Giant (1956)

This is an epic film that stars Elizabeth Taylor, Rock Hudson, and James Dean, with direction by George Stevens. It shows the ongoing conflict between a rancher (Hudson) and his former hired hand who becomes rich off oil (Dean). As Jett Rink (Dean) exclaims, he becomes even richer than the rancher Bic Benedict (Hudson) ever dreamed. The relationship escalates when Rink makes a rude remark to Leslie Benedict (Taylor), and some punches are traded. From this point on the three main characters slowly grow older and the Benedicts have children. In his final screen appearance, Dean’s character is suppose to give a speech at a large banquet. However he is so drunk he falls flat on his face a complete wreck. Giant was ahead of his time by giving commentary about the race relations with Mexicans. It also took young actors and progressively made them look older, something that was quite unusual. Although this was Dean’s final movie I think it can be said he came full circle. He began as a youth in East of Eden and by the end of Giant he was a old man.

4.5/5 Stars

A Place in the Sun (1951)

In this film starring Montgomery Clift, Elizabeth Taylor, and Shelley Winters, with George Stevens directing, a young man (Clift) tries to rise up in his uncle’s company. He is poorly-educated yet ambitious and he slowly moves up in the Eastman business. While he works George begins to fall for a modest girl (Winters) who also works in the assembly. They slowly begin to show romantic feelings for each other because they face the same hardships. With a new found postition George begins to interact with people of higher social status. Although he feels out of place there, he meets the beautiful and rich Angela (Taylor) who he begins to fall in love with. As he begins to get more involved with Angela, he learns that his former love interest is pregnant and therefore wishes to marry him. Faced with a dilemma, George makes a decision that will ruin him forever, whether he goes through with it or not. A hard-hitting drama, and an adaptation of “An American Tragedy” by Theodore Dreiser, the latter half is the best part, including the chilling finale.

4/5 Stars

The More The Merrier (1943)

e0052-the_more_the_merrier_-_posterDirected by George Stevens and starring Jean Arthur, Joel McCrea, and Charles Coburn, this comedy makes light of the housing shortage in Washington D.C. during WWII. Retired millionaire Benjamin Dingle comes to D.C. as an adviser for the housing crisis. Unfortunately he cannot find a place to stay right away. By chance he happens upon an ad for a room the only thing is that the other tenant is a young woman. Mr. Dingle will not take no for an answer and despite her misgivings she agrees to let him stay. It soon proves to be a hilarious situation and it gets even more complicated when Dingle rents half of his half to a Sergeant Joe Carter who is about to ship out. Of course he doesn’t tell Connie. There is initial conflict however Dingle tries to play matchmaker. The only problem is that Connie is already engaged to a bureaucrat. Then Dingle oversteps his boundaries reading Ms. Milligan’s diary to Joe. Dingle accepts the responsibility and leaves but Connie allows Joe to stay since he will be gone soon. Through a series of events the newspaper gets a hold of the situation so Mr. Dingle advises them to get married to stop a scandal. As Joe gets ready to leave they realize they really do care for each other and Dingle was right Connie finally gave into her true feelings. All the main players were good and I think Charles Coburn was really the standout because he was the character who kept the whole story together. As is his motto, “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead.”
 
4.5/5 Stars

Gunga Din (1939)

ac5f5-gungadinStarring Cary Grant, Victor MClaglen, and Douglas Fairbanks Jr. with Sam Jaffe in the title role and director George Stevens, the film follows three men in Her Majesties’ Forces. They soon have a run in with a violent cult but they narrowly come out in one piece. However, after that things quiet down and one of the three plans to leave the service so he can get married. Another follows the water boy Din and happens upon a golden temple. Then the cult takes him prisoner while Din flees to get help. His tow buddies come alone only to be captured as well. After putting up a fight they watch in horror as their troops start to fall in the same trap. The wounded Din sounds the alarm just in time, allowing the forces to defend themselves and then lead an offensive attack. Miraculously the three friends come out alive and Din dies a hero. This film is a great combination of action and humor. As Kipling would say, “You’re a better man than I am, Gunga Din.”

4.5/5 Stars

Swing Time (1936)

0c747-394px-swing-time-1935Starring Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers with director George Stevens, this light film is like a screwball romance with a lot of added dancing. Astaire is a man who has missed his wedding and he agrees to go off to the city with a friend so he can make money to bring back. There he meets a fiery dance teacher accidentally and then they begin to perform together. As “Lucky” (Astaire) and his friend try to survive by gambling with the little money they have, he begins to fall for Penny (Rogers). However, she does not find out until later that he already has a fiancee. When she realizes the situation she goes to marry another. In the end everything is all a big mistake full of laughter and of course everything is made right again. There is no denying that Astaire and Rogers are not only good dancers but good performers. Many of the numbers they dance and sing are memorable like “The Way You Look Tonight,” Pick Yourself Up,” and of course “Waltz in Swing Time.”

4.5/5 Stars

Director of the Month: George Stevens

One of the great, if often unheralded American directors, it is astounding when you look at the breadth of George Stevens work. His catalogue of films rivals those of the other American greats such as John Ford, Howard Hawks, Frank Capra, and William Wyler. His films also evolved over time as he changed with the times.

Stevens got his start working at the company of Hal Roach as an assistant cameraman where he worked on B-westerns and the comedy productions of Laurel & Hardy. This training with the camera would influence him later as a director because he would also pay close attention to details. The mise-en-scene and the relationships between his characters were of the utmost importance to him. Despite, these aesthetic aspects he never lost sight of the humanity in his films.

Soon Stevens had moved on to directing and his credits include the quintessential Astaire-Rogers vehicle Swing Time (1936), along with the swash-buckling thriller Gunga Din (1939). Then during the early years of the war he had a string of solid films including the comedies Women of the Year (1942), The Talk of the Town (1943), and More the Merrier (1943). In the waning years of WWII he would begin to shoot footage of the war and concentration camps as well. This reality would deeply impact Stevens and as a result his post-war films were also impacted. His so-called “American Trilogy” included the tragic drama A Place in the Sun (1951), the western Shane (1953), and the epic Giant (1956). In these three films we see signs of a man disillusioned who turned away from the comedy and crafted films with a heavier tones and more complex themes.

With these films Stevens solidified his legacy as an American Film Legend and despite what anyone might say it would be difficult to take that away from him. Other notable films of his include: Vivacious Lady (1948), I Remember Mama (1938), and the Diary of Anne Frank (1959).