Stewart’s post-war roles are his most-known and celebrated, but a lot of people overlook the fact that these characters are not good guys. In fact, some of them are downright shady.
In “Winchester ’73,” he’s a cowboy out for revenge, hunting his own brother for the murder of their father. He’s violent, blinded by vengeance, but he still manages to convince us he’s not all that bad. After all, the brother is a murderer, so he deserves what happens to him, right?
When he is accused of liking the hunt, Stewart assures us that isn’t the case, “I don’t like it. Some things a man has to do, so he does them.” My soul cheers when Stewart avenges his father by killing his brother, but why? Because no matter what the all-American Stewart does, he finds a way to tug us over to his side. I dare you to watch this scene and tell me that, somewhere deep down in your belly, you don’t root for ol’ Jimmy. I bet you can’t.
Stewart occupied these Western roles for a while, playing the same disillusioned cowboy that liked to hang out in morally grey territory. Then, he moved on to Hitchcock films.
In “Rear Window,” he’s a voyeuristic photographer who thinks he’s watching a woman being physically assaulted, but he does nothing. Yeah, his character is stuck in his room with a broken leg, and this was years before 911 was invented, but Stewart doesn’t yell out of the open window, try to throw something through it, he doesn’t even try to phone someone for help. As the woman is thrown around the room by a man three times her size, he stammers and asks his nurse, “What do we do?” in that endearing drawl. You watch his baby blue eyes jump around with concern and anxiety, and somehow you feel sorry for him. Poor Jimmy, you think, he wants to help her so badly.