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I Remember Mama (Movie 1948): Superlative Irene Dunne

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I Remember Mama movie Irene DunneI Remember Mama movie with Irene Dunne: In Hollywood since 1930, Dunne received her fifth and final Best Actress Oscar nomination for George Stevens’ 1948 family drama. Previous nods: Cimarron (1930–31), Theodora Goes Wild (1936), The Awful Truth (1937), and Love Affair (1939).
  • I Remember Mama (movie 1948): Directed by George Stevens, the nostalgic immigrant family drama provided veteran Irene Dunne – as the titular Mama – with one of the best roles of her career.
  • I Remember Mama received five Academy Award nominations – four of which in the acting categories: Best Actress (Irene Dunne), Best Supporting Actress (Barbara Bel Geddes, Ellen Corby), Best Supporting Actor (Oskar Homolka), and Best Cinematography – Black and White (Nicholas Musuraca).

I Remember Mama (movie 1948): Superlative Irene Dunne at the center of George Stevens’ captivating immigrant family drama

Ramon Novarro Beyond Paradise

George Stevens’ first post-World War II effort was the 1948 immigrant family drama I Remember Mama, which he directed at his old alma mater, RKO, while “on loan” from Liberty Films[1], an independent production outlet in which he had become a partner alongside William Wyler and founders Frank Capra and (former Columbia and RKO production executive) Samuel J. Briskin.

Based on John Van Druten’s 1944 hit Broadway play (713 performances) – produced by Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, and itself an adaptation of Kathryn Forbes’ 1934 semi-autobiographical novel Mama’s Bank AccountI Remember Mama stars another former RKO contract talent, Irene Dunne, in a role originated onstage by veteran Austrian actress Mady Christians (The Waltz Dream, A Wicked Woman).

As Marta Hanson, the resolute but warmhearted Norwegian matriarch living in 1910s San Francisco, Dunne creates one of the most affecting characterizations of her remarkable two-decade-plus Hollywood career. She deservedly received her fifth (and final) Best Actress Academy Award nomination for I Remember Mama, but ultimately lost out to Jane Wyman for Johnny Belinda.

Eventual Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Barbara Bel Geddes (later of Dallas fame) was cast as the titular “I,” Mama’s eldest daughter Katrin (Joan Tetzel on stage), a sensitive type gifted with an impressive episodic memory.

No Marlon Brando or Katina Paxinou

Also in the I Remember Mama cast: Two other Oscar-nominated performers, Ellen Corby (later of The Waltons fame) and, reprising his stage role, Austrian import Oskar Homolka, in addition to Philip Dorn, Cedric Hardwicke, Rudy Vallee, Florence Bates, Edith Evanson, Steve Brown (newcomer Marlon Brando on stage), Best Supporting Actress Oscar nominee Barbara O’Neil (All This and Heaven Too, 1940), and a puppet-less Edgar Bergen (Candice Bergen’s father).

Harriet Parsons (daughter of gossip columnist Louella Parsons) received producer credit on I Remember Mama even though she was removed from the project before it was completed. (Parsons had wanted Oscar winner Katina Paxinou [For Whom the Bell Tolls, 1943] to play Mama, whose nationality was to have been changed from Norwegian to Greek.)

The film’s de facto producer, George Stevens was given executive producer credit, while DeWitt Bodeen (Cat People, The Enchanted Cottage) was the credited screenwriter.

I Remember Mama movie Irene DunneI Remember Mama movie DVD cover with Irene Dunne surrounded by Philip Dorn, Oskar Homolka, and Barbara Bel Geddes. Dunne, Homolka, Bel Geddes, and Ellen Corby were all shortlisted for the Oscars; director George Stevens and the film itself, however, were bypassed.

One of George Stevens’ best

Another notable contributor to I Remember Mama’s artistic success was cinematographer Nicholas Musuraca, who was also shortlisted for an Oscar. Unfortunately, the darkish print regularly shown on Turner Classic Movies doesn’t do justice to Musuraca’s masterful abilities.

