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Monday, 17 January 2011

Top Ten Western Actors No 3 - James Stewart

With the exception of 1939's Destry Rides Again, James Stewart's massive standing as a western actor is due to films made late in his career. He made a string of classics with director Anthony Mann starting with 1953's Winchester 73 and culminating The Man from Laramie in 1955 are classics of the genre and cast Stewart against type as a troubled, at times psychotic man. But as well as the Mann pictures the actor was involved in several other all time genre classics - he made Broken Arrow in 1950 which was one of the first American westerns to treat Indians sympathetically,even if many of them were played by white actors.

Stewart never ever took acting lessons, telling one interviewer - "I don't act, I just read the lines."

However Stewart did act and it was instinctive rather than developed through training an all the better for it. He brought differing shades to all of his roles and was as happy with comedy as he was straight forward drama. It was a fitting end to Stewart's western career when he starred alongside John Waybe in The Shootist which was also Wayne's last film.

"Maybe most people identify with me but dream of being John Wayne." James Stewart.

Stewart by his own admission was an unlikely western hero, he stated that he looked like a lanky string of bones, but when he put on those six shooters he just looked the part. After he parted company with Anthony Mann he finally worked for John Ford and was cast alongside John Wayne in the awesome The Man who Shot Liberty Vallance and afterwards he had a small role as the most unlikely Wyatt Earp of them all in Cheyenne Autumn. He was excellent in both Two Rode Together and The Rare Breed and Stewart's part in the sprawling How the West was Won is perhaps the high point in a movie full of high points.

From the pacifist sheriff of Destry to the caring doctor of The Shootist, Stewart never made a truly bad western. That was the thing about Stewart - he was no larger than life character with a barrel chest and a corset keeping his stomach in check. He looked and acted like a real man and each and every character he created became real.

Below I have embedded a fascinating video clip from You Tube which features Anthony Mann talking about directing James Stewart - a man with a purpose indeed!


Walker Martin said...

Now with only two spots left, the final choices have to be John Wayne and Randolph Scott. I know The Duke is more popular but my top favorite western star is Randolph Scott. He looked and acted the part of the perfect cowboy.

Gary Dobbs/Jack Martin said...

Walker I too like Randolph Scott and I realised while compiling this list that I would have to leave a number of great western actors off the list - others that would have made it if I hadn't decided to include supporting actors and silent stars would have been Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Richard Widmark and many many others.

Tom Roberts said...

I'm with mi amigo de Nueva Jersey, Walker, on this one, Gary.

Duke reigns supreme in the genre, we'll give you that. Who else gets their own broadcast weekend twice a year?

But the Man from Virginia, aka Randolph Scott, was epitomizing the laconic, troubled hero long before it become vogue. And Randy stuck with the genre too, realizing its place in cinema while others were off making crime or war pictures. His contributions are too significant to simply be passed over.

I lobby for, recommend and nominate that you should make an exception/amendment to the list and put in an "a" (1a, 2a, etc.) for Randy or others. We'll happily overlook if there are more than 10 in the final tally.

Thanks for the list again. It's fun and enlightening.

Tom Roberts
Black Dog Books

old guy rambling said...

Great one