Bright Lights Film Journal

The Erotic Persona of Jimmy Stewart: From Visionary to Voyeur

Katharine Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart in The Philadelphia Story

You would never guess either from looking at him or from the “aw shucks” way in which he’s remembered that Stewart is responsible for some of the most erotic romantic comedy scenes in 1930s and ’40s cinema. The potential for romantic tragedy in Stewart’s persona, realized in Vertigo, is in those same scenes, to a retrospective eye. Classic film lovers often speak of the elements that Garbo brings to a love scene; I would contend that Stewart, in his own way, brings something just as remarkable to his love scenes.

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At first glance, one might think there’s not a lot to choose between George Bailey and Jefferson Smith, two of Jimmy Stewart’s most iconic characters. In fact there’s a world of difference between them, and one way to express it is by an appeal to what I want to call Stewart’s “libido.” Until the final filibuster scene, in which Stewart, rangy and bedraggled, unleashes his full range, the eponymous protagonist of Frank Capra’s Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939) might almost better have been played by Gary Cooper, like the eponymous protagonist of Capra’s earlier Mr. Deeds Goes to Town (1936). Cooper, smouldering in Morocco in 1930, excelled by mid-decade at playing the sexless man-child that was one strain of Capra hero. We associate homey, Heartland American values with the Stewart hero, as with the heroes of Cooper and Henry Fonda. When he’s actively trying to portray naïveté, as in Mr. Smith, however, it requires the suppression of many dimensions of his persona, including the lascivious eye that, turned rancid, becomes the voyeurism of Rear Window and Vertigo.

Like Cooper, Henry Fonda can ably play a slow-witted man-child, as he does in The Lady Eve – although director Preston Sturges manages to make this sexy by way of playing up his passivity in relation to Barbara Stanwyck. (William Wyler also saw the erotic potential in Fonda’s passivity, as shown by that scene in Jezebel where Bette Davis, the former fiancee who’s still in love with him and is caring for him while he lies unconscious, suffering from a deadly fever, dips her fingers in water and runs them over his lips.) Despite his famous drawl, however, Stewart has more in common with Cary Grant: their shared sense of irony and constant playfulness is what makes their scene together in The Philadelphia Story, in which an almost incoherently drunk Stewart pays a visit to Grant’s home in the middle of the night, so delightful. That playfulness is what makes Stewart good at comedy, and it only emerges when his libido is also allowed expression. Unlike Grant, however, Stewart also has Bette Davis’s hysteria, which can turn in a flash from vulnerability to fury and back again: it’s what makes them the greatest classical Hollywood actors.

It’s a Wonderful Life

Both Cooper and Fonda can be sex objects: Stewart cannot. The young Stewart’s face sometimes photographs quite beautifully: his abundant hair slicked back, calling to mind at moments an elongated Robert Taylor (or at other moments a Midwestern Dracula); his soulful, heavy-lidded eyes; his fleshy lips; contradicting their sensuality, his long squiggle of an aquiline nose. But no one would call it a pretty face, and with his scarecrow physique, Stewart was decidedly an Everyman type. You would never guess either from looking at him or from the “aw shucks” way in which he’s remembered that Stewart is responsible for some of the most erotic romantic comedy scenes in 1930s and ’40s cinema. The potential for romantic tragedy in Stewart’s persona, realized in Vertigo, is in those same scenes, to a retrospective eye. Classic film lovers often speak of the elements that Garbo brings to a love scene; I would contend that Stewart, in his own way, brings something just as remarkable to his love scenes.

Talking about a cinematic actor’s persona is one thing if what you mean are the qualities that an actor brings to his roles, but I’m interested in going further, and talking about motifs that appear in the films. This is the way we’ve learned to “read” films, whether we’re grouping them according to director or according to genre. In those instances, looking at, or for, motifs is logical, since it stands to reason that a director, at least one who’s acting as an author, will return to certain ideas (visual or thematic), and since we identify a genre by its motifs. Even so, arguably the real benefit of grouping films together in order to examine them is that it’s an excuse to relate them to each other and see what comes of that – whether we can make something that we might agree to call “poetic” out of it. It’s only unfortunate that we don’t have, or invent, more ways in which to relate films to each other.

Accordingly, my thinking about actors’ personas has been primarily inspired by Stanley Cavell’s treatment of genre in Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. In that book, Cavell starts with something solid and empirical: the fact that several classical Hollywood romantic comedies feature a divorced couple who by the end of the movie decide to get back together, and this is something new in the history of comedic drama, which is traditionally about a young man and woman who overcome social obstacles to marry. Then, however, Cavell decides to include among his seven examples of the genre three movies that do not contain any kind of literal “remarriage,” and one that depicts conflict between a married couple but no actual divorce, and to exclude movies and plays that do have a remarriage plot but whose tone Cavell doesn’t like. It starts to look as though Cavell is using this idea of a “remarriage genre” (as opposed to a remarriage plot) as an excuse to philosophically discuss several romantic comedies from the era that he especially loves, but while this is true, it’s not quite the whole truth. Rather, instead of identifying a conventional genre, Cavell is using these movies to develop a spiritual idea of “remarriage.” His use of the idea of genre still leans more toward the fictive end of critical approaches than toward the scientific one, but since much that’s interesting comes of Cavell’s reflections on the group of films, it’s a critically beneficial fiction.

Vertigo: Scotty (Stewart) and Madeleine (Kim Novak)

I have chosen to discuss five films as being representative of Stewart’s erotic persona: George Stevens’s Vivacious Lady, Ernst Lubitsch’s The Shop Around the Corner, George Cukor’s The Philadelphia Story, Frank Capra’s It’s a Wonderful Life, and Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo. I’ve chosen these films rather than others because I like them (which isn’t eccentric: except for the first, most film critics would put these at the top of the list of the best films in which Stewart appeared), because Stewart has some sexy scenes in them, and because they interrelate in intriguing ways. While the appearance of particular motifs – voyeurism, the calling out of his love interest’s name – is surely almost entirely coincidental, considering these films together does capture something important about the phenomenological experience of watching, rewatching, and reflecting on a particular actor’s films, performances, persona, and characters. Would we read the scene where Kralik visits a bedridden Klara in The Shop Around the Corner as voyeuristic if it weren’t for the scene in Scottie’s apartment in Vertigo, in which Hitchcock dwells on the fact that Scottie has undressed and put to bed the unconscious Madeleine after rescuing her from her attempt to commit suicide by plummeting into San Francisco Bay? Does it make it seem a more likely reading if we think of the scene in It’s a Wonderful Life where George threatens a naked Mary Hatch, hiding behind a bush, that he’s going to “sell tickets” to the attraction? Or should we consider each film discretely, and only take into account Kralik’s personality and motivations? Can an actor’s persona have a subtext? Is voyeurism always a latent quality in the Stewart persona, which, if it were removed, would make the scene in Shop Around the Corner different? Is that quality contained in the scene, or does it emerge as a result of intertextual interaction with other Stewart films?

