Even after so much time in front of a camera, Stewart still had new depths to show, and it was Hitchcock who was able to draw them out. Due to the nature of “Rear Window,” many of the scenes simply had Stewart reacting to events using just facial expressions. It was another new kind of protagonist for Stewart, one who had to confront his fears and repressed desires.
While most of the movie’s accolades went to Hitchcock, Stewart’s performance was lauded. 1954 ended up being yet another landmark year for the veteran actor – he had achieved wide-ranging audience success, and he even topped “Look” magazine’s list of most popular movie stars, pushing his co-star and fellow Western actor John Wayne off his perch. Take that, pardner.
Not Just Westerns
Stewart had two other films in 1953 and 1954 with Mann. One of them was the adventure film “Thunder Bay,” which had Stewart as one of two engineers drilling for oil in the Louisiana Gulf as they dealt with hostilities from local shrimp fishermen. Reviews were good but not great. It did, however, open with a gross of 42,000, a record for a universal film at Loew’s State Theater.
The second of these two was “The Glenn Miller Story,” a critically acclaimed biopic in which Stewart played the eponymous band leader. He was again joined by June Allyson, his co-star from “The Stratton Story,” and the response was positive, netting three Academy Award nominations and winning the Oscar for Best Sound Recording. It also got Jimmy Stewart a BAFTA nomination.
Looking Through the Window
Stewart’s next film was another big one. Once again, he worked with auteur director Alfred Hitchcock to make the thriller “Rear Window,” which became a top-ten movie in 1954. His character is a photographer stuck in a wheelchair thanks to a broken leg, and he begins to project his fears onto the people he can see through his window. He believes he witnesses a murder happen, and...well, it’s a Hitchcock film.
We can’t give everything away. Grace Kelly appears as Stewart’s girlfriend. The film was made on a budget of only one million, but it earned far, far more – 37 million dollars. After inflation, that’s worth more than 420 million. It was ranked as the 42nd best movie on AFI’s 100 Years...100 Movies list, dropping all the way down to 48 in the ten-year anniversary list.
More Time With the Mann
1955 offered up two more collaborations with Anthony Mann. The first was a film many might call Cold War propaganda called “Strategic Air Command,” made to show that high military spending was a good thing during such turbulent times. Thanks to his experience in the military, and the Air Force in particular, Stewart had a central role in the film’s development.
The film got some criticism for a simple storyline, but it was still number six at the box office for the year. The next and final project between the star and director was “The Man from Laramie,” a Western shot in CinemaScope. It also got a nice response from critics.
Another Hitchcock Thriller
After those two films with Mann, Stewart, and Alfred Hitchcock once again reunited for yet another thriller – they knew they had a good formula on their hands. This time, it was “The Man Who Knew Too Much,” a remake of Hitchcock’s earlier film. Stewart was joined by actress Doris Day, and it featured a significantly different plot and script compared to the original. While most critics found the original superior, Hitchcock himself thought that the remake was the better film.
While he called the first the work of a talented amateur, he considered the second version the work of a professional. As always, Stewart’s acting was pointed at as a high point. And, just like Stewart’s other films of the decade, it was a commercial success.