Sunday, August 18, 2019

I Remember Mama 1948

George Stevens made this cherished film after returning from the horrors of War and the liberation of the concentration camps that he took part in which changed him forever and he would never make another light sophisticated comedy again. Based on a book of memoirs by Kathryn Forbes about her grandmother who immigrated from Norway in the 19th century it was also adapted into a hit play in 1944 which featured a young and beautiful Marlon Brando in his Broadway debut and was also a long running tv series in the early 50’s. Richard Rogers of all people tried to make it into a musical with Liv Ullmann in the lead and was a big flop in 1979 only running for 3 months and no doubt contributing to his death that same year.
The story focuses on a close loving family living in San Francisco a few years after the earthquake, (no mention of this little event is talked about) who share all the joys and sorrows that come their way. Mama is nicely acted by Irene Dunne and her oldest daughter who wants to be a writer is played by the superb Barbara Bel Geddes with her glowing presence and voice. Ah yes that voice. Mama has a big family including her sisters who are like the three bears one is gruff, one is cowardly and one is sweet but basically they are good souls.
There are familiar family crises sick cats, no money, childhood sickness, lots of drinking of coffee, failed dreams, late marriages, lovable kids, and some marvelous performances including one by Oskar Homolka repeating his role from Broadway as the formidable Uncle Chris who gives us one hell of a death bed scene that should leave you if not weeping then certainly impressed.
Featuring a large supporting cast of actors in unexpected roles: Rudy Vallee as a curt doctor, Edgar Bergen as a shy undertaker, Cederic Hardwicke as a poor literature loving border, the great Florence Bates as a successful “lady author” and Ellen Corby as one of Mama’s sisters. The film needs a restoration its a bit tired looking, but the black and white on location shooting in the city itself is lovely, and Stevens is so kind and attentive to his cast that you want to hug them all and have a cup of coffee with them. The film received Oscar nominatations for Dunne, Bel Geddes, Homolka, Corby and the cinematography but surprisingly none for picture or director. This might have to do with the film being a box office failure even though it was the Easter attraction at Radio City Music Hall and the typical long George Stevens running time might have been too much for the fast and loose movie audiences of 1948 who were not in the mood for nostalgia and were instead getting pounded by all the Noir films that were giving them good gooses.


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