The fact is that films lovers do not think of films in isolation, and we are particularly apt to think of films with the same star in relation to each other (right after same director); and therefore, for any viewer who is educated in Jimmy Stewart’s oeuvre, the Vertigo scene may come to haunt the Shop scene. It’s a critical commonplace to say that in casting Stewart in his romantic tragedy, Hitchcock was both making subversive use of Stewart’s decent, Midwestern persona and drawing on the capacity for darkness Stewart had already revealed in It’s a Wonderful Life. But for Stewart to play Scottie Ferguson as well as he did, the potential for tragedy had to be latent even in his early romantic comedies. At any rate, it’s there – or at least examining these films in relation to each other makes a compelling case that it is, and that the journey from Alfred Kralik to Scottie Ferguson is shorter and more direct than it first seems.

Visionary: “A Lovely Average Girl”

In The Runaway Bride, a classic study of classical Hollywood cinema romantic comedy, Elizabeth Kendall argues that Capra produced a talkie romantic comedy suited to Depression America in It Happened One Night (1934) by bringing together the attitudes of the woman’s weepie and the silent comedy. Part of the Capra model is a specific kind of erotic charge between hero and heroine that’s permitted by a new emphasis on their equality. That charge isn’t present in all of the classic romantic comedies of the ’30s and ’40s, even when the equality is: there’s nothing erotic in Howard Hawks’s great trio of screwball comedies, Twentieth Century (1934), Bringing Up Baby (1938), and His Girl Friday (1940). But if many directors of the era seemed terribly interested in putting sexual affect on the screen, perhaps it’s because they couldn’t put sex on it, or even directly indicate that anyone was having it, thanks to the introduction of the Hays Code in 1930. And no director was better at the cinematic evocation of sexual affect than George Stevens – as, for example, in Woman of the Year (1942), which may be the only film in which Katharine Hepburn is treated as a sex object, introduced as a glimpse of bare heel attached to an amazing pair of legs. The viewer has no trouble understanding why Spencer Tracy is floored not only by the legs (especially knowing they’re attached to a brain he’s already tangled with) and their owner’s sensual choice of office footwear, but also by the way she returns his gaze: tremulously, knowingly, shyly, boldly, mercurially.

Vivacious Lady: Ginger Rogers and Stewart

He is, as Ginger Rogers puts it to Stewart early in Vivacious Lady (1938), “hit by a truck,” an emotion in which Stevens specializes. Vivacious Lady is another Stevens film about a man and a woman from different worlds who decide to get married almost immediately, on no basis other than their overpowering erotic attraction to each other. In this one, the man is respectable, a botany professor who’s the son of the university president, while the woman, a showgirl, is disreputable. Yet they know how to talk to each other right away because, as Kendall points out, they both speak the Depression-era American language of knowing their own worth, regardless of class. After Stewart catches her act in a nightclub (he’s been sent there, à la Henry James’s The Ambassadors, to rescue his cousin from her clutches), they wander around the city all night and find common ground over corn on the cob and their shared love of bragging about their work. What the work is doesn’t matter as much as being able to say that they’re good at it, for this is one of those ’30s American romantic comedies that, as Kendall writes, grants an “easy emotional authority” to its heroine that was not, and is not, always found in screen representations of women (xiii).

Vivacious Lady has a smutty farce plot, but you’d hardly know it from the idiosyncratic direction. Stevens relies on visual gags rather than witty lines, and allows the gag, or comedic scenario, to unfold at a teasingly slow pace that registers as droll and laconic. The basic premise of the film is that the central couple are married and eager to consummate, but they’re frustrated at every turn, even as Stewart could rectify the situation by revealing his marriage to his parents. Stevens uses this premise to keep the sexual tension brimming in every scene that Stewart and Rogers share: it’s as if they’re in a trance.

Although Stewart has one of the most expressive faces in movie history, only part of his erotic persona is revealed in this film, where he has no long speeches, and in which he’s asked to play a type rather than a character. Actually, neither Stewart nor Rogers are even playing types: they’re not giving performances, or playing to certain aspects of their personas, like Cooper’s and Stanwyck’s in Ball of Fire. They’re just two quiet and reasonable (although now and then brawling, but quietly), attractive people who, quite reasonably, want to have sex. The movie doesn’t think they’re wrong for getting married on the basis of sexual attraction; the only question is whether sex or respectability will prevail. Since this is an egalitarian American movie – sex wins.

One scene anticipates an important moment in It’s a Wonderful Life: when Rogers, pretending to be Stewart’s student, arrives in his class and finds him looking into a microscope with an actual female student. She’s not jealous (she looks like Ginger Rogers, and has had her entrance greeted by a series of wolf whistles, while the student looks like a child), but when Stewart, concentrating on the eyepiece, doesn’t recognize her by a tap on the shoulder, she gets his attention by leaning down, placing her face next to his free cheek, and whispering “I love you” in his ear. Instantly electrified, he turns his face almost into a kiss, then extricates himself from the microscope threesome and rises to loom over her tiny form, instinctively grasping her arms, unable to keep himself from touching her despite their masquerade. It’s unusual to see a leading man so discombobulated by the heroine’s proximity – unless it’s shtick, like Stewart’s hayseed hat-dropping in the presence of the femme fatale in Mr. Smith. Here, in contrast, Stewart’s body language conveys the magnetic power of Rogers’ body over him as though they were two people photographed unawares rather than characters in a scripted relationship.

