English: Lesson 135
Do you see any characteristic features of Stewart and Wayne in these films that rocketed them to permanent stardom?
John Wayne and Jimmy Stewart had their breakthrough roles in two of the most influential and remembered films of all time; Stagecoach (1939) directed by John Ford, and Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) directed by Frank Capra. Both of these films are in black and white, but that does not stop you from being completely immersed and in utter awe of the story.
Stagecoach is an American western movie, which follows the journey of eight people, and a baby later in the film, on a Stagecoach from Tonto, Arizona Territory, to Lordsburg, New Mexico. Each person on the Stagecoach has their own story and reason for why they are travelling to Lordsburg, and the characters would go on to become some of the most popular stereotypical characters in western movies. There is the classic drunk doctor, the beautiful prostitute with a heart of gold, an evil banker, nervous little salesman, wealthy soldier’s wife, dashing gambler, goofy driver, the Sherif, and of course the down to earth cowboy, Ringo Kid, played by John Wayne. While all of the characters have their own plots, the film slowly starts to center on the Ringo Kid and Dallas, the prostitute with the heart of gold.
Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is a political comedy-drama that follows the story of a young man, who is the head of the Boy Rangers, to becoming a Senator in Washington. Jimmy Stewart plays the tall, wholesome, America-loving Mr. Smith, and he does a fabulous job. His down-to-earth, honest, and slightly nervous character immediately gets the audience rooting for him to succeed in Washington.
There is something similar in both Wayne and Stewart’s acting styles and presence on the screen that turned both these films into big hits and boosted them to stardom. While I watched these films I wondered why I hadn’t before. I remember my grandpa telling me about Stagecoach and all of John Wayne’s western movies, so I was excited to watch it. There are a few features which I think Wayne and Stewart both have; calm authority on-screen, gentlemanly charm, down-to-earth goodness, and middle-class morality.
The calm authority that Wayne has on-screen grabs your attention. You believe every word he says and every action he does because you completely believe he knows exactly what he’s doing, and that he isn’t playing a character, but is real. Every good western movie must have a cowboy that is a gentleman, charming, down to earth, and with morals strong as steel. Wayne brings that to this movie. Ringo Kid is a tall, gentleman, who opens the door for a lady, asks her what she thinks, is down to earth despite his tall cowboy boots, and knows right from wrong. One of the cast members of the film quoted director John Ford on saying of Wayne: “He’ll be the biggest star ever because he is the perfect ‘everyman'”.
Jimmy Stewart’s character Mr. Smith, also holds authority on screen but is different from Wayne. While Wayne has a calm assurance look, Stewart is more of the nervous boyish type, but whom you can always count on to do the right thing. Most people believe politicians to be liars and crooks, and that is how they are depicted in films, but Stewart’s Mr. Smith is the total opposite of that. He will always tell the truth, will not let go of his morals under pressure, is a gentleman to his secretary, and above all is down to earth.
It’s these characteristics that rocketed Wayne and Stewart to fame, and it is why people still adore the films and watch them over and over again.