The Light and the Void: James Stewart and Henry Fonda - PopMatters
Hank and Jim: The Fifty-Year Friendship of Henry Fonda and James Stewart [ Scott avoided political wrangling to maintain the comfort of their relationship. Henry Fonda and James Stewart were two of the biggest stars in Hollywood for Fonda was a liberal Democrat, Stewart a conservative Republican, but after. Two Hollywood greats, James “Jimmy” Stewart and Henry “Hank” Fonda, offer a valuable lesson for today's polarized America.
It had been precisely days since his release from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he had resided for seven endless weeks. Shirlee had been keeping track—Cedars had been his thirteenth hospitalization since their marriage in The skin around his face had begun to tighten and fade, which had the effect of making his startlingly blue eyes loom even larger. The rest of him had aged terribly, but his eyes remained radiant and fierce with life. Most days he would bring flowers in one hand and a bag of vegetables in the other, harvested that morning from the garden he and Gloria, his wife, had planted next to their house.
If Fonda was awake and in the mood for conversation, they usually discussed gardening, and the pleasure it gave them. Her hope was that he would talk, say something that might dispel the aura of silence and grudge that had plagued their relationship since she was a little girl.
But in his dying, as in his living, Henry Fonda kept his own counsel, reserving his thoughts about death to himself. As Jim sat with Hank that long summer, they figured out that the fall of would mark fifty years since they had thrown in together, two starving young actors in New York City. Since then they had been inseparable, emotionally if not physically.
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On the surface, their friendship was a match of opposing personalities. Henry Jaynes Fonda was an agnostic trending toward atheist who had been raised in a Christian Science household on the plains of Nebraska. Hank had had five wives—a fact he found mortifying—and often difficult relationships with his children, while Jim had one wife and was adored by his children. Stewart had been finishing his architecture degree at Princeton when he was diverted into the least likely career ever attempted by a citizen of Indiana, Pennsylvania.
Fonda was introduced to the craft by Dorothy Brando, whom everybody called Doe, an Omaha wife and mother with a bad marriage and a drinking problem who also nudged her son, Marlon, into the profession.
Hank lived most of his life like a tightly wound spring, and his acting followed suit.
Stewart was apparently comfortable in life or at work. He was that natural, that at ease. What set Stewart apart from the other leading men of his generation was his embrace of emotional extremes—pain connected to nothing less than unmediated agony.
Stewart was regarded with open affection by the communities of Hollywood and movie fans alike. He was practically a member of the extended family of man. Both of them worked with her.
Fonda loved her, married her, then lost her. Stewart pined for her. Through all the vicissitudes of the world, through career ups and downs, through their mutual jettisoning of their careers to go to war and the difficult adjustment that came after, they had stayed close, taking care to steer carefully past the shoals of their differing politics.
And now Jim was doing the only thing he could for his pal—be there while Hank struggled to stay awake, struggled to breathe, struggled to stay alive for one more hour, one more day. Dying is hard work, and Hank was exhausted.
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Besides discussions of gardening, and periods of companionable silence, there was occasional yelling about episodes from their shared youth. Each of them had to shout in order to be heard by the other. This scene that had unaccountably not appeared in a play by Samuel Beckett struck Hank as hilarious—his sense of humor encompassed the bleak, while Jim could manage only a thin smile at their shared decrepitude. Drums Along the Mohawk and Fort Apache Much better is Fort Apache, which at least is somewhat more sympathetic in its treatment of the Native American cause post-Civil War this time.
Here, Fonda is much more interesting to watch than as the bland hero of Drums Along the Mohawk. How did the actors recover in time? Thursday, November 2 Two more westerns follow with Stewart, working with Anthony Mann, a more artistically rigorous director than Delmer Daves. Friday, November 3 Yet two more with Stewart—both from —this time in comedic mode. Though Hepburn originally wanted Spencer Tracy for the role, Stewart brings out the softer, more romantic side of the outwardly cynical newsman.
Better yet, The Shop Around the Corner is the only time Stewart acted in an Ernst Lubitsch film and he is superb as a Budapest shop manager who carries on a feud with a co-worker Margaret Sullavan, in their final teamingnot realizing she is the same wonderful woman he has been corresponding with by mail.
Surrounded by a great cast, Stewart fits into the ensemble effortlessly and helps balance the comedy with the right amount of pathos. Yet director Richard Fleischer was actually a better filmmaker during his former black-and-white film noir days the color, widescreen and faddish split-screen add little and the casting of a movie star, Tony Curtis, in the title role is more distracting than helpful.
At least Fonda, like Stewart in Call Northsideplays the detective with effective understatement. Sunday, November 5 Quite a day at the movies! At this point, Lincoln intercedes, determinedly pushing his way through the mob until he arrives at the doorstep and positions himself between the makeshift battering ram and the jailhouse door that seemed to be on the verge of bursting into splinters.
