Tuesday, April 12, 2011

30 Day Film Challenge: Favorite Actor and Actress

I'm catching up and doubling up on the 30-Day Film Challenge because I'm woefully behind - but also because the themes for two days fit together so nicely.

First off is a film starring my favorite actor. The choice of actor is easy - that's Jimmy Stewart. (It has always seemed wrong to call him James, even though he was never once billed as Jimmy).

The choice of a Stewart film, though? Not so easy. I already cited his best performance, from Hitchcock's Vertigo, and my goal is not to repeat titles.

So where did that leave me? It struck me that two styles dominated Stewart's acting. There was the kindly
"aw shucks" persona most people remember him by. But there was also the darker, despairing Jimmy - the Jimmy that came out after he flew bombing missions in World War II. That Jimmy was prominent in Anthony Mann westerns like Winchester 73 - but I wanted to pick something that fused the the two styles.

I finally settled on It's a Wonderful Life - a familiar choice, to be sure. But one of the many brilliant things about that movie is that Stewart takes his "aw shucks" persona and completely turns it on its head. He goes to some dark places in this movie, and people tend to forget that - partly because, I think, they flinch at it. They only want to remember that nice George Bailey. But George Bailey had a dark streak without which he was an incomplete person. Just watch this scene between him and Donna Reed on the phone. It's all at once romantic and tormented.

The choice of my favorite actress is also easy. That's Judy Garland. But for her film, I wanted to go with a not so obvious choice. People remember her as a singer, and rightly so - but they also remember her as a tragic figure. Sadly, there is truth in that also, but that shouldn't dominate her memory when at her best she was so full of life and charm. I wanted to pick a performance that subverts both reputations. One is The Clock, from 1945, made right after Meet Me in St. Louis and also directed by the great Vincente Minnelli, who by this time was her husband.

It's notable in that it's her first film in which she doesn't sing a note - and she still makes you smile while breaking your heart. It proves what a great actress she was, even apart from her peerless singing skills.

PS - It's a real kick in the head to see Robert Walker play such a gentle character - in stark contrast to his villainous turn in Strangers on a Train.

PPS - What a shame that my two favorite actors never appeared together on film, even though both of them were MGM contract players. They were both in Ziegfeld Girl - but alas, shared no scenes.

1 comment:

Allison M. Dickson said...

I love Jimmy. I struggled to choose between him and Daniel Day Lewis. They're my two favorites.