#349. George Stevens

Modern audiences may not know about George Stevens or the films he directed from the 1930s 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) and Penny Serenade (1941)), Fred Astaire (Swing Time (1936) and A Damsel in Distress (1937)), and Katharine Hepburn (Alice Adams (1935) and 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 SunA Place in the Sun
Year: 1951
Rating: Passed
Length: 122 minutes / 2.03 hours

Throughout the early 1930s, 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 randomly meet, 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 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.

Year: 1956
Rating: Approved
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) 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 (AFI). 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)

#079. The Holocaust

If there has been one event in the last century that has been the most sobering visibility into the evil of mankind, it would be the Holocaust. Now, I’m not trying to downplay any other genocides that may have happened in the last 100 years, but by and far the most documented and tragic of these was the purposeful eradication of the Jewish people at the hands of the Nazi party. The inhumanity that was suffered at the hands of this ethnic cleansing should never be forgotten, lest history repeat itself. And yet, the stories of those who survived and those who live on to tell their terrible tale gives us a small amount of hope. After all, amid this tragedy, true angels and saints were revealed in some unlikely places. My only hope is that, while movies about the Holocaust are influential, current events never head into this realm again. This week’s two films look at what it was like to either be in the Holocaust or help prevent it.

Life is BeautifulLive is Beautiful
Year: 1997
Rating: PG-13
Length: 116 minutes / 1.93 hours

Perhaps the most frightening thing about the Holocaust is that no one really saw it coming. In fact, few understood the scope of the whole thing until it was over and the perpetrators were questioned about what really went on in those concentration camps. Truly, the saddest part about the suddenness of this genocide was that some of those affected had their lives together and everything was looking like it would end up great. And yet, sometimes the experiences during peacetime came in handy for being able to survive the deplorable conditions of these camps and the frightening treatment the Jews had to endure. The hardest part would be trying to find a silver lining in the whole process to keep your hope up. What would have been harder is doing so to keep your child alive.

In Italy in the 1930s, things couldn’t be better. World War I is in the past, and everyone is enjoying life. Guido Orefice (Roberto Benigni) is just one of these people. As a bookstore owner, he pursues a beautiful woman by the name of Dora (Nicoletta Braschi) who lives in the next town over. Their romance flourishes and they eventually get married and have a son, Giosué (Giorgio Cantarini). Unfortunately, life throws the family a bit of a curveball when the Nazis come and occupy their little world. Dora and Guido are separated and sent to different concentration camps, but Guido is fortunate enough to have Giosué with him in his camp. Using his natural talent for humor, Guido keeps his son alive by making him believe that the whole concentration camp experience is a game, for which the prize is a tank. Can Guido keep this ruse up long enough for the allies to defeat the Nazis and bring freedom to him and his son?

Schindler’s ListSchindler's List
Year: 1993
Rating: R
Length: 195 minutes / 3.25 hours

Part of the problem with generalizations is that they often overlook some key exceptions. For instance, not all Germans were dedicated to wiping out the Jews. In fact, the reason so many survived the Holocaust was due to the ingenuity and cunning of not only themselves (as seen in Life is Beautiful (1997)), but in those Germans who saw what was happening and took a stand against it. And yet, a few being saved in an attic or basement is good, but when a whole factory full of Jews is saved in plain sight, people tend to stand up and take notice. Still, when facing such a movement like the Holocaust, every person saved is precious, but more could always have been saved. Placed within the top 10 of AFI’s Top 100 movies, Schindler’s List (1993) also won Steven Spielberg an Oscar for Best Director and Best Picture.

Shot in black and white (with a brief splash of color for impact), this film has a power and a presence to it that brings forth all of the emotions from this dark hour in the history of the world. Schindler’s List exposes the work of an Austrian industrialist, Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson), who saved over 1,000 Jews from being killed. By making the Polish Jews workers in his factory, he could simultaneously save lives and hinder the Nazi’s conquest of Europe by providing defective merchandise to the war machine. Occasionally, his operations would come under Nazi scrutiny, but he always managed to keep a large amount of Jews a secret. Of course, to save people, money was required. Schindler was fortunate to be wealthy, but even at the end, he was heartbroken that he couldn’t have saved more of them.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 Holocaust memories