Jimmy Stewart playing Charles Lindbergh. I want you to let that sink in for a minute. The classic every-man of cinema now playing a historical figure, the first man to fly from New York to Paris in a single-engine plane.
In theory, this sounds like a good idea. You’d have a film where most of it would take place in one location, so you’d need to cast someone with natural charisma and charm without ever dulling.
The problem with this is now that Jimmy Stewart is so iconic and unique of an actor in his mannerisms and the way he speaks, that you can’t see him playing a living, breathing person. Anytime I saw Jimmy trying to be Charles Lindbergh in “The Spirit Of St. Louis,” I didn’t see Charles Lindbergh, I saw Jimmy Stewart being himself.
As much as I love James Stewart as an actor, and believe me I adore this actor more than most others, I can’t take the man seriously when he’s trying to be a historical figure. Stewart works better when he’s allowed to be his own man, rather than someone else.
Strangely enough, “The Spirit Of St. Louis” was co-written and directed by Billy Wilder, the only time Wilder and Stewart worked together. This one lacks most of the charm that came from other Wilder films like “Sunset Boulevard” and “Some Like It Hot,” choosing to play just about everything straight without many quirks or personal touches. Granted, Wilder probably wanted to stay as close as possible to reality, but from a man who was oozing with personal style and substance, it is a bit disappointing to see a film directed by him that really could have used it.
Overall, “The Spirit Of St. Louis,” was a fine distraction. Nothing to special about this one, but nothing terrible about it either. While having James Stewart play Charles Lindbergh is off-putting to say the least, he does a fine job as usual with the role and keeps the film from getting stale. Save this one for a rainy day or if you feel like watching every Billy Wilder film at some point.
Final Grade: C