Vivacious Lady

After Stewart possessively guides Rogers to her seat, they take turns looking through her microscope’s eyepiece, with more near-kissing, in a way that even more strongly anticipates the telephone scene in It’s a Wonderful Life. But their verbal interaction is as important as their physical interaction here, as their proximity puts them in a sensual trance in which – despite Stewart’s best efforts to be professorial about “the lowest form of vegetable life, the protococcus” – the exchange of domestic endearments (“darling,” “dear”) is as hard to resist as caresses, and in which the withdrawal of proximity is felt as a deprivation (“Well hurry back, will you, dear?” Rogers implores softly).

Two romantic comedies from 1940, Shop Around the Corner (released right at the beginning of the year) and The Philadelphia Story (released right at the end) establish the erotic persona that comes to dramatic fruition in Stewart’s greatest movies, It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo. Shop was a Lubitsch comedy in Capra mode: his tribute to what ordinary people had suffered in the Depression. Stewart is the senior salesperson in a small shop; Margaret Sullavan is an out-of-work salesgirl who begs him for a job, but times are tough. Through a roundabout means, she ends up hired after all, but she and Stewart can’t seem to get along. Little do they know that they already know each other: they met through a Personals ad placed by Sullavan, and they’ve been corresponding “on cultural subjects” as “Dear Friend.”

Early in the long opening scene, depicting a morning in the shop, that ends with Klara (Sullavan) getting hired, we see Kralik (Stewart) open up to his workplace confidant, Pirovich, while Kralik is snatching a moment’s privacy in the stockroom from his officially designated work time to read a letter from “Dear Friend.” This is a comedy haunted by “a persistent atmosphere of loneliness,” as George Toles remarks in “Acting Ordinary in The Shop Around the Corner” (1), and this scene is no exception: Pirovich and Kralik aren’t close, by any means; when, later, Kralik loses his job, we understand that despite their best intentions, they’re unlikely to stay in touch. But pre-Sullavan, there are only five employees in the shop; of the male employees besides Pirovich, there’s an obnoxious errand boy and a more obnoxious dandy; and since the city is a lonely place, if Kralik is going to share his joy and wonder at his burgeoning relationship with anyone, this kind co-worker is his only option. Like most of us, these people, their boss included (as he later acknowledges in a bittersweet speech), spend at least half of their waking lives at work, which is even sadder for those who, like Pirovich, have a family. Yet nothing meaningful can happen on those premises, where they’re at the beck and call of the boss (who puts an end to the meditative stockroom scene by hollering for Kralik), and where privacy – where having a self – amounts to stealing money out of the boss’s pocket.

When Kralik discovers the identity of “Dear Friend” soon after he’s fired, he at first deserts the field, then changes his mind and decides to try to transfer Klara’s affection from his letter self to his real self. After all, how hard can it be? She’s in love with him already, and now that they’re away from the workplace it ought to be possible to show her what he’s really like, and see her as she really is. The problem is that he “really is” the fussy, critical supervisor who, however well he may know literature, is too workaday-practical to appreciate polka-dotted blouses, and she “really is” the shrilly defensive young woman whose pretensions could cause her to overlook the value of a plain but useful object like a well-made wallet. The public self, a collection of tics and habits as potentially annoying as a cigarette box that plays an over-familiar tune every time you open it, can’t be set aside by will alone, or overthrown by a few sallies of goodwill. Only vulnerability will allow a better, less aggressive and defensive self to emerge, but vulnerability is only possible where one feels safe, as in a situation where there are no stakes. We’ve seen Kralik exhibit this self with Pirovich, but we are not granted such privileged access to Klara’s consciousness.

But although Kralik is supposedly a practical type, this aspect of his character is complicated by the quality of visionary idealism that Stewart brings to the role. In the scene where Kralik reveals to Pirovich that he’s going to meet his correspondent for the first time, Pirovich reassures him, “I’m sure she’ll be beautiful,” and Kralik demurs, “Well, not too beautiful. What chance has a fellow like me – ?” “Well, what do you want, a homely girl?” Pirovich reasons. By now the camera has moved in to closely frame their two faces, Pirovich’s in profile so that our eyes are on Stewart’s expression. His voice becomes even more hushed as he gazes directly into Pirovich’s eyes and tells him to “knock on wood for me”: “Just a lovely average girl, that’s – that’s all I want.” In the pause before he reiterates “that’s,” his eyes leave Pirovich’s face and do not return to it until after he’s finished speaking. He has had to look inward to see the image of what he wants. And this “lovely average girl” (paradoxically, lovely because she is average) is the subject of such hushed intensity, the cause of such fervent inwardness, that one fears for Stewart, and for any woman involved with him, in the event that no woman prove able to live up to his ideal of averageness.

The Shop Around the Corner

One of the fascinating things about Shop Around the Corner is that we never learn what makes Kralik decide to love Klara. The last time we see them before the end of the film’s first act, Klara has put a decisive end to Kralik’s friendly overtures by delivering a remark so cutting and dismissive that any future relationship between them seems impossible. In the second act, Kralik is not simply restored to his place in the shop, but made the manager. We know that Kralik’s attitude toward Klara has changed since we last saw them when he learns that Klara is at home, ill, and responds with solicitude. Later, Klara comes in, and at first thinks that Kralik is plaguing her again by pretending that her worst nightmare has come true and her worst enemy at the shop is now the manager. When he confirms it while discussing business on the phone in the boss’s office, she faints.

Stewart leaps up and is so frantic that he can barely hang up the phone and can’t remember the name of the man he’s talking to. “Oh – goodBYE, Mr. – !” His comic reaction melts into a tender dramatic one as the scene quickly fades on the lyrical note of his first use of the first name of the woman he loves – while she’s unconscious, giving him the privacy he needs to speak to her as he does in his own mind. “Miss Novak!” he calls. And then, quieter and more intense: “Klara – Klara!” And again, in his public voice: “Miss Novak!” We must take note of this scene, because these elements will recur in later Stewart movies that I’m going to discuss: an unconscious woman, and repeating the heroine’s name with a note of anguish, like the hero at the climax of a tragic opera in which the heroine dies. The Philadelphia Story will add the element of water. The final scene from Shop Around the Corner that I will discuss adds two further elements: reviving the heroine through a sort of aria of compliments; and voyeurism.

