Several online forums have repeated an Alfred Hitchcock assertion, possibly sourced from his 1962 interview with Francois Truffaut, that one reason Vertigo was a financial failure was because the 49-year-old Jimmy Stewart looked “too old” to be the lover of Kim Novak, who was 25 during filming. (Vertigo was shot between September and December 1957.)

Stewart’s John Ferguson does in fact seem too rigid and stodgy for Novak, not just because of his mostly gray hair but a generally stuffy conservative bearing. (That awful brown suit, for example.) But Hitch could have easily made Stewart appear younger by giving him fair, blonde-tinted hair with a slightly longer, less conservative cut. Only a year earlier Stewart had worn a blonde, almost bushy wig in The Spirit of St. Louis when he played the 25 year-old Charles Lindbergh.

There was nothing loose or sensual or sexually upfront about Stewart in Vertigo. Nothing. He looked and behaved like a Republican governor of a midwestern state, or an Air Force colonel or a corporate real-estate broker. One glance at Novak and you could imagine her nude under satin sheets, but it’s impossible, really, to think of Stewart’s character in even a partial state of undress, much less buck naked and doing the deed. It feels creepy to even describe this, and I’m fully aware that in his youth Stewart was quite the randy fellow.

James Stewart in Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo (released in May 1958).

Stewart as Charles Lindbergh in Billy Wilder’s The Spirit of St. Louis (released in April 1957).

The 53-year-old Stewart at Gary Cooper’s funeral in 1961.