James Stewart won over the masses with a drawl and slight stutter, a good guy image, and some endearingly ordinary good looks.
And he also had a long and distinguished career, with everything from suspense to westerns to... giant white rabbits. "The James Stewart Hollywood Legend Collection" brings together five of his best known movies in pristine condition, although it could have used a tad more diversity.
"Vertigo" afflicts James "Scottie" Ferguson after a traumatic event on a rooftop, forcing him to retire. But when an old classmate asks him to investigate his wife Madeleine's (Kim Novak) odd behavior, Scottie agrees. When he falls in love with the woman -- and loses her to suicide -- Scottie begins to pursue a woman who is her mirror image, as he descends into madness...
"Rear Window" is a somewhat less shocking Hitchcock movie. L.B. Jeffries has a nasty broken leg, so he's stuck in a wheelchair. He passes the time by spying on his neighbors, and contemplating his incompatibility with his pretty rich girlfriend (Grace Kelly). But L.B. spots someone acting suspiciously, and believes that the man has murdered his wife...
"Harvey" remains one of the most enchanting movies to come out of Hollywood. Elwood P. Dowd is a sweet, considerate man who has a giant white rabbit (invisible, of course) named Harvey as his companion. Unfortunately, it's driving his sister Veta (Josephine Hul) and niece Myrtle May (Victoria Horne) completely nuts. Soon a bunch of mental health professionals are after Elwood... but is he crazy, or has he just found a way to be happier than everyone else?
Apparently Stewart was searching for something a little less cuddly than his past roles, so he tried out westerns with a noir sensibility. "Winchester '73" is a gun that Lin McAdam wins in a shooting contest, and which is soon stolen by his rival, Dutch Henry Brown (McNally). Since McAdams already has a grudge against McNally, he goes on an obsessive quest to get his gun back... no matter what.
But he had done some previous western roles, like in "Destry Rides Again." It takes place in the town of Bottleneck, whose sheriff has just died in suspicious circumstances. The town bad guy (Brian Donlevy) arranges for a drunk to be the new sheriff -- but the new sheriff brings in Tom Destry, the mild-mannered son of a local hero. And Tom Destry is going to clean up the town of Bottleneck... in his own unique way.
There aren't really any flaws with this collection, in terms of the movies' quality -- all of them were brilliant in their respective ways. The only problem is that it doesn't really give a glimpse of all the roles that Stewart could do; for example, he was also great in romantic comedies like "Philadelphia Story." So where is it?
But whatever movies he was in, Stewart was outstanding as a wry photographer, a lovable "nut," an unstable detective, and two cowboys. He nailed every one of those roles, no matter how odd or creepy. He's deeply unsettling in "Vertigo" and "Winchester 73," likably crusty in "Rear Window," and completely lovable in "Harvey." You love him or hate him as his character demands.
And the movies themselves are top-notch: two are vintage Hitchcock, and one had the unique twist of taking place entirely in one room. They're all well-written and intelligent; wry humor is peppered through them, giving Stewart some of the best lines ("I've wrestled with reality for 35 years, Doctor, and I'm happy to state I finally won out over it!").
James Stewart's excellent acting is on display in the "James Stewart Hollywood Legend Collection," which shows us some of the films that made him a Hollywood legend.