Not only has Kralik, for reasons that are not disclosed to us (though they easily could be through a scene with Pirovich), decided to love Klara in spite of reason; he has also formulated a plan for making her realize that she loves him, that he doesn’t share with anyone and that involves keeping her in the dark for the time being. In his guise as the new “father to our little family” at the shop, he goes to visit Klara in her attic room above a grocer’s, which gives him access to her in her (demure) nightclothes, in her bed. Klara, however, is so preoccupied by the withdrawal of her letters, which have stopped coming, that Kralik is practically invisible to her. Yet the audience, having greater knowledge than she does, understands the unavoidable voyeuristic aspect of Kralik’s presence: because of his own greater knowledge, his viewing of her – in her bed, in her home, in private – has a level that she’s unaware of.

And soon it becomes apparent that Kralik’s intentions are even more voyeuristic than they seemed. The landladies enter with a letter, and Klara, who for the first part of the scene has been the embodiment of Victorian fragility (a quality that Sullavan plays straight in other movies), greets the news by sitting bolt upright in bed and exhibiting astonishing vocal vitality. Too eager to read the letter to make Kralik leave (after all, now that he has the power to fire her, she has to be more diplomatic), and too indifferent to him for it to matter if he witnesses her most private moments, she accepts his permission to go ahead and read the letter that has so excited her. He wanders over to the window, pretending to give her privacy, but glances over his shoulder as she reads, smiling to himself. His knowledge gives him power over her, but in this scene, at least, the only power at issue is the power to make her happy.

The Shop Around the Corner: Klara reads the letter …

… while Kralik watches.

This isn’t Vivacious Lady: the two leads aren’t so physically attracted to each other that, finding themselves alone in a bedroom, they’re visibly distracted or disturbed. The eroticism of this scene is of a different kind. Stewart gets to see Sullavan, for the first time, as she is when no one is watching her and she’s happy, and she’s a different person: soft, tender, unselfconscious. Laughing under her breath at a line, she touches the letter to her face, an ultra-feminine gesture of self-touching that’s at once erotic and demure. Earlier, she used a similar gesture, rubbing her bare arm while gazing downward, while flirting with Stewart in the stockroom in an attempt to avoid staying late on the evening of her meeting with “Dear Friend.” Now, however, she’s not putting on an act of femininity, to be belied when she doesn’t get her way by an instant return to her viperish ways, but revealing that she can be feminine, which is to say, vulnerable.

Stewart is the cause of her happiness, and witnessing his power to make her happy makes him happy in turn. He is in a uniquely privileged position, because even if they were established lovers and she was reading a love letter he’d written her with the knowledge that he was the author, she could not unselfconsciously react to the letter as though she were in private if he was watching her. The only way he could be in the same position in those circumstances is if he were hiding and spying on her. Instead, he’s hiding and spying on her out in the open.

“She lights up like a firefly whenever you’re around,” Mrs. Bailey tells her son, George, in It’s a Wonderful Life, referring to Mary Hatch (Donna Reed). The first time I saw the Shop scene, the bedroom setting, the way that Sullavan, languid moments earlier, lights up inwardly and outwardly, and Stewart’s delight in seeing the effect he’s had on her, all conspired to make me think of the analogy of giving a woman an orgasm; especially since the proof of a woman’s orgasm is, notoriously, less tangible than the proof of a man’s, and her state must therefore, to some extent, be inferred from her reactions. Better yet – Stewart’s getting a guarantee that she’s not faking it. The orgasm analogy occurred to me again during the ending of Come Live with Me (Clarence Brown, 1941), a tonally less successful smutty farce than Vivacious Lady, in which Stewart is strident and Hedy Lamarr mostly pouts her way through the part of a babe who needs a green card.

Stewart and Lamarr are in adjacent bedrooms in his grandmother’s farmhouse, able to communicate with each other through the space between the top of the shared wall against which their beds are pressed and the gabled roof. Previously Stewart had made a speech to Lamarr about the way lady fireflies signal their attraction to men fireflies by blinking on and off, then handed her a flashlight, telling her to use it if she gets scared. Once they are tucked into their separate beds, Stewart recites the Christopher Marlowe poem that gives the film its title – or tries to, although he forgets some of the words – and Lamarr, still, silent, and, from her yearning expression, evidently moved in her bed, responds with a flash that he sees thanks to their Pyramus-and-Thisbe setup.

Stewart can’t get away from poetry. In Shop Around the Corner, there was the question of whether Kralik was poetic enough for Klara, which he answers, to some extent, by extemporizing on the romantic qualities of a wallet in her bedroom – the counterpart to her extemporizing on the practical qualities of a musical cigarette box for a customer as her audition for the job. In It’s a Wonderful World (1939), Stewart is, incongruously, screenwriter Ben Hecht’s trademark misogynous tough guy, who is in turn incongruously stuck in a seeming attempt to outdo the all-out wackiness of Bringing Up Baby. He plays opposite Claudette Colbert as a pretentious poetess who has written the poem that provides the movie’s title. In Come Live with Me and It’s a Wonderful World, though, Stewart is brought into conjunction with formal poetry, whether highbrow or middlebrow, whereas in his best movies, he turns lyrical screenwriting into luminous flights of fancy. All of the elements of Stewart’s erotic persona cohere in two scenes that take place at night, outdoors, after a spontaneous dip in the water, and involve the moon, in The Philadelphia Story and It’s a Wonderful Life.

The Philadelphia Story: Awakening the woman

What Stewart is especially good at, which we have already seen hinted in the bedroom scene of Shop Around the Corner, is awakening the woman, or bringing her to life. In Shop, he is responsible for both her “death” and her revival – the archetypal structural pattern (familiar from Much Ado About Nothing) found in comedy and romance that Northrop Frye writes of in Anatomy of Criticism, which in realistic works becomes the heroine’s experience of and recovery from illness or injury. In Pursuits of Happiness, Cavell draws upon this notion for his “comedy of remarriage” genre, one of whose features, he claims, is a concern with “the creation of a new woman, or the new creation of a woman, something I describe as a new creation of the human” (16). This theme is particularly evident in The Philadelphia Story, which, in attaching statue imagery to Tracy (Katharine Hepburn), alludes to the Pygmalion myth. Who, of her three suitors – Stewart, ex-husband Cary Grant, and her fiancé – will be the one to bring her to life?

