I Remember Mama (1948), was directed by George Stevens, based on gay writer John Van Druten‘s popular play.
This film is a hard-boiled, unflinching exploration of what happens when we allow these immigrants, possible terrorists, in to our once great country: kids falling down, window-weights, alcoholism, couples living together without benefit of matrimony, animal cruelty, diseases, elitist San Francisco liberal values, child pornography. They are bad people, I mean, some Norwegians are good people, I hear, but we have to do something or The Scandinavians are gonna be huuuuuuge.
With the always wonderful Irene Dunne and a perfect cast, plus Stevens, who was famous for his attention to detail, they all poured the same meticulousness into I Remember Mama; the film sounds twee, but it’s not. Every second of the 134-minute running time was devoted to creating a mood. That was the genius of Stevens; he was responsible for such films as Gunga Din (1939), Woman Of The Year (1942), and Shane (1953). He won Academy Awards for A Place In The Sun (1951) and Giant (1956). In 1945 Stevens started his own production company, Liberty Films. I Remember Mama was by Liberty and distributed by RKO. Only a couple of years later, however, Liberty Films fell on hard times and was bought out by Paramount in 1947, which took over 25 percent of the grosses for I Remember Mama. Liberty Films’ sole producing credit was Frank Capra‘s It’s a Wonderful Life (1946).
So effective was her performance, it’s difficult to imagine the role of Mama being played by anyone other than Dunne. The part was initially offered to Greta Garbo, who turned it down. Dunne had some conditions of her own before accepting the role; she had a selection of only five directors that she would work with; Stevens was one of them. They had worked together previously in Penny Serenade (1941). Dunne received raves for her performance as Mama, particularly for her Norwegian accent. 50-years-old at the time of filming, Dunne had retained her youthful appearance; the make-up artists for I Remember Mama reportedly had to age her for filming. Mama was Dunne’s favorite role; years later she recalled:
I thought she was a wonderful woman. It was probably the only time I played a real character part. It will always be very special to me.
Dunne was nominated for I Remember Mama, her fifth and last nomination. She never won an Oscar.
The supporting cast of I Remember Mama was outstanding as well, with three Oscar noms. Barbara Bel Geddes played daughter Katrin and functioned as the story’s narrator. Bel Geddes is best known as Miss Ellie, the matriarch on the television series Dallas, but she also starred as the original Maggie the Cat in the Broadway production of Cat On A Hot Tin Roof, a role performed by Elizabeth Taylor in the film version. Lesbian Ellen Corby, another nominee, is remembered as Grandma from the long-running television show The Waltons. In other supporting roles are crooner Rudy Vallee, character actor Sir Cedric Hardwicke, and the ventriloquist Edgar Bergen, minus his dummy, Charlie McCarthy.
I Remember Mama remains one of the most emotionally moving representations of American immigrant life. So poignant was its effect that even acidic columnist Hedda Hopper declared,
As long as we turn out pictures like I Remember Mama we don’t have to worry about the future of Hollywood.
Other top “Mother” film favorites, off the top of my head (which has a hole in it):
Mrs. Miniver (1942)
Please Don’t Eat The Daisies (1960)
With Six You Get Eggroll (1968)
Cheaper By The Dozen (1950)
Serial Mom (1994)
Terms Of Endearment (1983)
Stella Dallas (1937)
Imitation Of Life (1959)
The Turning Point (1977)
Postcards From The Edge (1990)
Mildred Pierce (1945)
Rosemary’s Baby (1968)
Little Voice (1998)
Penny Serenade (1941)
The Manchurian Candidate (1962)
Madame X (1966)
Mommy Dearest (1981)
A Tree Grows In Brooklyn (1945)
The Bad Seed (1956)
Kramer VS Kramer (1979)
The Piano (1993)
Pink Flamingos (1972)
A Long Day’s Journey Into Night (1962)
Delores Claiborne (1995)
Laurel Canyon (2002)
The Parent Trap (1961)