Top Ten: James Stewart Films

This entry is part 4 of 4 in the series James Stewart Weekend

To round off my James Stewart celebration weekend here are my Top Ten films starring the great man himself. And one starring an invisible 6ft rabbit.

anatomy of a murderAnatomy of a Murder

One of the greatest courtroom dramas of all time Otto Preminger’s drama stars Stewart as a lawyer hired to defend an Army Lieutenant accused of murder who he claims raped his wife. Morally ambiguous, this has been ranked by the American Bar Association as one of the 12 Best Trial Films of all time.


Harvey harvey

How can you not love a film about a man who decides that his best friend is an invisible 6 foot, 3.5 inch tall white rabbit named Harvey? Elwood P. Dowd has eschewed the norms of society to spend his time drinking in the company of mischievous pooka (spirit) Harvey much to the chagrin of his sister and niece who yearn for a “normal” life. One of the greatest lines in any film can be found in this film and we should perhaps all live our lives by it:

“In this world, Elwood, you must be oh so smart or oh so pleasant.” Well, for years I was smart. I recommend pleasant.”


it's a wonderful lifeIt’s a Wonderful Life

Not only is this one of the best Christmas films ever, it’s one of the best films of all times. Suicidal George Bailey is shown by apprentice angel Clarence how he has influenced the lives of everyone in the small town of Bedford Falls. It’s hard to believe that this was a flop on initial release but is now so deeply ingrained in our culture. If you don’t have a place for this film in your soul then I don’t want to be your friend.


man who shot liberty valanceThe Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

My dad is a lovely man but I would never think of him as a feminist, but to an extent he is. From a very young age he would sit me down in front of spy films and Westerns, lots of westerns. Including this wonderful one starring John Wayne and James Stewart about a senator who becomes a hero after killing a notorious outlaw. It’s a great film with a killer theme song.


mr smithMr Smith Goes to Washington

The second James Stewart/Frank Capra collaboration on the list this has some of the same the themes as the first – the American dream, the power of the individual and how people can come together for the greater good. Stewart is heartwarming as the naïve young Senator who is willing to stand up to the corruption of Washington. Sure it’s overly idealistic but it’s fun and escapist and leaves you feeling all warm and fuzzy towards politicians, for five minutes at least.


philadelphia storyThe Philadelphia Story

A film starring Cary Grant and James Stewart? There’s no way this wasn’t going to make it onto this list. Socialite Tracy Lord’s wedding to George Kittredge is blown out of the water by the reappearance of her ex-husband CK Dexter Haven (Grant) and gossip columnist Macauley Connor (Stewart). The Philadelphia Story has it all – social satire, romance and fabulous performances from Grant, Stewart and Katherine Hepburn.


rear window dvdRear Window

Another Hitchcock/Stewart collaboration which sees Stewart play against type, this time as a temporarily wheelchair bound photographer who spends his confinement spying on his neighbours and witnesses a murder. This film has the best of Hitchcock – a gripping storyline, several nail-biting scenes, a cool and classy blonde heroine in Grace Kelly and a final confrontation that has you on the edge of your seat.



As the tagline says “It starts with a scream and ends with a siren…” – this is an audacious film, Hitchcock’s first in colour and one which takes place in almost real time. Stewart’s role as the schoolteacher whose discussions on whether or not it can ever be acceptable to commit murder for intellectual reasons inspires his former students to kill their friend is one of his best.



Another one of the films that my dad introduced me to as a little girl this is the story of a widowed farmer who is determined to keep his family safe during the American Civil War. When the war is brought directly to their family the stage is set violence and tragedy. Not many Westerns move me to tears but this one does every single time I see it, mostly due to Stewart’s heart-rending performance.



Much as I love James Stewart’s everyman persona I do enjoy it when he breaks out and plays completely out of type. This was never more so than in Hitchcock’s Vertigo, the story of former cop turned Private Investigator Scottie Ferguson. Hitchcock’s use of perspective distortion, Bernard Hermann’s title music and the famous spiralling title sequence all combine to create a compelling portrayal of obsession.

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  1. I haven’t seen Shenandoah, and it’s been far too long since I watched Harvey. I would definitely include The Shop Around the Corner. Are you not a fan of the Mann westerns? The Man From Laramie, Winchester ’73 and The Naked Spur are all excellent. Of course, when you’re dealing with an actor who had so many great performances, it’s hard to narrow down to 10!

    • I’m not making it up when I say that about three hours after finishing the list I suddenly remembered The Shop Around The Corner and had a massive crisis of confidence. I’m still not sure if I should change the list but not sure what I would take off. Maybe The Man from Laramie. Oh I don’t know….

      I’ve not really seen enough of the Mann Westerns to have really included them in my consideration. But I will be having a look at them at some point soon I think.

      • Subrina Wood says:

        Winchester ’73’ is one of the best westerns ever made in Hollywood…no ever. It’s got everything, marksmanship contest, a legendary gun, Wyatt Earp, a brother feud, the best side kick ever, a saloon singing blonde, a man with a yellow streak, a bank robbery, Indians (led by a very young Rock Hudson) and circled wagons, gun runners…I mean COME ON! This is one film everyone should to check out. Plus it stars one of Jimmy’s favorite co-stars, Pie, his horse. After making 17 films with this horse, Jimmy would later paint a portrait of Pie. You’ll know the horse from is white star on his forehead.

        • I’ve not seen Winchester ’73 but I’m sure my dad has it so I could borrow from him at some point. Love the story about Pie. Will have a look for him…

  2. I love Jimmy. My favorite is the Philadelphia Story.

  3. So many wonderful films. My favourite is Rear Window – it’s also my favourite Hitchcock movie too.

    • I think the only thing that didn’t make it harder to come up with a top ten was not having seen more films. Just so many to choose from.

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