Movies came, and movies went. Not everything Stewart touched turned to gold, but compared to a lot of actors both then and now, he was as close to a sterling star as we can get. 1958 continued with “Bell, Book and Candle,” a fantasy romantic comedy. Kim Novak, the female lead, is secretly a witch. After that came “Anatomy of a Murder,” for which Stewart would be nominated for a BAFTA, though he once again wouldn’t win.
To close out 1959 and the decade was the film “The FBI Story,” a crime drama film that follows Stewart’s character for decades as he rises in the ranks of the FBI, from its beginnings to its status as a national power. Outside his films, Stewart would continue to truly rise in the ranks – all the way to Brigadier General.
The next film for Stewart, his first of 1958, was also Stewart’s last collaboration with Alfred Hitchcock. He appeared in the film “Vertigo” about a former policeman who suffers from acrophobia – an extreme fear of heights. He becomes obsessed with a woman he’s tailing. The movie is considered one of Hitchcock’s best – not a small thing to achieve – and a “Sight & Sound” poll even ranked it as the greatest film ever made in 2012.
Surprisingly, it had mixed reviews upon its release, and it wasn’t a star at the box office. It did okay, but that’s the most it could claim. Still, most critics had good things to say about Stewart’s performance, saying that he was able to act tense in a casual way. Sounds like a lot of people these days.
Getting Too Old For This
One of the reasons Hitchcock gave for the film’s hard time at the box office was that Stewart was getting too old – not to play a leading man or act in a thriller, but to be a romantic lead. The female lead, Kim Novak, was a full 25 years Stewart’s junior in the movie. Stewart agreed – he felt so uncomfortable playing a romantic pairing with such a young woman that he decided to stop playing romantic leads altogether, putting an end to his time in romantic comedies and drama films – though he hadn’t been in many of those in the last 15 years.
He had begun wearing a silver hairpiece in some films, maybe to keep his hair looking like it belonged on his head. Because of this, Hitchcock cast Cary Grant in “North by Northwest,” who was older than Stewart by four years but looked younger.
The General of Hollywood
In 1957, Stewart was nominated not for a paltry movie award but for the rank of brigadier general in the Air Force. While he didn’t receive the rank at that time, the “Washington Daily News” noted that he trained with the Air Force Reserve every year. At that time, he’d had 18 hours as the first pilot of a B-52. He was able to reach the rank of brigadier general on July 23rd, 1959 – making him the highest-ranking actor in American military history.
It certainly isn’t easy to become a brigadier general, even if it is the lowest rank of general the American military uses. There is a cap of 170 Brig Gen in the Air Force on active duty, but we’re not sure if Stewart’s reserve status changes how many would be allowed.
Joining Another Great
The next big film in Stewart’s repertoire had him join forces with one of the other most famous actors of the time: John Wayne. It was the first of three films that these legends would make together, and all three of them would end up being classics of the Western genre. John Wayne starred as Tom Doniphon, the main character of the film, while Stewart plays a young lawyer that is beaten by Liberty Valance and discovered by Doniphon.
Lee Marvin played Liberty Valance in one of his many villainous roles, and Vera Miles played the female lead. The film was a huge money maker, becoming the 50th highest grossing film of 1962. Most reviews were flatly positive, though some found imperfections. In modern times, it’s regarded as one of the best of the genre.