Arlecchino Cinema > 10:45


George Stevens


Monday 26/07/2021


Original version with subtitles


Film Notes

As the opening shot pulls back from a panoramic view of San Francisco wrapped in fog, into a humble loft in which Barbara Bel Geddes as Katrin types the very last line of her novel, an extraordinarily fruitful period unfolds in Stevens’s life – resulting in a quartet of masterpieces directed back-to-back with- in the course of only five years. Back from the war, burnt-out and weary, thinking his career was in all likelihood over, Stevens was actually on fire. Some key events had taken place in the production of the film prior to Stevens’s involvement. The main literary source, Kathryn Forbes’s semi-autobiographical book about the life of a family of Norwegian immigrants in San Francisco, was acquired by RKO in 1942 and assigned to screenwriter Dewitt Bodeen (known for Val Lewton’s horrors). In the meantime, the story had inspired I Remember Mama, a 1944 Broadway play by John Van Druten. Therefore Bodeen wrote different drafts – one before viewing the play and one afterwards. (Oscar Homolka resumed his theatrical role in the film version.) After Marlene Dietrich’s request to play Mama was rejected and RKO’s courtship of Greta Garbo for the title role didn’t work out, Irene Dunne was cast. She asked for Stevens to direct. Then the studio, which had once been Stevens’s first home as a director, got him on loan from Liberty Films. He not only directed, but as usual wrote some new material and produced the film. Here, with his lucid direction and richness of detail, Stevens rubs shoulders with old masters such as Henry King but also with contemporary giants such as Orson Welles. His nostalgic look at the past – with mirrors, voiceover and low-ceilinged houses of childhood – is played in a Wellesian key. The plot is loose and designed to allow stark details to appear against a seemingly mundane backdrop, brought to life by characters who, in Donald Richie’s words, move through the reels of the film just as though they are alive. The tragic isolation of the individual, explored in Stevens’s films since Alice Adams, becomes the central focus. A giant is born.

Ehsan Khoshbakht

Cast and Credits

Sog: based on the pièce of the same name (1944) by John Van Druten and on the novel Mama’s Bank Account (1943) by Kathryn Forbes. Scen: DeWitt Bodeen. F: Nicholas Musuraca. M: Robert Swink. Scgf: Albert D’Agostino, Carroll Clark. Mus: Roy Webb. Int: Irene Dunne (Mama, Marta Hanson), Barbara Bel Geddes (Katrin Hanson), Oscar Homolka (Chris Halvorsen), Philip Dorn (Lars Hanson), Sir Cedric Hardwicke (Jonathan Hyde), Edgar Bergen (Peter Thorkelson), Rudy Vallee (Dr. Johnson), Barbara O’Neil (Jessie Brown Halvorsen), Florence Bates (Florence Dana Moorhead), Peggy McIntyre (Christine Hanson). Prod: George Stevens, Harriet Parsons per RKO Radio Pictures. 35mm.