Modern audiences may not know about George Stevens or the films he directed from the 1930’s to 1970. Some of the names of his movies might not be familiar to them either, but many of these films are classics in their own rights. He worked with some of the best in the industry at the time. Cary Grant (Gunga Din (1930), Penny Serenade (1941)), Fred Astaire (Swing Time (1936), A Damsel in Distress (1937)), and Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams (1935), Woman of the Year (1942)), just to name a few. By the end of his career, he even directed a film from his own production company, the Biblical epic, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965). Throughout his directing career, he earned many nominations and awards, but most people on the street probably couldn’t say why. This week’s two films highlight some of the greatest films directed by George Stevens.
A Place in the Sun
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours
Throughout the early 1930’s George Stevens directed mostly short films and comedy sketches. By 1941, he had picked up his first nomination for Best Picture with The Talk of the Town. While he did not direct this film, he would earn two more nominations the following year, for Best Picture and Best Director for The More the Merrier (1943). His first win at the Oscars would come almost a decade later with A Place in the Sun (1951). This film was nominated for Best Picture and Best Director, but only garnered Stevens the golden statue for the latter category. The legacy of this film was recognized in 1997 as one of the American Film Institute’s top 100 films, being placed at #92. It is also included as one of the 1,001 Movies You Must See Before You Die, for similar reasons, not the least of which was Stevens’ expert directing.
George Eastman (Montgomery Clift) has not had nearly the amount of success his uncle, Charles Eastman (Herbert Heyes), has enjoyed. When the two meet at random, Charles offers George a job in his factory as a way to help his struggling nephew. George takes to the work and finds himself being noticed by management for his good ideas. Consequently, Charles invites George to his estate for a dinner with high society. At the party, George is immediately enamored with Angela Vickers (Elizabeth Taylor). Unfortunately, George has already gotten himself involved with one of the factory girls, Alice Tripp (Shelly Winters). Alice senses George’s flightiness and informs him that she’ll expose him if he doesn’t marry her since she is carrying their bastard child. In a twist of fate, the courthouse is closed for Labor Day, so George suggests they take a boat out on the lake, knowing Alice cannot swim.
Length: 201 minutes / 3.35 hours
After his Best Director win in 1951, George Stevens would have another set of Best Picture / Best Director nominations for the western, Shane (1953). He lost that year to From Here to Eternity (1953) but would be nominated for the set again with The Diary of Anne Frank (1959), losing to Ben-Hur (1959) in that year. His second win at the Oscars was for Best Director with Giant (1956), which itself lost Best Picture to Around the World in 80 Days (1956). One wonders if the inclusion of Elizabeth Taylor in Giant helped to earn Stevens his Best Director wins, except that his last film ever directed was The Only Game in Town (1970), which featured Taylor but did not earn him a nomination. Following his film career, he founded the American Film Institute. One does wonder if the two top 100 lists produced by AFI were biased, as four of his films have appeared on them over the years.
Yet again, Elizabeth Taylor portrays a socialite in Giant as Leslie Lynnton. She is swept off her feet by Bick Benedict (Rock Hudson) and brought back to his ranch in Texas as his bride. Now that she’s a part of the farm, she becomes involved in its operations, somewhat stepping on the toes of Bick’s sister, Luz (Mercedes McCambridge). In retaliation, Luz hurts Leslie’s horse and is bucked off to her death. As a result, the ranch’s handyman, Jett Rink (James Dean), inherits a small portion of the property. He has had feelings for Leslie since she first came to the ranch, but respected Bick enough to keep his distance. When Jett discovers oil on his patch of land, he becomes wealthier than the Benedicts, thus upending the social order between these two neighbors. His persistent requests to drill for oil on the rest of the Benedict ranch are eventually granted as Bick realizes his children will not continue his legacy.
2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous George Stevens classics
Bacon #: 3 (Shane / Alan Ladd -> Paper Bullets / John Archer -> The Little Sister / Kevin Bacon)