As Cavell notes, Tracy’s death and rebirth is alluded to in the scene in which she is discovered, drunk and semi-swooning, in the arms of Stewart, also drunk, by her other two suitors, having been rescued by him from the pool. “Seems the minute she hit the water the wine hit her,” Stewart recounts, bemused. Prior to that, however, we had witnessed her in a long, playful scene with Stewart during which we seemed to witness her rebirth of feeling – not only emotion but also desire. In the role for which he won his only competitive Oscar, Stewart plays a supposedly “down-to-earth” Midwestern reporter who actually wants to be a writer and has published a collection of poetic stories, a character that allows him to draw on both his cantankerous and his sensitive sides. Although fighting it all the way, Stewart falls increasingly under the spell of mercurial socialite Tracy Lord, whose personality is up for debate throughout the film: she may be too fine for this Earth or, according to her ex-husband, a prig and a shrew.

In the scene that apparently climaxes offscreen in a moonlit swim, Stewart and Hepburn, both sozzled, have escaped from a high-class party, which happens to be in celebration of Hepburn’s wedding the next day, and are romping through the Lords’ verdant grounds, drinking more champagne; the greenery is juxtaposed with the mansion’s Grecian columns, recalling Tracy’s association with Diana and the moon. Playing in the woods at night is an image familiar from Bringing Up Baby, but since this is a George Cukor film, the mood is heavier, verging on melodrama and hysteria, and certainly more sexual. Hepburn attempts to provoke Stewart into making a move by repeatedly referring to him, despite his protests, as “professor,” as though to suggest that he, not she, is the one who’s not sufficiently in touch with his instincts, but, characteristically for Stewart, she first provokes outbursts of language: “There’s a magnificence in you, Tracy . . . .  A magnificence that comes out of your eyes, and your voice, and the way you stand there, and the way you walk. You’re lit from within, Tracy. You’ve got fires banked down in you. Hearth fires and . . .  holocausts!”

The Philadelphia Story: Hepburn and Stewart

As in Shop Around the Corner, Stewart succeeds in liberating the vitality and coaxing out the vulnerability of the woman he desires by an appeal to her narcissism in the form of a barrage of compliments that leave no doubt that she is desired. But in The Philadelphia Story we get to hear the full speech and hear him deliver it: Stewart’s seduction of Tracy is also a seduction of the audience, and the heightened language of the speech becomes a vehicle for the imaginative idealization that flared in his “lovely average girl” comment to Pirovich.

In Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman, Cavell discusses the feature of this genre that he calls the heroine’s “aria,” in which she renounces or denounces the things that would impede her freedom and in the process announces herself as an autonomous subject, and which Cavell connects with the idea of the “cogito,” or proving one’s existence (47-48). Stewart has a special relationship to speech in film: we know this from Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, in which he talks himself unconscious in an attempt to prove his innocence. Just as taciturnity is associated with masculinity in the case of so many male stars of the era (the gruff Gable, laconic Cooper, sulky Fonda, and enigmatic Grant), so is loquaciousness, in Stewart, connected to his feminine vulnerability and hysteria. The seduction arias in The Philadelphia Story and It’s a Wonderful Life, however, are not declarations of selfhood (the Stewart character’s lack of a stable sense of selfhood will prove a problem in It’s a Wonderful Life and Vertigo). In Mr. Smith, the idea of American politics has sufficient scope for Stewart’s imagination, although the reality proves bitterly disappointing. Normally, however, the only thing around to start him dreaming is a woman.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Sharing the Vision

George Bailey, the definition of a romantic, is inspired by things that are faraway, such as the lands he reads about in National Geographic, but when he reaches adulthood, he discovers that certain excitements are within his reach in his hometown – namely love and sex. Capra is a director with a curious relationship to sex: sometimes his movies scrub it out of existence to the extent that it’s difficult to imagine hero and heroine having a romantic future (Mr. Deeds, Mr. Smith, and Meet John Doe); at other times, love – whether the forbidden interracial love of The Bitter Tea of General Yen or the homey marital love of It’s a Wonderful Life – is thoroughly interwoven with the erotic.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Love interwoven with the erotic

Our first indication that It’s a Wonderful Life will be of the latter kind occurs with our first glimpse of the grown-up Violet Bick, played by Gloria Grahame, soon after we are introduced to the adult George. In the street outside Old Man Gower’s drugstore – where in the previous scene we saw George, Violet, and Mary Hatch as children, enacting, in relation to each other, the archetypal roles of oblivious, immature, chauvinist boy, flirt/slut (“You like every boy,” Mary accuses her with exasperation), and future wife/loyal adorer – Violet turns heads and interferes with traffic in a clingy summer dress. Her roving libido is an essential part of the ideal community that is Bedford Falls, and the movie never adopts a moralizing attitude toward her, but rather takes her own point of view as a child, in reply to Mary: “What’s wrong with that?”

Likewise, despite the double whammy of her religious/biological maternal names, Mary Hatch, too, has a sexual subjectivity to which Capra gives prominence; nor is George expected to relate to her chastely. When we first see Mary as an adult, played by Donna Reed, George is staring at her across the crowded school gymnasium at his brother’s graduation, startled into raptness by her new maturity and beauty. Capra cuts back and forth between George and Mary to show the developing physical attraction communicated by their exchange of looks and changing expressions. First Mary, flummoxed by evidence that the man she’s loved all her life has finally noticed her romantically, tears the glass of punch that she’s about to sip away from her lips as her eyes widen, as if at a loss for what to do; but then a shadow of a smile plays around the corners of her mouth in instinctive erotic anticipation. Cut back to George, who is now wearing what one might call Stewart’s “Vertigo look,” or, in other words, a bedroom gaze, intent and grave. Back to Mary, now in close-up, the smile nervously trying to break over her face; but first her eyes look him over, and then widen in wonder and delight with her smile. The fixed grin, a sort of rictus amoris, remains on her face as George completes his (unseen) journey through the crowd and pulls her into a dance. We are with the waiting female, not the pursuing/objectifying male, and Donna Reed’s expressions are made to do most of the work of signifying desire – both the desired (we are looking at her, closely) and the desiring (she is looking at George, and reacting to her desire for him).

One of the curious features of It’s a Wonderful Life is that the most intimate moments of the central couple are always shared. George Toles writes of the film, “Every important occasion is broken into pieces, like a loaf of bread, and distributed to a number of sympathetic beholders who retain not a private but a collective memory of it” (“Zuzu’s Petals” 66). I would only add to this fundamental observation about the way Capra reifies his ideas about community in the film that the beholders – or eavesdroppers – don’t necessarily have to be strictly sympathetic. When George finally declares his passion, he and Mary are sharing a telephone with her other suitor on the other end, and have just got her mother, a few feet away on the second floor and by no means rooting for George, off the line. Their honeymoon is derailed by a bank run, and their wedding night kicks off with a serenade from Bert the cop and Ernie the cab driver outside the window. What’s important is that the mutual involvement of couple and community curbs the natural tendency of the former to “enclose” their happiness rather than nourishing the community with it.

