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Monday, October 16, 2017

Author Guest Post - Delia James

Delia James was born in California and raised in Michigan, she writes her tales of magic, cats, and mystery from her hundred-year-old bungalow home. She is the author of the Witch’s Cat mysteries, which began with A Familiar Tail. When not writing, she hikes, swims, gardens, cooks, reads, and raises her rapidly growing son.  Let's join her for some classic movie talk.


Fall is my favorite time of year. I’ve always lived near the Great Lakes where we get the classic red and gold, crisp, frosted autumns and I love to be out and about and just feel the air.

Fall is also a time when I get my retro on. Maybe because it’s a time of such dramatic change outside, I find myself curling up inside with things that have lasted. I dig deep back into my favorite classic books, and classic movies. And since I’m a fan of mysteries, that tends to pull me back around to the work of actor Jimmy Stewart.

A lot of people may only know Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey — the kind, infinitely upright, somewhat bewildered hero of It’s a Wonderful Life. Or maybe they have heard a passing reference to his Mr. Smith Goes to Washington when the papers are talking about changes to the filibuster rules in the Senate, again.

But Stewart was also the star of some absolutely classic
crime dramas. He wasn’t an action hero. He was a talker, a reasonable, if sometimes cranky, man. His characters were played with intelligence, understatement and a very dry humor, but also with a humanity, and an appreciation for the people around him. Stewart projects a manner that draws you in, in the same way a good storyteller at the party can make you forget the mini-quiches because you really want to hear how this one came out. Stewart also had an eye for a script, and his crime dramas have aged amazingly well. They are slow by modern standards, and the watching them is more like seeing a play than a thriller, but then, I’m a theater buff too, so for me, that’s a feature, not a bug.

The suspense in Stewart dramas builds on small things, ordinary things, like passing remarks and small, observed details. There’s an admirable lack of explosions and very low body counts. The suspense is intimate; it always remains on a human scale. As such, although they are not cozies, I like to go back to them for inspiration, and a reminder of what really makes for a good mystery.

The first of my three Jimmy Stewart favorites has got to be Rope. Directed by Alfred Hitchcock, and based on a stage play, Rope is one of a flurry of works inspired by the case of Leopold and Loeb. In it, Stewart is a teacher invited to a dinner party by a former student, who has just committed a murder, and hidden the body in the apartment. This does not count as a spoiler, because it happens right up front in the first five minutes of the movie. The suspense is built around whether or not Stewart’s character is going to work out what’s wrong. The humor is dry, the people are deeply individual, and the story is satisfying.

The second favorite is also a Hitchcock project; Rear Window. This is another one-room movie. Stewart is a photographer laid up with a broken leg who starts watching the people in the next apartment building. Yeah, okay, slightly creepy, but the guy’s bored. He also thinks he’s seen a murder, and the disposal of the body. Like Rope, Rear Window is not a whodunit. But even more than in Rope, Rear Window’s story, is built around the slow reveal of the reality, and the humanity, of both friends and strangers.

My final Stewart classic is a local favorite, and probably the most famous Michigan-set mystery. Anatomy of a Murder takes place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula and is a classic courtroom drama. Stewart is a lawyer in serious need of cash, so he takes on the case of a man accused of murdering his wife’s rapist. The problem is the murder took place in a crowded bar and a lot of people saw who fired the shots. The further problem is there’s a question of exactly who is guilty of exactly what.

This version of Stewart has a few more shades of gray than his usual characters. More dogged than stalwart, he’s a little depressed, a little adrift and a little more interested in his check than in the truth.

Oh, and if you’re into a side of classic jazz with your crime drama, there’s a cameo by the great Duke Ellington.

It’s fall. Winter, as somebody keeps reminding us, is coming. Time to take up the comforter, the pumpkin spice, and a nice, warm classic.


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THANK You Ms. James.  I enjoy classic old movies and Jimmy Stewart as well.  

My favorite Stewart movies are Hitchcock's Rear Window, Hitchcock's The Man Who Knew Too Much, The Glenn Miller Story, and the Cheyenne Social Club.

For Halloween I like to watch the classic Tom Hank's movie The Burbs.  Of course, for a classic scary movie, Betty Davis in Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte is great.

How about you?  What movies do you like to enjoy either with cold weather approaching or for Halloween?

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The publisher has offered one copy of Familiar Motives for giveaway!

Entry for giveaway lasts until Monday October 23rd 6:00 p.m. (MST).  U.S.  entries only please.
The publisher will be shipping the books to the winners.

How to enter:

*** First, you must be a member (follower) of this blog.***

All entries are to be in the comments for this post.
I shall notify the winner via the email address you provide to get your mailing address and have the prize sent directly to you.

IF you are a member or follower (including email subscriber) of this blog, you only need to leave a comment with your correct email.

BECOME a member/follower/email subscriber of this blog if you aren't already and enjoy the celebration of all things mystery and suspense.

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John Smith said...

Email subscriber. Love the cover with the shop and those cats!

jsmith[delete brackets]3may[delete brackets]2011

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traveler said...

What an interesting and informative interview. I too enjoy Jimmy Stewart movies especially Vertigo and Rear Window. Old school and suspenseful. Thanks for this lovely feature and giveaway. saubleb(at)gmail(dot)com

holdenj said...

You know you're right about Stewart. He was so magnificent in Rear Window that I feel Rope tends to get forgotten. (maybe forgotten in general, too)
Thanks for the interesting post and chance to win!

petite said...

Classic Books and Classic movies are memorable and unforgettable with wonderful acting and script. Captivating and brilliant. I love the great lakes as I lived in Ontario for many years and visited Lake Superior and Lake Huron as well as Lake Ontario, but my favorite is Lake Huron as we spent summers there. elliotbencan(at)hotmail(dot)com

Jana Leah B said...

Enjoyed the post. Rear Window is one of my favorites.

ulfah said...


prince said...

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