A charming – if a tad overlong – nostalgia-filled tale, I Remember Mama was bypassed in the Oscars’ Best Picture, Best Director, and Best Adapted Screenplay categories. Even so, it remains one of Stevens’ most compelling efforts.

The costly production – its budget ran up to nearly $3.1 million – ended up $1 million in the red, at least in part because of RKO’s contractual obligations.[1]

I Remember Mama (movie 1948) cast & crew

Director: George Stevens.

Screenplay: DeWitt Bodeen.
Based on John van Druten’s 1944 play I Remember Mama, itself an adaptation of Kathryn Anderson McLean’s 1943 novel Mama’s Bank Account.

Irene Dunne … Mama Marta Hanson
Barbara Bel Geddes … Katrin Hanson
Oscar Homolka … Uncle Chris Halvorsen
Philip Dorn … Papa Lars Hanson
Cedric Hardwicke … Mr. Jonathan Hyde
Edgar Bergen … Mr. Peter Thorkelson
Rudy Vallee … Dr. Johnson
Barbara O’Neil … Jessie Brown Halvorsen
Florence Bates … Florence Dana Moorhead
Peggy McIntyre … Christine Hanson
Steve Brown … Niels Hanson
Ellen Corby … Aunt Trina Halvorsen
Hope Landin … Aunt Jenny Halvorsen
Edith Evanson … Aunt Sigrid Halvorsen
Tommy Ivo … Cousin Arne
Stanley Andrews … Minister (uncredited)
Cleo Ridgely … Schoolteacher (uncredited)

Cinematography: Nicholas Musuraca.

Film Editing: Robert Swink.

Music: Roy Webb.

Producer: Harriet Parsons.

Art Direction: Albert D’Agostino & Carroll Clark.

Costume Design: Edward Stevenson (women’s) & Gile Steele (men’s).

Production Company | Distributor: RKO Radio Pictures.

Running Time: 134 min.

Country: United States.

I Remember Mama (Movie 1948): Superlative Irene Dunne” notes

Liberty Films

[1] Liberty Films was supposed to receive 25 percent of I Remember Mama’s “distribution gross.”* These monies ultimately went to Paramount Pictures, which had acquired the independent outlet in May 1947.

* It’s unclear whether this refers to the movie’s total (domestic?) box office gross or to what was left after exhibitors received their share.

The New York Times’ Bosley Crowther discusses I Remember Mama’s producer credits in the March 1948 article “Embarrassing Questions in Connection with Two of the Recent Films.”

The would-be casting of Katina Paxinou in I Remember Mama is mentioned in a February 1944 Hedda Hopper article syndicated in the Chicago Tribune (via J.E. Smyth’s 2018 book Nobody’s Girl Friday: The Women Who Ran Hollywood) and in Hedda Hopper and James Brough’s The Whole Truth and Nothing But (1963).

I Remember Mama movie credits and Liberty Films/Paramount Pictures getting a share of the movie’s “distribution gross” via the American Film Institute (AFI) Catalog website.

I Remember Mama movie budget and financial loss: Richard B. Jewell’s Slow Fade to Black: The Decline of RKO Radio Pictures (2016).

Future Oscar nominee Peggy Wood (The Sound of Music, 1965) and Rosemary Rice (as Katrin) led the cast of the long-running television series Mama (1949–1957). And in 1979, Norwegian-born Liv Ullmann starred in the musicalized Broadway adaptation I Remember Mama (108 performances), Richard Rodgers’ final musical.

George Stevens’ I Remember Mama on DVD.

Irene Dunne I Remember Mama movie image: RKO Pictures.

Barbara Bel Geddes, Philip Dorn, Oskar Homolka, and Irene Dunne I Remember Mama DVD cover image: Warner Home Video.

I Remember Mama (Movie 1948): Superlative Irene Dunne” last updated in April 2023.

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