It’s a Wonderful Life: George and Mary tumble into the water

In this first night together, the narcissistic bubble that forms around George and Mary in the giddiness of their discovery of each other bursts when they Charleston backwards into the pool beneath the floor (as arranged by Mary’s jilted suitor). Instead of being humiliated, however, they keep dancing in the water, provoking a frenzy of festivity when everyone else around them jumps in, clothes and all. Mob behaviour in this case is positive, if bordering on the Dionysian. In later scenes, such as the near-run on the Bailey Bros. Building & Loan and the final scene in the Bailey parlor, Capra shows that he understands both the positive and negative side of infectious and collective moods.

Afterwards, Mary and George stroll home together in the moonlight, in borrowed clothes, George in a baggy football uniform that emphasizes his resemblance to a scarecrow and Mary in a bulky bathrobe that suggests her nudity beneath. Their incongruous attire lends the scene an air of the surreal and carnivalesque, as though anything could happen, even as Mary’s nudity charges it with erotic possibility. The suggestion that a young woman can walk through the streets of Bedford Falls at night with no clothes on at once lends an Edenic innocence to the situation (to which the imagery of foliage contributes) and, if you start to think about it, makes you wonder exactly how respectable this little town really is.

Femininely enigmatic (except that the viewer knows perfectly well what she wants: marriage – what did you think?), Mary walks on, saying little, as she waits for George to realize they’re two adults, even as they consolidate their romantic union by harmonizing on “Buffalo Gals” and throwing rocks at the Old Grenville House. When George first approaches her, she spooks, not ready for things to become physically serious even though she’s expertly guided him to this point, and he opts to throw a rock at the abandoned house instead, as though he could still go either way, boy or man, and as though libido can be channeled into destruction without much loss.

After Mary also throws and makes her wish, George approaches again, but this time with his libido channeled into lyricism: “What is it you want, Mary? What do you want? You want the moon? Just say the word and I’ll throw a lasso around it and pull it down. Say that’s a good idea. I’ll give you the moon, Mary.” “I’ll take it,” she replies, unfazed, improvising along. “Then what?” “Well then you can swallow it. And it’ll all dissolve see. And the moonbeams will shoot out of your fingers and your toes and the ends of your hair . . . ,” and George trails off, realizing that gender roles dictate that he’s supposed to be taking some kind of action, as a large-bellied, undershirted man observing them on his porch will immediately confirm.

In my opinion, this flight of fancy, with its weird, surreal imagery of George as a kind of cowpoke Icarus who pulls down the moon instead of flying too close to the sun, and a woman exploding with light, is even better than Stewart’s more literary aria of seduction in The Philadelphia Story. (Even Stewart doesn’t entirely know what to do with the phrase “blank, unholy surprise” from the latter.) All of its beauties come from Stewart’s excitable yet tender manner, the communicated intensity of his vision as images for their connection occur to him spontaneously.

Stalling and becoming agitated to build up his courage, George shouts at the undershirted man, “I’ll show you some kissin’ that’ll put hair back on your head” while Mary darts away, either embarrassed by George or afraid that he’s about to get carried away. That’s when she loses her robe, the end of whose belt is under George’s heel. She hides behind a bush, and George, when he realizes what’s happened, is about to toss her robe to her – but then stops himself. He decides to maintain his advantage and begins to tease her, even suggesting that he could sell tickets.

Stewart’s voyeurism in this scene isn’t like his voyeurism in Shop Around the Corner, although in that case he also had an advantage over the heroine. In that case, the advantage was his superior knowledge. Voyeurism presumes that one person has an advantage over the other, and the advantage usually has to do with three factors, any or all of which may be present: knowledge (the other person doesn’t know they’re being watched); physical vulnerability (one person is clothed, the other naked); looking (one person is watching, the other watched). In The Shop Around the Corner, Klara, in her robe in bed, knows that she’s being watched, but not how she’s being watched: with erotic interest.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George lords his advantage over Mary, and takes pleasure in her vulnerability, as a way of making his erotic interest clear in the context of a joke or game, so as not to make himself too emotionally vulnerable or frighten her again. Nevertheless, there’s an element of real cruelty in the game: he really does have all of the power in the situation. That cruelty, standing in for the element of aggression in human eroticism, is the serpent in this garden. And just as George and Mary’s dance floor hubris occasions their literal fall, so George’s giddy joking and phallic strutting is cut off by the news of his father’s stroke. As in Genesis, awareness of sex is quickly followed by awareness of death.

One of the great romantic comedy protagonists, Stewart is not remembered for screwball roles, but his tipsy outdoor scene with Hepburn and risqué outdoor scene with Reed show how the Stewart character establishes a romantic rapport with a partner through a mutual playfulness that relies on her imaginative openness. I mention the screwball comedy here because the central couple in some Hawks comedies, like Twentieth Century and Bringing Up Baby, and in Capra’s own It Happened One Night, also relate to each other in a playful, improvisatory fashion, as discussed by Cavell throughout Pursuits of Happiness. In Stewart’s love scenes, however, there’s also a sense of the couple nurturing a shared vision that can’t bear the scrutiny of the uninspired.

One might be forgiven for thinking that this visionary element was coming from the Stewart character alone if it weren’t for his scene in the street with Violet Bick. His mother has sent him off to see Mary to console himself for his knowledge that he will step out of the way and give up his dreams of travel and power so that his brother can get married and have those things; but George, restless and recalcitrant, turned around and set off in the opposite direction instead. He knows that the depth of his feeling, sexual and romantic, for Mary is surer than anything else to keep him trapped in Bedford Falls forever if he gives in to it. So when, wandering around downtown, aroused by the thought of Mary, he’s accosted by Violet after she sees him checking out a passing woman, Violet, who’s every bit as frankly drawn to him as Mary is, seems to offer him a release for his libido that won’t also automatically settle his destiny: the womb without the tomb.

