Saturday, June 04, 2005

Lately I've been saying that Jimmy Stewart is my favorite actor of the 20th Century. (Although Cagney and Lancaster have been nipping at his heels. And, for the record, Hepburn is my favorite actress. K., not A., with Monroe close behind.) I'm not the least bit qualified to have an opinion on the matter, but so what? It's open to revision. Besides, the man could do it all. Consider: there's the Hitchcock work (Vertigo, Rear Window, Rope), plus It's a Wonderful Life, Anatomy of a Murder, The Shop Around the Corner, and The Philadelphia Story (which, along with Vertigo, I'd require for any banishment to a desert island). But when I discovered the westerns he made with Anthony Mann, that was what gave him the decisive edge: Naked Spur, Bend of the River, and The Man from Laramie are all excellent, and now I've just watched Winchester '73, and it's another winner. (I'm so glad I have some major Stewart films left to watch: Harvey, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, You Can't Take It with You, The Shootist and the Mann-directed The Far Country. (Not to mention the likes of Airport '77!) Maybe I'm just overwhelmed by the films themselves.

My favorite Mann-Stewart film so far is still Naked Spur, but it's a close race among the others. (I think I slightly prefer the color films.) Winchester '73 isn't excellent so much for the performances, though Will Gear and Dan Duryea are strong among the supporting cast. Shelley Winters, it's harder to say. It's hard to look at her early work now without smirking a bit, though she seems fine. It's even a bit harder to judge a young Rock Hudson as an Indian inspired by Sitting Bull. Stewart is excellent, with a typically craftsman-like performance, but the star of the film is arguably the brand new Winchester '73, top prize in a marksmanship contest, as it passes from hand to hand. The assured direction guides us through extended detours away from the protagonist while economically relating the story of two rivals and the secret of their shared history. It's a nifty accomplishment that avoids the feel of gimmickry.

Rating: 3 out of 4 stars.

The idea of following an object as a narrative device made me think of Red Violin, which I never saw, and Ebert's review of that film named two precedents: "Tales of Manhattan [which] followed an evening coat from person to person, and The Yellow Rolls-Royce [which] followed a car."

Looking up Red Violin also made me realize Don McKellar, director of Last Night (starring the now-everybody-knows-her Sandra Oh), made a follow up film, Childstar, a 2004 film which has never played here, isn't on DVD (as far as I can tell) but has apparently been played on Sundance. This is the first I've heard of it. I'd love to see it. What the hell, I think I'll write a rquest to the Landmark chain to show it. I bet it'd be better than half the movies they've been showing lately.

Song: "Tu m'as trop menti" by Chantal Goya - an under 2-minutes blast of French 60s coolness used on the trailer for the recent rerelease of Godard's Masculine Feminine.



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