4 Alfred Hitchcock and James Stewart Movies

One of Hollywood's All-Time Great Collaborations

Universal Studios

Having built a reputation as a genial everyman with stammering folksy charm, James Stewart completely turned his persona upside down when he began a fruitful collaboration with  Alfred Hitchcock in 1948. Though they only teamed up for four films, their partnership proved to be one of the most highly regarded actor-director tandems in Hollywood history, even more so than Hitch’s own collaboration with ​Cary Grant.

Whether he was playing a wheelchair-bound photographer who believes his neighbor committed murder or a private investigator who becomes obsessed with a dead woman's doppelganger, Stewart delved deeply into uncharted psychological depths while Hitchcock benefited from some of the best performances by an actor in any of his films. Here are the four great collaborations between James Stewart and Alfred Hitchcock.

The first of their four films, the Leopold and Loeb-inspired Rope was also Hitchcock’s first color film and allowed the all-American Stewart to branch out into darker territory. Stewart played Rupert Cadell, a college professor who unwittingly inspires two of his students (Farley Granger and John Dall) to commit murder as an exercise in proving one’s superiority over another. In fact, his discussion of Friedrich Nietzsche’s Übermesch theory is what leads the two men to strangle a former classmate to death. When Rupert suspects something is amiss, he investigates and is shocked to discover that his philosophical conversation with the two was used to rationalize murder. Though not Hitchcock’s best work, Rope was notable for the 10 long continuous takes making up the totality of the film's edits.

Many have argued which of the four Hitchcock-Stewart collaborations were the best and most will side with either Vertigo or Rear Window. My opinion has always been with Rear Window, mainly because of Hitchcock’s ability to draw maximum tension from a contained setting, Stewart’s believable performance as an overly-obsessive voyeur, and Grace Kelly’s radiant presence. Stewart played L.B. Jeffries, a globetrotting photographer confined to his apartment after suffering a broken leg, which leaves him nothing to do but watch his neighbors through a pair of binoculars and make up stories about their lives. Jeff sees one neighbor, Lars Thorwald (Raymond Burr), doing something suspicious in the garden late at night, leading him to speculate that the lonely traveling salesman killed his nagging wife and buried her in the backyard. Unable to investigate himself, Jeff convinces girlfriend Lisa (Kelly) to sneak into Thorwald’s apartment and dig up evidence, triggering a chain of events that results in a chilling confrontation with the killer himself. One of Hitch’s all-time masterpiece, Rear Window was a high water mark in only their second collaboration.

A remake of Hitchcock’s 1934 British-era thriller of the same name, The Man Who Knew Too Much featured Stewart in the classic position of a good man entangled in a web of murder and deceit just for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Stewart played an American tourist on holiday with his wife (Doris Day) and son in French Morocco, where husband and wife witness the murder of a Frenchman (Daniel Gelin) they befriended only hours before. Before dying, the Frenchman tells Stewart about an assassination plot that will occur during a concert performance at London’s famed Albert Hall. But Stewart and Day are unable to do anything about it because a group of mysterious foreign agents kidnapped their son in order to ensure their silence. Certainly better than the 1934 version, The Man Who Knew Too Much didn’t compare to the effort Stewart and Hitchcock made with Rear Window just two years prior.

of 04

Vertigo - 1958

Universal Studios

Collaborating for the fourth and final time, Stewart and Hitchcock pulled all the stops for this deeply personal thriller about sexual obsession. Stewart starred opposite Kim Novak, certainly one of Hitchcock’s more enigmatic leading ladies, to play Scottie Ferguson, a San Francisco-based private investigator who suffers from vertigo and a fear of heights after watching a police officer fall to his death during a rooftop chase. Scottie is called back into action when an old friend (Tom Helmore) convinces him to follow his wife, Madeleine (Novak), because of her unhealthy obsession with a great-grandmother who committed suicide. As he follows Madeleine around town, Scottie falls in love from afar, only to witness her tragic death when she seemingly jumps into the San Francisco Bay. Only after discovering her virtual twin does Scottie start succumbing to his own obsessive desires while uncovering the mystery surrounding Madeleine's alleged death. The second of two Stewart-Hitchcock masterpieces, Vertigo was critically dismissed upon release. But the film has been seen in a completely new light by contemporary critics and even surpassed Orson WellesCitizen Kane (1941) as the greatest movie ever made, at least according to the 2012 Sight & Sound critics’ poll.