When Violet spots George, she’s in much the same position as Mary at the dance, except that she’s on a street corner, being chatted up by two suitors instead of one. “I think I got a date,” she informs them “But, uh, stick around fellas, just in case, huh?” True to their archetypes, Violet likes George as much as Mary does, but not as exclusively. “We’ll wait for you, baby,” the older one calls after her, lamely, as she makes a beeline for George. (True to her more sexually aggressive nature, she approaches George rather than waiting for him to approach her, as Mary did in the party scene.) Evidently, Violet is both in control of whatever situation is brewing with the two men, and worth the wait.

It’s a Wonderful Life: Violet (Gloria Grahame) mistakes imagination for lunacy

However, Violet and George quickly discover that despite their mutual attraction, they’re ill-suited to each other, when once again desire inspires a flight of lyricism in George. He invites her to take off her shoes and walk through the grass with him, to go up to the falls, swim in a green pool, climb Mount Bedford, and start a scandal by staying out overnight. That this fantasy is more sensual than his (pregnancy-evoking) fantasy of Mary swallowing the moon suggests both that Violet’s availability makes him bolder with her, and that his brooding about Mary has reached fever pitch.

This slightly naughty sylvan fantasy is George’s idea of a hot date, but it’s not shared by Violet, who’s uninterested in rustic diversions that will ruin her clothes and expects money to be spent on her. Although her sexual forwardness makes her seem more unconventional than Mary, in the event she is, ironically, far more conventional, mistaking imagination for lunacy. The camera framed George’s face and shoulders while he made his propositions, but we make an abrupt shift from the subjective to the objective with the surreal revelation that a crowd has gathered around George and Violet as they stand in the median strip. As Violet indignantly objects to his notions, the crowd – close enough to touch them – laughs at him, as though his threat to put Mary in the position of humiliated spectacle in the earlier scene had redounded on him. This is George’s first taste, in the movie, of being surrounded by people to whom he can’t communicate his internal reality, and shows the relationship between unsympathetic beholding and paranoia.

George needs a woman with a poetic soul, whereas Violet only understands material pleasures; one who doesn’t have a set idea of what a date ought to be, but is up for spontaneous adventure. (Mary’s flexibility and capacity for improvisation is amply demonstrated when her wedding night doesn’t go according to plan.) Nevertheless, although his failure with Violet finally gets him to Mary’s house, he’s not yet ready to give in. Instead, he continues to be indecisive, pacing in front of her house, which prompts her to ask him, from the upstairs window, if he’s “picketing.”

Like an incipient Scottie Ferguson, Mary has props ready for George when he comes inside, talismans intended to conjure the magic of their night together years ago: a record of “Buffalo Gals,” which she puts on, and a piece of embroidery, displayed on an easel, that depicts him holding up the drooping pants of his football uniform while lassoing the moon. “Some joke, huh,” he comments on it, pretending to see only its affectionate mockery, not its sincere hero worship. It’s not so much that the magic of that night can’t be reproduced; all George has to do is acknowledge it, but to do so will cost him, as well as gain him, everything.

It’s a Wonderful Life: “The chance of a lifetime.”

Capra nurtures the scene’s sexual and emotional tension, letting them grow to a pitch in the telephone sequence. When Mary suggests that they share the phone, it seems barely manipulative: she’s already overwrought, in tears, from their mysterious fight, and flustered by his proximity, and she’s acting on instinct, the instinct being to keep him with her and to force him to realize, and admit, that he wants her. Stewart is visibly disconcerted as well, his face pained as his nose nudges, irresistibly, against the top of her hair, a gesture that conveys his awareness of her tactility. We see their faces close together, and all of the signs of their distress; but, importantly, they don’t see each other’s expressions: George, much taller, gazes down on Mary, who looks away from him except when he looks down at the phone while talking into it. Only able to bear meeting each other’s gazes for brief, confused moments, instead they react to each other’s presence, until Mary at last seizes an unmissable opportunity to up the ante by tilting her face up to George’s, looking him full in the face and hoarsely challenging him, “He says it’s the chance of a lifetime.”

It’s a testament to Capra’s direction of actors that the much younger and less celebrated Reed’s acting effortlessly matches Stewart’s in rawness, expressivity, and naturalness throughout the visit scene. Brilliantly, Capra has Reed play the telephone scene not with seductiveness (although she is certainly seducing Stewart), but with terror and helplessness. She knows that she can make him respond to her, but she has to be able to withstand the intensity of their reaction to each other, which frightened her off more than once before. Stewart plays the fear and trembling notes as well, but adds his speciality, anger: before kissing Mary, or declaring his love, he puts up a last fight, gripping her and yelling in her tear-streaked face. But in moments his anger dissolves into helplessness as he weakly says her name (“Oh Mary”) and embraces her, drawing forth the delirious response, “George, George, George.” He then kisses her not on the lips, which would be a conventional seal of movie passion, but all over her face, as he sighs her name again. A comedic shot of Mary’s horrified mother, in her housecoat and curlers, watching them from the top of the stairs, serves as a safety valve, discharging a little of the intensity of the lovers’ almost shockingly intimate communion, so that the film can continue – rather than, say, disintegrate and invert itself, like Muholland Drive after Betty and Rita make love.

There are two other, crucial, moments at which Stewart uses the name of the woman he loves in It’s a Wonderful Life. The first is his stunned response when Mary interposes herself between him and the children after he’s brought his nervous breakdown into the house, having discovered that Uncle Billy has lost the Building and Loan’s deposit. Mary doesn’t understand what George is going through, since he doesn’t tell her what has happened, but she prioritizes the children over him in his moment of greatest need, demonstrating the asymmetry of their relationship: for him, she comes before all others, but for her, he comes after the children.

During the Pottersville sequence, the singularity of George’s need for Mary is further demonstrated. George Toles writes, “The physical appearance and behaviour of Mary in front of the library during the Pottersville sequence, which adds up to a clichéd negative image of her . . .  throws the conclusion of the nightmare segment off balance” (61). And, indeed, when Clarence the Angel cries, in response to George’s hysterical and bullying demands to know where Mary is, “She’s . . .  she’s just about to close up the librar-EEE!” the notion that being an unmarried woman is a tragedy of such a scale does tend to inspire the progressive viewer with feelings that are somewhere between depression and the giggles.

