Jimmy Stewart Is Crazy in Love
Passion’s pitfalls bedevil Jimmy Stewart in three classics
By Erica Todd, 12:30PM, Fri. Aug. 1
Jimmy Stewart’s characters are not in their right minds this month at the Paramount, and it’s all because of love. Three romances playing this month in the Paramount Summer Classic Film Series portray the ramifications of infatuation as Stewart's characters are influenced into falling “madly” in love. And the consequences are not entirely positive.
The films coincidentally screen in chronological order of their original release dates: The Philadelphia Story (1940) on August 2 and 3; Vertigo (1958) on August 14 and 15; and Bell, Book and Candle (1958) on August 23 and 24. At first glance, it seems like an odd bunch. Two of the three films, which have the same leading lady, were released almost 20 years after the first. Two are lighthearted comedies, while the other is a psychological thriller. In all of the films though, we get to go along for the ride as Stewart’s characters, with some assistance, are driven crazy with love.
In The Philadelphia Story, journalist Macaulay “Mike” Connor falls for wealthy Tracy Lord (Katharine Hepburn) after being assigned to write a story about her upcoming and much-hyped nuptials. Alcohol takes charge of his actions after a party, when he and Tracy share a drunken romantic interlude. In an iconic scene, she happily exclaims, “We’re out of our minds,” to which he responds, “and into our hearts,” setting the stage for their ensuing, booze-fueled antics.
Romantic manipulation comes in the form of a friend rather than liquor in Vertigo. When retired detective John “Scottie” Ferguson agrees to follow his friend’s wife, Madeleine Elster (Kim Novak), to ensure her safety, it’s not just Scottie’s fear of heights that is exploited, but his good nature. His concern for Madeleine evolves into a love so intense that his sanity comes into question. Madeleine is not entirely as she seems, but Scottie pursues her while meticulously ingraining her beautiful appearance into his memory.
In Bell, Book and Candle, the tables are turned as Kim Novak’s character, Gillian “Gil” Holroyd, instead pursues Stewart’s character, Shepard “Shep” Henderson. Magic is the source of manipulation in this third Stewart romance and although witch Gil contemplates whether she “can get him without tricks,” she naturally resorts to sorcery to make him fall in love with her. Shep declares that he feels “spellbound” after Gil’s supernatural influence and endeavors to spend every moment with her as his fiancée, work and other obligations fall by the wayside.
Locations play a crucial role in pushing Stewart’s characters out of their everyday existence, intensifying their wacky behavior. Mike sings “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” to Tracy after his moonlight dip in the pool with her in The Philadelphia Story. Just as Oz is alien to Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz, Philadelphian upper-class society is entirely unfamiliar to middle-class Mike. In Vertigo, Scottie has the chance to escape his mundane lifestyle as he trails Madeleine around unique spots in San Francisco and shares intimate moments with her in a number of scenic locations. Shep forgets his regular routines in Bell, Book and Candle as he forgoes sleep in order to dance with Gil in the snow and spend time alone with her atop New York’s Flatiron Building.
As entranced as Stewart’s characters seem at the height of their infatuation, they are all in for a rude awakening. As it turns out, falling in love with no rational basis is not a good idea, or so these stories would have us believe. In The Philadelphia Story, Mike realizes that dating a socialite is more complicated than one boozy night, especially when competing against a rival suitor in the form of Cary Grant. In Vertigo, Scottie threatens to self-destruct in his pursuit of his ideal woman, while in Bell, Book and Candle, we are left to see if Shep will discover the power that Gil has over him and whether he can move beyond pure infatuation and love her despite the deception.
More than mere lessons on the pitfalls on passionate love, these films contribute to the iconic status of the American Film Institute’s third greatest male screen legend. Jimmy Stewart had a knack for capturing the essence of an ordinary, all-American, middle-class guy, but it was the side of quirkiness or layer of neurosis that added depth to his roles and contributed to his recognition around the world.
The Philadelphia Story: Sat, Aug 2, 9pm; Sun, Aug. 3, 2pm
Vertigo Thu. Aug. 14, 9:10pm; Fri. Aug. 15, 7pm
Bell, Book and Candle Sat. Aug. 23, 4pm; Sun. Aug. 24, 4:15pm
All screenings are at the Paramount Theatre. Visit Paramount Summer Classic Film Series for a complete rundown of the remaining summer schedule.