Jimmy Stewart: A Wonderful Life, by Jonathan Coe, 1994.
I am not a happy man. I had used this book for research when I wrote a lengthy college paper about the portrayal of capitalism in the film It’s a Wonderful Life. I did not read it all at that time, and upon reading it now, I am very angry with Coe.
It's a Wonderful Life, along with several other Stewart films, such as Mr. Smith Goes to Washington and You Can’t Take it With You, are distinctly American films portraying distinctly American ideals, so it is preposterous (yet intriguing and enlightening) to see Coe, who lives in England, review Stewart and his films.
This book is a quick run-through of Stewart's films, telling few anecdotes about the films, and ignoring most of the rest of his life. The birth of his twin daughters received only a sentence or two. Coe brings up a few good points arguing that the main argument of It's a Wonderful Life and other Stewart-Capra films are flawed. However, I can refute these claims and show how these films DO work under an American ideology.
Coe pans most of Stewart’s films and tosses them off generally as just more half-hearted films that fail in their sentimentality and half-baked scripts. Coe apparently only liked a handful of Stewart’s films, according to what he wrote in his book. A sample sentence on page 188, offering a summary of Stewart’s film career, states “It’s a long time now since he (Stewart) made a film, and an even longer time since he made a really good one.”
My question to Coe is: Wouldn’t it have been more fun for you to write a book about someone who’s work you overall enjoyed, as opposed to someone who’s work you have a hard time finding much good to talk about? This book is worth reading for die-hard Stewart fans, only to get a non-American perspective of Stewart and his films.
Fair warning: Prepare to be angry.