What’s really going on with this character, however, is much more sinister than naive sexism. This Mary, not simply a person who has never found anyone to love, is terrified of men, which is to say, of sex, and when George chases her down the street, through the crowd, calling out her name and calling her his wife, it’s not only that their relationship, at the very centre of the film and its values, has been grotesquely distorted into the appearance of a delusional stalker and rapist chasing a frigid, fear-haunted woman. George is looking to her for maternal succor, but she is right to sense that this is also a sexual demand. His feelings for her, at their most intense, encompass both things, and it is this need that sends him back to reality, as her denial of that need (in consideration of the needs of her actual children) hurled him into the nightmare universe. This raw need is the starting point for Scottie Ferguson.

Voyeur: What the Gentleman Wants

The Shop Around the Corner: Kralik watches Klara

We have seen that in several of the films that define his erotic persona, the Stewart character is brought into relationship with the idea of a visionary imagination. In Shop Around the Corner, as far as the screenplay is concerned, Kralik is in Mary Hatch’s position in relation to possibilities, Klara in George’s: Klara is the impractical dreamer who wishes that she were a French actress instead of a humdrum shopgirl, while Kralik is the practical dreamer, who only wants a lovely, average girl and who can see the sentimental possibilities implicit in a useful, well-made wallet. But Lubitsch captures the feverish intensity with which Stewart imbues his vision of averageness, and Shop introduces the theme of It’s a Wonderful Life of the man of high aspiration and meager means who must come to terms with his ordinariness.

According to the way that Cavell defines genre in Pursuits of Happiness, the comedy of remarriage is characterized not by the presence of a remarriage plot, but by a set of features, not all of which are present in every film. Cavell goes further, and also claims that if a particular film is missing a particular feature, there must be an element that compensates for it. We have seen what these features are in the Stewart films I’ve considered: voyeurism; calling out a woman’s name; a carnivalesque moonlit romantic scene in which the principals behave more like rowdy children than like suave lovers (but that’s nevertheless sexually charged); an unconscious woman; poetry (or an aria of flattery); water; and the theme of visionary imagination. As one would expect of what is perhaps Stewart’s greatest film, It’s a Wonderful Life contains all of these features. Vertigo, more commonly held to be his greatest film, contains all but two: there’s no mention of the moon, although Madeleine’s uncanniness serves part of its role; and at no point does Scottie attempt to woo Madeleine, or any other woman, with barmy spontaneous lyricism. I’m tempted to be Cavellian and say that the absence of this latter feature, which in The Philadelphia Story is used to bring Tracy to life by making her aware of her desirability and desire, is related to the fact that Vertigo is a tragedy.

In Missing Out, Adam Phillips defines tragedies as “dramas in which satisfactions are too exactly imagined by their heroes,” which he considers a problem of imagining one’s satisfactions “without irony,” as well as dramas “of making a satisfaction into a thing,” which he relates to pornography (481-82). All of these aspects of tragedy have clear application to Vertigo. Scottie Ferguson imagines his satisfaction so exactly that not only can he only want one woman, but she must look, forever, exactly like she did when he first met her (“The gentleman certainly knows what he wants!” as the bemused women’s clothing saleslady remarks); this makes her into a thing, a static image rather than a person; and a fetish, since Scottie’s satisfaction can only be achieved under highly specific conditions.

Vertigo: Scotty as voyeur, remaking “Judy Barton” (Kim Novak)

That Scottie is unable to ironize his picture of satisfaction is memorably demonstrated in the scene in which Midge shows him her gag painting of herself as Madeleine. In The Shop Around the Corner, Klara and Kralik are also in danger of becoming inflexibly attached to a picture of what they want, which is flawless because it only exists in their minds. By the second act, however, Kralik has mysteriously gained the wisdom to be able to teach Klara how to ironize her picture of satisfaction so that it can become flexible enough to accommodate him in all of his fallible, fleshly reality. I would suggest that Shop grants this wisdom to Kralik by raising and purging the specter of sexual tragedy with Mr. Matuschek’s attempted suicide in response to the confirmation of his wife’s adultery. Interestingly, Mr. Matuschek is as inflexible in his belief that he knows the identity of his wife’s lover as Klara is in her belief that she knows what kind of man she wants – and doesn’t want. Klara’s inflexibility brings her, too, in relation to tragedy, when she falls ill after her correspondent stops sending her letters. “Of course, as long as it’s only psychological,” Kralik the pragmatist begins to remark when she tries to explain her complex emotions to him, and her outraged response, “‘Only’ psychological?”, may be at the expense of her pretentiousness at the level of dialogue, but it’s borne out by the film as a whole: Mr. Matuschek’s psychological illness nearly kills him.

In It’s a Wonderful Life, George Bailey, the visionary, forms a picture of his satisfaction that is inflexible enough that it nearly results in tragedy; nor does Clarence, delivering a much harsher form of “shock therapy” than Kralik puts Klara through, teach him how to ironize it: he doesn’t make George want the real thing by teaching him that the fantasy is silly; rather, he presents him with a nightmarish distortion of his life, to make him long, desperately, for the real thing to be restored. In Vertigo, Scottie Ferguson’s picture of his satisfaction is sexual, and the very qualities of lyrical intensity and fervent idealization that make Stewart’s love scenes in Shop, Philadelphia Story, and Wonderful Life so remarkable become the sources of tragedy. Scottie Ferguson is the version of “Jimmy Stewart” who, rather than having his imagination inspired by real women, can only accept the woman of his imagination, and for whom the ability to imagine something beyond the mundane, or the potential within the mundane, has become a fixation on a particular image.

Works Cited

Cavell, Stanley. Contesting Tears: The Hollywood Melodrama of the Unknown Woman. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981.

Cavell, Stanley. Pursuits of Happiness: The Hollywood Comedy of Remarriage. Cambridge: Harvard UP, 1981. Chicago: U of Chicago P, 1996.

Kendall, Elizabeth. The Runaway Bride: Hollywood Romantic Comedy of the 1930s. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1990.

Phillips, Adam. Missing Out: In Praise of the Unlived Life. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2013. EPUB file.

Toles, George. “Acting Ordinary in The Shop Around the Corner.” Movie: A Journal of Film Criticism 1 (2010): 1-15.

Toles, George. “No Bigger Than Zuzu’s Petals.” A House Made of Light: Essays on the Art of Film. Detroit: Wayne State UP, 2001. 51-75.

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Note: All images are screenshots.