Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Film of the Week: “I Remember Mama,” 1948

Irene Dunne
Directed by George Stevens in 1948, I Remember Mama was based on the successful Broadway play of the same name. The original play, produced by Rogers and Hammerstein and written by John Van Druten, ran for over seven hundred performances starting in 1944. The original cast of the play included Marlon Brando in his Broadway debut.

Director George Stevens wished to maintain the feel of the original play with his screen adaptation of the story which centered on a family of Norweigan immigrants living in San Francisco in 1910. Stevens also wished to preserve the sense of warmth and familial love which was such an integral part of the book which inspired the play—Mama’s Bank Account by Kathryn Forbes.

The central character in the story—“Mama” or Marta Hanson—was originally played by Mady Christians on the stage. For his film, Stevens wished to cast a big-name star and asked Greta Garbo if she would be interested in the part. When Garbo declined—stating that she would not play a maternal figure—Irene Dunne was offered the part. Dunne, despite being fifty years old, didn’t look as if she could be the mother of almost-adult children. Special makeup was applied to make Dunne appear to be her age.

Barbara Bel Geddes
The film is told from the point of view of Katrin Hanson (Barbara Bel Geddes) who recalls important moments in her family’s history as she finishes work on her first novel. The story that unfolds is one of strength and bravery as the family bands together to weather events both mundane and tragic. It’s a tale of the every-day, but also an account of the harsh realities of life in the early Twentieth Century.

Stevens’ even-handed direction avoids over-sentimentality, but still maintains the sweetness of the story. He doesn’t shy away from the unglamorous sides of life, but doesn’t present them as overtly ugly either. Of the cast which also includes Ellen Corby, Philip Dorn and Oskar Homolka (reprising his role from the stage play), the stand-outs are really Dunne and Bel Geddes. Irene Dunne, well-known for her comedic roles, delivers a touching and believable performance as “Mama.” Meanwhile, Bel Geddes convincingly ages from a girl to a woman in such a way that it’s hard to believe the same actress is playing Katrin as a young girl and Katrin as a young woman.

Oska  Homolka
This film (and its source works) inspired a television program, Mama, which ran from 1949-1957 as well as a 1979 Broadway musical version starring Liv Ullman. It’s a thoroughly lovely film—true to life and a good reminder of the importance of family.


No comments: