#349. George Stevens

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 SunA Place in the Sun
Year: 1951
Rating: Passed
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.

GiantGiant
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) 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)

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#347. Spencer Tracy

It is a rare talent to not only be a prolific actor but one who has appeared in numerous classics. Add to this, a number of Oscar nominations for acting and you’re left with an incredible legacy. Spencer Tracy was just such an actor. He excelled in comedy as well as drama, a challenging feat for any actor. Of course, one does wonder if collaborations with other actors and directors helped Tracy to truly shine. After all, it’s easier to act when you’re comfortable with the other people on stage, let alone the people behind the camera. Spencer Tracy worked with plenty of famous actors and directors over the years, but two individuals stand out as frequent collaborators: Katharine Hepburn and Stanley Kramer. This week’s two films examine the lengthy, varied, and oft-recognized career of Spencer Tracy.

                                                      Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner?Guess Who's Coming to Dinner?
Year: 1967
Rating: Unrated
Length: 108 minutes / 1.80 hours

Over almost four decades, Spencer Tracy managed to rack up an astounding 75 films to his name, often performing in two or more films every year. With this statistic in mind, it then becomes evident that Tracy enjoyed collaborating with Katharine Hepburn. The two of them starred in nine films together: Woman of the Year (1942), Keeper of the Flame (1942), Without Love (1945), Sea of Grass (1947), State of the Union (1948), Adam’s Rib (1949), Pat and Mike (1952), Desk Set (1957), and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967). These nine films comprised 12% of Tracy’s career. While rarely acknowledged officially, Tracy and Hepburn were significant to each other, both on and off camera. Sadly, mere weeks after the conclusion of filming Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? Spencer Tracy died of a heart attack at the age of 67.

Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) is surprised when his daughter, Joanna (Katharine Houghton) comes home early from her vacation. Not only is her arrival a surprise, but the fiancé she has brought with her is unexpected as well. John Prentice (Sidney Poitier) is a black man, which gives both Matt and his wife, Christina (Katharine Hepburn) an uneasy feeling, even though they taught their daughter racial equality. Matt struggles with giving his blessing for the upcoming nuptials as he recognizes the interracial couple will have many challenges ahead of them. Through the convincing of his friend, Monsignor Mike Ryan (Cecil Kellaway) and his wife, Matt eventually relents as he realizes the truth of the matter: all marriages will have hardships, but what matters most is that the two individuals getting married love each other.

Father of the BrideFather of the Bride
Year: 1950
Rating: Not Rated
Length: 92 minutes / 1.53 hours

Considering the prestige that comes with being nominated for an Oscar, Spencer Tracy has racked up the most prestige over the years. Tied with Laurence Olivier for most nominations, Tracy received nine nods for Best Actor. After his first nomination for his role in San Francisco (1936), he would then go on to win the next two years via the films Captains Courageous (1937) and Boys Town (1938). It then took almost a decade before he was nominated again. This nomination was for Father of the Bride (1950), at which point the nominations started to flow again for films like Bad Day at Black Rock (1955), The Old Man and the Sea (1958), and Inherit the Wind (1960). With Inherit the Wind, Tracy teamed up with director Stanley Kramer, earning himself two more nominations for the three additional films they did together, Judgment at Nuremberg (1961) and Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (1967) being slightly more auspicious than It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World (1963).

Marriage seems to be a favorite theme with Spencer Tracy films, as evidenced by Father of the Bride. No matter how much Stanley T. Banks (Spencer Tracy) could prepare for it, eventually his daughter, Kay (Elizabeth Taylor) would grow up and marry someone she loves. While he’s fine with it now, his anxiety affected the whole engagement process as he drank too much and passed out in the home of his future son-in-law’s parent’s house. Not wanting to spend too much money on this wedding, Stanley soon realizes that the whole thing is ballooning out of his control. Murphy’s Law is in full force as the clock ticks down to the big day, with last-minute reconciliations between the bride and groom merely mirroring the number of conflicts and problems revolving around the wedding reception at the Banks’ house. With the wedding now over, Stanley watches as his little girl drives off for her honeymoon.

2 sum it up: 2 films, 2 stupendous Spencer Tracy roles

Bacon #: 2 (The Mountain / Robert Wagner -> Wild Things / Kevin Bacon)