead. While this may not seem like much today, it was revolutionary at the time. For a film that cost a little over $900,000 to make — the so-called negative cost of Winchester ’73, Stewart eventually earned more than $600,000, a figure that would have been inconceivable as a prefigured salary on a film with that kind of budget. With the added $200,000 plus percentage he earned for Harvey, the two-picture deal for the first time put him over the magical million-dollar figure in earnings for a single year.

The Jimmy Stewart Show (so named because, as Kanter put it, “the deep think boys at NBC gave a great deal of thought and research to the title and discovered the word ‘show’ is known to everyone”) debuted September 19, 1971, and did not do well in the ratings. Early on, while still trying to make up his mind whether or not to go into television, he had talked it over with good friend Fred MacMurray, who told him it was the easiest thing he had ever- And it was, for MacMurray. He had been doing it successfully for twelve years and had had it written into his contract that all his scenes for the complete season of his sitcom, My Three Sons, be shot together, with the rest of the cast doing the daily/weekly/monthly fill-ins. -"Jimmy Stewart: A Biography" (2006) by Marc Eliot

"Back on North Roxbury Drive, the death of Ronald (Gloria's son who had been adopted by Stewart) seemed to echo through every room in the Stewart house. "We were just getting on each other's nerves," Gloria told. Jim tried to stay out of Gloria's way by playing golf each morning with Fred MacMurray at the Bel Air Club." -"Jimmy Stewart: The Truth Behind the Legend" (2006) by Michael Munn

Both Jimmy Stewart and Fred MacMurray were Republican, had conformed that 'nice guy' movie image, both had taken risky shifts in their film careers, and had played opposite some of the most gorgeous leading ladies of the Golden Era. Some stills of actresses with whom Stewart and MacMurray shared the silver screen:

Marlene Dietrich and James Stewart in "Destry Rides Again" (1932) directed by Benjamin Stoloff

Fred MacMurray and Marlene Dietrich in "The Lady Is Willing" (1942) directed by Mitchell Leisen

Fred MacMurray and Claudette Colbert in "The Gilded Lily" (1935) directed by Wesley Ruggles

James Stewart and Claudette Colbert in "It's a Wonderful World" (1939) directed by W.S. Van Dyke

Fred MacMurray and Katharine Hepburn in "Alice Adams" (1935) directed by George Stevens

James Stewart and Katharine Hepburn in "The Philadelphia Story" (1940) directed by George Cukor

Fred MacMurray and Carole Lombard in "Hands Across The Table" (1935) directed by Mitchell Leisen

James Stewart and Carole Lombard in "Made for Each Other" (1939) directed by John Cromwell

James Stewart and Joan Crawford in "The Ice Follies of 1939" (1939) directed by Reinhold Schünzel

Fred MacMurray and Joan Crawford in "Above Suspicion" (1943) directed by Richard Thorpe

James Stewart and Jean Arthur in "Mr. Smith Goes to Washington" (1939) directed by Frank Capra

Fred MacMurray and Jean Arthur in "Too Many Husbands" (1940) directed by Wesley Ruggles

James Stewart and Rosalind Russell in "No Time for Comedy" (1940) directed by William Keighley

Rosalind Russell and Fred MacMurray in "Take a Letter Darling" (1942) directed by Mitchell Leisen

Paulette Goddard and James Stewart in "Pot o' Gold" (1941) directed by George Marshall

Paulette Goddard and Fred MacMurray in "Suddenly It's Spring" (1947) directed by Mitchell Leisen

Lana Turner and James Stewart in "Ziegfeld Girl" (1941) directed by Bubsy Berkeley

Lana Turner and Fred MacMurray in "The Rains of Ranchipur" (1955) directed by Jean Negulesco

Betty Hutton and Fred MacMurray in "And The Angel Sings" (1944) directed by George Marshall

James Stewart and Betty Hutton in "The Greatest Show on Earth" (1952) directed by Cecil B. DeMille

Fred MacMurray and Helen Walker in "Murder, He Says" (1945) directed by George Marshall

Helen Walker and James Stewart in "Call Northside 777" (1948) directed by Henry Hathaway

Fred MacMurray and Kim Novak in "Pushover" (1954) directed by Richard Quine

James Stewart and Kim Novak in "Vertigo" (1958) directed by Alfred Hitchcock