- Studio era director George Stevens is the focus of four Warner Home Video DVD releases: The pro-British colonialism adventure Gunga Din, the immigration drama I Remember Mama, and the George Stevens Jr.-directed documentaries George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin and George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey.
Director George Stevens DVD releases include pro-colonialism adventure classic + immigration nostalgia + World War II in color
The director of about two dozen narrative features, ranging from the light musical Swing Time and the social comedy The Talk of the Town to the blockbuster Western Shane and the all-star New Testament epic The Greatest Story Ever Told, George Stevens was one of the most admired filmmakers of the studio era and the winner of two Best Director Academy Awards (A Place in the Sun, 1951; Giant, 1956).
And now Stevens is the focus of four Warner Home Video DVD releases:
- The pro-British colonialism adventure classic Gunga Din, starring Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Victor McLaglen.
- The nostalgia-filled immigrant family drama I Remember Mama, which earned Oscar nominations for four of its cast members, including star Irene Dunne.
- The documentaries George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin (made for television) and George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey, both directed by George Stevens Jr. The former includes chunks of rare World War II color footage; the latter features interviews with a number of Stevens (Sr.) collaborators and clips from his movies.
The four George Stevens DVDs should be available in the U.S. on Dec. 7. Below is a brief overview of each movie.
Gunga Din: Paean to British colonialism
RKO’s costliest release up until then, George Stevens’ 1939 British Raj-set adventure epic Gunga Din features key elements from the 1928 Broadway hit play The Front Page. That’s probably no coincidence, as playwrights/screenwriters Ben Hecht and Charles MacArthur were responsible for the screen “story.”
Cary Grant, Douglas Fairbanks Jr., and Best Actor Oscar winner Victor McLaglen (The Informer, 1935) star as rowdily heroic Royal Engineer Sergeants at war with villainous South Asians. During their spare time, two of them (Grant and McLaglen) do whatever it takes to prevent their buddy (Fairbanks Jr.) from getting hitched (to future Oscar winner Joan Fontaine, the female lead in Stevens’ 1937 musical A Damsel in Distress).
Plastered with brown makeup, future Best Supporting Actor Oscar nominee Sam Jaffe (The Asphalt Jungle, 1950) plays the title character – the self-sacrificing British Indian Army water carrier/bugle player who aspires to one day become a Soldier of the Queen.
I Remember Mama: The quaint old days of Norwegian immigration
Another RKO release, the 1948 period immigrant family drama I Remember Mama was George Stevens’ first post-World War II effort.
Set in 1910s San Francisco, I Remember Mama stars Irene Dunne as a Norwegian matriarch and Barbara Bel Geddes (later of Dallas fame) as the titular “I,” Mama’s eldest daughter who does all the remembering.
Both actresses were nominated for Oscars: Dunne in the lead category; Bel Geddes – along with fellow player Ellen Corby (later of The Waltons fame) – in the supporting category. Besides, Oskar Homolka was in the running for Best Supporting Actor. Director Stevens and the movie itself, however, were bypassed.
Now, here’s hoping the I Remember Mama DVD print is – far – superior to the darkish one regularly shown on Turner Classic Movies. Viewers should then be able to fully appreciate the work of master cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca.
D-Day to Berlin: Rare World War II color footage
As the head of the U.S. Army Signal Corps’ film unit, director George Stevens – with the assistance of talent like cameramen/cinematographers Joseph F. Biroc (It’s a Wonderful Life, Magic Town) and William C. Mellor (A Place in the Sun, Giant) – captured rare World War II color footage ranging from the invasion of Normandy and the liberation of Paris to the Bavarian concentration camp of Dachau and the fall of Berlin.
Some of that footage is seen in George Stevens Jr.’s 1994 TV documentary George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, winner of three Emmy Awards, including two for Stevens Jr. himself (as narrator and writer).
A Filmmaker’s Journey: Filial homage
“After my father died in 1975 someone asked me if I would write a book about him,” George Stevens Jr. told PBS’s biographical series American Masters. “I gave some thought to that, and then it suddenly occurred to me that he was a filmmaker, and I’m a filmmaker – I should make a film about him.”
