Combustible Celluloid
 
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With: Irene Dunne, Barbara Bel Geddes, Oskar Homolka, Ellen Corby, Rudy Vallee, Cedric Hardwicke
Written by: DeWitt Bodeen, based on the play by John Van Druten and a novel by Kathryn Forbes
Directed by: George Stevens
MPAA Rating: NR
Running Time: 134
Date: 03/09/1948
IMDB

I Remember Mama (1948)

3 Stars (out of 4)

Banking On It

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

When director George Stevens returned from serving in WWII, here-emerged as an Important Filmmaker, rather than the mere maker ofentertainments that he had been before. I Remember Mama (1948)was the first film of this new phase.

Predictably, it racked up five Oscar nominations for acting and cinematography, and it has a dour, drippy feel not found in Swing Time, Gunga Din or the other early, fun films. Yet it's a quietly effective work, thanks to its strong sense of time and place.

The film depicts a series of small events in the lives of a family of Norwegian immigrants living in San Francisco at the turn of the century. Irene Dunne (The Awful Truth) plays Martha Hanson the noble mama who, with superhuman effort, looks after her many grown kids. Barbara Bel Geddes (Vertigo) plays Katrin Hanson, the young writer who grows up to publish a story (and a book) about her family. Oskar Homolka (Ninotchka) steals quite a few scenes as jovial, shrewd Uncle Chris. (All three, along with Ellen Corby as timid Aunt Trina, were nominated for Oscars.)

The film contains many lovely set-pieces, such as the English boarder/actor (Cedric Hardwicke) reading the great books to the family in the evening, mama's clandestine after-hours visit to the hospital disguised as a maid, and Katrin realizing that her mother has pawned a family heirloom to buy a graduation present. Yet it's also leisurely enough to include lovely throwaway moments of family life, and it's these that make the film work.

Probably the veteran "B" movie screenwriter DeWitt Bodeen (Cat People, The Seventh Victim) helped keep things grounded. Unfortunately, the film's success spurred Stevens on to make even bigger and more so-called "important" pictures, including A Place in the Sun (1951), Shane (1953), Giant (1956), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).