George Stevens’ monthlong homage ends this evening on Turner Classic Movies. The screening films are the Fred Astaire-Ginger Rogers musical Swing Time (1936); three early 1940s comedies, Woman of the Year (1942), The Talk of the Town (1942), and The More the Merrier (1943); and the George Stevens Jr documentary George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (1984).
The More the Merrier is one of those movies I need check out again. Stevens was nominated for a Best Director Oscar, and so was the film, and leading lady Jean Arthur. Charles Coburn, actually one of the film’s three leads, won for Best Supporting Actor. Joel McCrea didn’t win anything, but he should at least have been nominated.
The Talk of the Town is probably my favorite Jean Arthur film. Arthur, Cary Grant, and especially Ronald Colman are in top form in this comedy with a social conscience. I find The Talk of the Town one of the most unjustly neglected Hollywood movies of the ’40s.
Woman of the Year was the first pairing of Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn. It’s all about a working woman who must find a balance between her job and her husband. Some see it as dated and borderline reactionary; I don’t quite agree. After all, the woman is allowed to have both a career and a husband at the end.
Swing Time is considered by many to be the best of the Astaire-Rogers musicals. Personally, I prefer The Gay Divorcee and Follow the Fleet, but do check it out if you haven’t already.
In an audio interview featured in George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey, the director recalled a particularly disturbing experience during the liberation of Dachau:
“When a poor man, hungry and unseeing because his eyesight is failing, grabs me and starts begging, I feel the Nazi, because I abhor him, I want him to keep his hands off me. And the reason I want him to keep his hands off me is because I see myself capable of arrogance and brutality to keep him off me. That’s a fierce thing, to discover within yourself that which you despise the most in others.”
George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey: Cinematic filial homage to two-time Best Director Academy Award winner
Directed by George Stevens Jr., the 1984 documentary George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey was presented both on the big screen and on American Masters.
An homage to the filmmaker’s filmmaking father, the documentary features interviews with the following Stevens (Sr.) collaborators and fellow directors:
- Actress Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams, Quality Street, Woman of the Year), who recalls the unusual effectiveness of George Stevens’ deliberately paced comedy direction during the making of Alice Adams, singling out the scene when Hattie McDaniel serves dinner to her petite bourgeoisie employees (Hepburn, Fred Stone, Ann Shoemaker) and their upper-class guest (Fred MacMurray).
- Actor Cary Grant (Gunga Din, Penny Serenade, The Talk of the Town). Audio only; Grant told Stevens Jr. that if he appeared on camera to discuss Stevens, “I’d have to do it for [Alfred Hitchcock], and the others.”
- Actors Fred Astaire (Swing Time, A Damsel in Distress), Douglas Fairbanks Jr. (Gunga Din), Joel McCrea (The More the Merrier), and Max von Sydow (The Greatest Story Ever Told).
- Actresses Ginger Rogers (Swing Time, Vivacious Lady) and Millie Perkins (The Diary of Anne Frank).
- Actor-filmmaker Warren Beatty (The Only Game in Town), who offers an anecdote regarding the use of sound – guns going off like cannons to exacerbate the brutality of the Old West – in Shane and, 14 years later, in Bonnie and Clyde.
- RKO supervising producer Pandro S. Berman (Vivacious Lady, Gunga Din, Vigil in the Night, etc.).
- Producer/indie studio head Hal Roach, for whom George Stevens worked as a cinematographer on various shorts in the 1920s and early 1930s (Double Whoopee, Liberty, Night Owls, etc.).
- Screenwriters Irwin Shaw (The Talk of the Town) and Ivan Moffat (Giant).
- Choreographer Hermes Pan (Swing Time, A Damsel in Distress).
- Fellow filmmakers Rouben Mamoulian (Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Blood and Sand), Alan J. Pakula (All the President’s Men, Sophie’s Choice), Fred Zinnemann (From Here to Eternity, Julia), Joseph L. Mankiewicz (A Letter to Three Wives, All About Eve), John Huston (The African Queen, The Dead), and Frank Capra (Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).
Schedule and synopses from the TCM website:
5:00pm The More the Merrier (1943)
The World War II housing shortage brings three people together for an unlikely romance.
Cast: Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, Charles Coburn, Richard Gaines Dir: George Stevens BW-104 mins
7:00pm The Talk of the Town (1942)
An escaped political prisoner and a stuffy law professor vie for the hand of a spirited schoolteacher.
Cast: Cary Grant, Jean Arthur, Ronald Colman, Glenda Farrell. Edgar Buchanan Dir: George Stevens BW-117 mins
9:15pm Woman of the Year (1942)
Opposites distract when a sophisticated political columnist falls for a sportswriter.
Cast: Spencer Tracy, Katharine Hepburn, Fay Bainter, Reginald Owen Dir: George Stevens BW-114 mins
11:15pm Swing Time (1936)
To prove himself worthy of his fiancee, a dancer tries to make it big, only to fall for his dancing partner.
Cast: Fred Astaire, Ginger Rogers, Victor Moore, Helen Broderick Dir: George Stevens BW-104 mins
1:00am George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey (1984)
Biography of the Academy Award-winning director including dramatic color footage of WWII.
Cast: Fred Astaire. Ginger Rogers. Katharine Hepburn. Warren Beatty. Millie Perkins. Hermes Pan. Pandro S. Berman. Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Rouben Mamoulian. Frank Capra. Ivan Moffat. Irwin Shaw. Voice: Cary Grant. Dir: George Stevens Jr. Black and white. 112 mins
Jean Arthur and Cary Grant The Talk of the Town image: Columbia Pictures.
Spencer Tracy and Katharine Hepburn Woman of the Year image: Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer.
George Stevens: A Filmmaker’s Journey image: Warner Home Video.