When we think of Jimmy Stewart, most of us probably think either of his comedies (such as Harvey or You Can't Take It with You (Remastered)) or his Westerns, particularly the ones he made with director Anthony Mann. This slipcased collection supplies your DVD library, at one blow, with half a dozen of his best examples of the latter genre, including his first ever (1939's "Destry Rides Again," made when he was 31), and going on to one of his last ("The Rare Breed," 1966).
In "Destry," he plays Tom Destry, Jr., whose father "cleaned up Tombstone" and was shot in the back in the process; badly burned by this experience, Tom has sworn off guns, and when his father's old deputy Wash Dimsdale (Charles Winninger) sends for him to help tame Bottleneck, he tries at first to do the job without violence. Here we see Stewart's famous "aw-shucks" demeanor in what may be its first incarnation. With the help of Wash and a comic Russian character misnamed Callahan (Mischa Auer), he does better than he has a right to expect, but soon learns that when you're dealing with unscrupulous people like saloonowner Kent (Brian Donleavy), it doesn't pay to play nice.
Next comes "Winchester '73" (1950), a Mann opus and perhaps Stewart's defining Western. Here he plays Lin McAdam, a Texan trying to track down the brother (Stephen McNally) who went bad and murdered their father. His search brings him to Dodge City one Fourth of July, where he signs up for a holiday marksmanship contest with a gorgeous Winchester "One of 1000" rifle as the prize. He wins, too, but his brother steals the rifle and flees, and the rest of the film follows the weapon in its subsequent wanderings and Lin in his continued quest until both come together once again.
In "Bend of the River" (1952), another Mann film based upon a novel Bend of the Snake by Bill Gulick, his character is Glyn McLyntock, a former Border Raider in 1850's Kansas who has signed on as a guide for a party of Oregon-bound pioneers in an effort to leave that life behind. After saving Emerson Cole (Douglas Kennedy) from a lynching party and discovering that he too used to ride the Border, he gets his party safe to the valley they're bound for, but the discovery of gold in the neighborhood imperils the delivery of the supplies and cattle for which they've already paid. It's up to Glyn to get the goods out of the clutches of avaricious merchants, elude miners hungry for them, and cope with a conspiracy by his drivers and the injury of his friend, pioneer leader Jeremy Baile (Jay C. Flippen).
"The Far Country" (1954), also directed by Mann, finds him playing Jeff Webster, a cold, mercenary cattleman who drives a herd to Skagway, Alaska, during the Yukon gold rush and is swindled out of it by Skagway's crooked sheriff Gannon (John McIntire). Stealing the beef back, he gets over the border into Canada and makes it to Dawson, but his troubles have just begun as he copes with two women (saloonowner Ronda Castle (Ruth Roman) and the tomboyish French-Canadian Renee Vallon (Corinne Calvet), the insistence of his partner Ben Tatum (Walter Brennan) that he isn't really as tough as he makes out, and eventually the pursuit of Gannon.
In "Night Passage" (1957), directed by James Nielsen from a novel Night Passage by Norman A. Fox, he's Grant McLaine, a former railroad troubleshooter who was fired in disgrace after helping a young train robber known as the Utica Kid (Audie Murphy) to escape. Back in Colorado after two years as a drifting accordion player, he agrees to magnate Ben Kimball's (Flippen) plea that he carry a payroll on his person to end-of-track in hopes that Whitey Harbin (Dan Duryea) and his gang, who are prone to holding up the pay trains, won't search him. This is perhaps my favorite of the set, notable for gorgeous location scenery, lots of humor, and a long list of wonderful characters, with Duryea at his psychotic best.
The last entry is "The Rare Breed," directed by Western stalwart Andrew V. McLaglen. Here Stewart plays aging cowhand Sam "Bulldog" Burnett, who reluctantly agrees to help English widow Martha Price (Maureen O'Hara) and her daughter Hillary (Juliet Mills) deliver their polled Hereford bull, Vindicator, to the Texas rancher whose partner has purchased it for him. At first Sam thinks a "muley" bull is a freak, but the Prices' passion for improving the breed "lights a fire in him" that "goes deep," and when Alexander Bowen (Brian Keith), a redheaded Scots frontiersman with a burr as thick as a pea soup and a head harder than an anvil, expresses the idea that Vindicator can't possibly survive the Texas climate, Burnett makes him a bet that will change both their lives. This one also has a generous measure of humor and several great small parts by Western legends such as Ben Johnson, Jack Elam, and Harry Carey, Jr.
If you like Stewart's Westerns and don't have these six films on DVD, this set is the easiest and probably cheapest way to acquire them. All are thoroughly enjoyable and showcase his full range as an actor. Stewart fans, and Western fans, shouldn't miss them.