From the outbreak of the Second World War, James Stewart was hitting the big time. He received his first of five Oscar nominations for 1939’s Mr Smith Goes To Washington, before winning the Best Actor gong a year later for The Philadelphia Story. As the US entered the conflict in Europe, the Hollywood star enlisted in the Army Air Forces before returning for his first postwar role as George Bailey in 1946’s It’s A Wonderful Life, earning himself another Academy Award nod. But at the start of the next decade the star was desperate to change teh direction of his career and the type of roles he was playing.
In 1952, he starred in Bend of the River, an adaptation of Bill Gulick’s novel Bend of the Snake. The Western followed James Stewart’s tough cowboy Glyn McLyntock risking his life to deliver confiscated food and supplies to homesteaders after gold is discovered in the area. The part was a big turning point in the star’s career, seeing him begin to play more violent and ruthless characters – which he hadn’t been known for in the 1940s.
The film, which is on ITV4 at 2pm today, was also the last time Stewart, who was 44 at the time, sported his own head of hair in a movie.
The middle-aged star shared billing with Arthur Kennedy and Julie Adams who played McLyntock’s pal Emerson Cole and pioneer Laura Baile respectively.
Fourth on the poster behind their names was a rising star in his late 20s, Rock Hudson (real name was Roy Harold Scherer Jr) in the role of a professional gambler called Trey Wilson.
The movie was one of the closeted actor’s final films in a supporting part before hitting stardom as a Hollywood leading man.
This is hardly surprising given the response from the audience to Hudson compared to Stewart, even though the movie originally received poor reviews before its critical acclaim in later years.
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As for Stewart, despite his confidence wobble for the Bend of the River premiere, he continued to have an impressive career. Following his Western with Hudson, he collaborated with director Anthony Mann on four more movies over the next couple of years.
The 1950s also saw work with Alfred Hitchcock in the likes of Rope, Rear Window and Vertigo. The star died in 1997 at the age of 89 from a heart attack caused by an embolism.