Henry Fonda in Young Mr. Lincoln IMDB Lincoln engages in a series of tactics to distract, humor, cajole, and ultimately shame the crowd into giving up on their bloody vengeance and allowing justice to run its course.
It is, of course, a classic scene in a revered John Ford film that reveals the director's sense of pacing, characterization of mob mentality, and the cinematic shaping of a scene through shifting emotion. It's also the prototypical Lincoln moment that demonstrates his rhetorical verve couched in familiar homily and self-deprecating humor. Moreover, and most importantly for our purposes, it's a study in Fonda's preternatural for conveying a carefully calibrated distinction between the inner and the outer man while seeming to do precious little.
Lincoln perches himself in the doorway, his arms grasping the doorjamb at a diagonal angle. Fonda holds his face in an impassive, unreadable expression. It's nearly blank altogether, even the determination evinced in his march through the crowd is gone. We don't get the sense that Lincoln is concerned or scared or particularly angry -- he's simply inscrutable as though he watches the events from some untold distance.
When the crowd refuses to heed his calls to order, he thrusts the log away from him with a kick. His arms fall to his side and he declares he's not there to make speeches but is willing to fight any man willing to take him up on the offer. The mob bursts into laughter at the incongruity of the gesture. Lincoln spits into and rubs his hands together in mock anticipation of a brawl.
But he never smiles, he never mugs to the crowd. Is he serious or is he attempting to amuse the audience? He taunts one member of the crowd to fight him but without much of a real threat, the man backs down and recedes into the anonymity of the mob. As the mob tries to return to battering the door, Lincoln moves on to another tactic.
Hank and Jim
Now he jokes with the crowd more openly. He then assures them that they may be right and maybe the boys do deserve to hang. A lesser actor -- hell, pretty much any other actor -- would ham up the line just a bit in to demonstrate, if nothing else, Lincoln's ability to connect with crowds even in moments of high tension.
But Fonda does nothing of the sort. He doesn't even allow the moment to feel like it's building to some culminating point; he simply moves on to the next tactic -- a sermon on the evils of men taking the law into their own hands -- with the same impassivity, the same distance that he embodies throughout the scene.
What's truly remarkable about Fonda's performance in this film and as exemplified by this scene, is the amount of innate, burning resentment he brings to the character of a youthful Lincoln. He may be willing to play up his supposed inadequacies to make his position more palatable and make himself more relatable, but this is not a display of cynical manipulation.
Fonda, however, finds something more adamantine and recalcitrant at the heart of Lincoln's inner life that stands in a starkly ironic contrast to his gregarious public persona. Fonda's Lincoln seethes with a barely restrained disdain for his fellow man.Best Friends Jimmy Stewart and Henry Fonda
But watch that scene again and pay heed to Fonda's demeanor. He knows he's dealing with children in the guise of grown men and he speaks to them in that manner. He knows they must be entertained in order to be persuaded and so he makes light of the situation despite its overwhelming gravity.
But while he does it, he never betrays his emotions, whatever they may be. His impassivity is a calculated refusal to identify with the moment. By seeming so removed, he maintains control. And yet behind that control lies resentment. Fonda's Lincoln accepts that he must play these roles to make people do right but he is angered and embittered by the fact that he is the only adult in the room at any given time.
He's outwardly affable but barely disguised behind that affability lurks a bitter indignation. Notice that Fonda never offers the cinematic audience any direct clue as to the relative truth or falsity of either side -- the inner or the outer man.
The question that lingers in my mind is: Hank and Jim As is so often the case in his films, Fonda presents a tabula rasa, a blank slate on which you can draw your own understanding of the scene, its commitments, its entailments. In this sense, and in contrast to Stewart, Fonda is one of the least giving or least forthcoming actors of the screen.
Stewart provides layer upon layer in his performances, he invites the audience into his understanding of the world within the film. He becomes a conduit for our understanding, like a guide that indexes points of interest, areas of concern. In a Stewart film, we adopt his welcoming if still diffident gaze onto the structures of the cinematic landscape. Fonda is entirely different. He stares back at us in a Sphinx-like emptiness.
His glare is a void that makes a demand upon the audience without ever clarifying the terms of that demand. A somewhat glib neo-Platonic take on the aesthetics of cinema would have it that film is glimmering light that cuts through and fades into obfuscating shadow providing a glimpse of a truth that cannot be pinned down with the epistemological clarity of the conceptual; it's the revelation of a truth that cannot be seen face to face but only through a glass darkly.
In that metaphor, Stewart focuses our attention on the penetrating quality of the light the act of looking with the actor, of seeing the opportunities of the world in their joyful ambiguity while Fonda represents the dark, unknowable core of shadow, the dark side of the moon that lies behind what little is revealed and gives the revealed its cultic power to overwhelm and enchant.