The film turned out to be the 1984 documentary George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey, shown both on the big screen and on American Masters, and featuring interviews with numerous Stevens collaborators and fellow directors, among them:
- Katharine Hepburn, whom Stevens directed in three movies: Alice Adams (1935), Woman of the Year (1942) – both of which earned her Best Actress Oscar nominations – and, in-between, the underrated Quality Street (1937). In A Filmmaker’s Journey, Hepburn recalls Stevens’ deliberately paced direction of Alice Adams’ comedy highlight, the dinner scene centered on clumsy maid Hattie McDaniel.
- Cary Grant, featured not only in Gunga Din but also in Stevens’ Penny Serenade (1941), which earned him a Best Actor Oscar nod, and The Talk of the Town (1942). Only Grant’s voice is heard in A Filmmaker’s Journey, as he had previously told Stevens Jr. that if he was seen on camera, he would also “have to do it for [Alfred Hitchcock], and the others.”
- Warren Beatty, the male lead in Stevens’ last effort, the costly box office dud The Only Game in Town (1969). In A Filmmaker’s Journey, Beatty discusses the use of sound in the 1953 blockbuster Shane – guns going off like cannons to exacerbate the brutality of the Old West – and, 14 years later, in the Arthur Penn-directed Bonnie and Clyde.
Previous George Stevens DVDs
George Stevens movies already available on DVD include the following:
- The aforementioned romantic/socially conscious drama Alice Adams, boasting the most poignant performance of Katharine Hepburn’s movie career, plus a marvelous comic turn by future Best Supporting Actress Oscar winner Hattie McDaniel (Gone with the Wind, 1939) as the (Hepburn) family maid.
- The romantic battle-of-the-sexes comedy Woman of the Year, notable as the first pairing of Katharine Hepburn and Spencer Tracy. Hepburn lost the 1942 Best Actress Oscar to Greer Garson for Mrs. Miniver, but Michael Kanin and future Hollywood Ten member Ring Lardner Jr. were luckier, taking home the Best Original Screenplay statuette.
- A two-disc set of the 1956 critical and box office hit Giant, starring Elizabeth Taylor, Best Actor Oscar nominees Rock Hudson and (posthumously) James Dean, in addition to Best Supporting Actress nominee Mercedes McCambridge, former child star Jane Withers, Chill Wills, Earl Holliman, and relative newcomers Carroll Baker, Dennis Hopper, Sal Mineo, Rod Taylor, and Elsa Cárdenas. Based on Edna Ferber’s 1952 novel, Stevens’ engrossing, Texas-set mix of romance, family drama, and social commentary earned him his second Best Director Oscar.
“Director George Stevens’ New DVDs: Pro-Colonialism + Immigration Classics” notes
Best Picture Oscar ‘snub’
 Although George Stevens won Best Director Oscars for both A Place in the Sun and Giant, neither movie was named Best Picture. The winners in that category were, respectively, Vincente Minnelli’s romantic musical An American in Paris and Michael Anderson’s adventure comedy-drama Around the World in 80 Days.
George Stevens’ other Best Director nominations were for The More the Merrier (1943), Shane (1953), and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). The winners were, respectively, Michael Curtiz for Casablanca, Fred Zinnemann for From Here to Eternity, and William Wyler for Ben-Hur. All three movies also won Best Picture.
Lastly, as the producer of a Best Picture nominee, Stevens was also shortlisted for A Place in the Sun, Shane, Giant (with Henry Ginsberg), and The Diary of Anne Frank.
Director George Stevens’ World War II film unit is mentioned in Neil Sinyard’s George Stevens: The Films of a Hollywood Giant.
Cary Grant quote about George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey via George Stevens Jr.’s American Masters interview.
James Dean and director George Stevens Giant image: Warner Bros.
George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin image: Warner Home Video | New Line Home Video.
“Director George Stevens’ New DVDs: Pro-Colonialism + Immigration Classics” last updated in March 2023.