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Stevens Jr.'s documentary has its own share of great stars; as an historical document, the film incorporates priceless interviews with Katharine Hepburn, John Huston, Fred Zinneman, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, Joel McCrea, Ginger Rogers, Fred Astaire, and Frank Capra, among other A-list directors and actors. As expected, all praise Stevens, enjoyed working with him, and comment on the quality and endurance of his work, both on screen and off. Mankiewicz is particularly interesting when he relates Stevens's resistance to Cecil B. DeMille, then president of the Screen Directors Guild, and DeMille's infamous campaign against foreign influence (read Communist) in Hollywood. Other highlights of the film-clip-rich documentary center on World War II, during which Stevens shot the only color footage and headed up a team that professionally filmed the D-Day landings; generous clips of his rarely seen war-related work are included.
Against a fine Carl Davis score, the film opens with a subjective camera that roves through a store room of Steven's memorabilia and pauses over Oscars, photographs, and film cans, while Stevens Jr. narrates. Understandably, Stevens's son focuses on his father's career peaks, which are many, but he does slight such lesser known early films as "Quality Street," "Vigil in the Night," and "A Damsel in Distress;" fails to discuss such modest successes as "The Talk of the Town" and "Penny Serenade;" and completely ignores his last film, "The Only Game in Town," a critical and box office disappointment that starred Warren Beatty and Elizabeth Taylor. The mixed reception for "The Greatest Story Ever Told," however, is covered, and, after an interview clip with Max Von Sydow, the film concludes shortly thereafter.
Despite a lack of objectivity, "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey" is an outstanding documentary. The well chosen film clips run long enough to illustrate the director's style, and the interview comments offer insight and historical perspective. The nostalgia-imbued book-ended segments in the storage room and early photographs of Stevens with his parents emphasize the film's personal and heart-felt nature. Among the best documentaries on Hollywood, "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey" is essential viewing for students of film and film history and for anyone who wants an introduction to a great American movie director's work.
The most fascinating parts of this documentary are the ones which show footage from Stevens' own camera. There is on the set material from various films and his amazing World War II films of the liberation of Paris, Dachau, and the Normandy invasion. Staggering and stunning. This perhaps deserved its own documentary, and I believe that later on, the footage was released separately.
Film clips include parts of: Alice Adams, The More the Merrier, Shane, Diary of Anne Frank, Giant, A Place in the Sun, The Greatest Story Ever Told. Shelley Winters, not interviewed here, sadly, tells the story in her autobiography of Stevens having them rehearse without dialogue. It's perhaps the secret of the intimacy that is often captured in his films. "The More the Merrier" clip is that of an improvised love scene between McCrea and Arthur.
Someone commented here that it's not for Stevens Jr. to canonize his father. Being in the field of classic film, I disagree. This may not be a perfect documentary, and it may not dwell on his father's failures, such as the overblown The Greatest Story Ever Told. The common problem faced by many of these great filmmakers is that as the studio system collapsed and Hollywood changed, it was difficult for them to adjust.
The point is this: yes, the legacy speaks for itself - but who is there to hear it speak if the families don't honor their famous relative? A son's insight may be biased, but it's also more enlightened in many respects. If anyone believes there is some huge movement afoot to see that these wonderful contributors to film history are remembered, they're wrong. Even the theaters once devoted to classic film hesitate to show them now because they can't make any money. I say bravo to anyone willing to make a documentary on any aspect of classic film.
I never knew that he started out on comedies and that the advent of World War 11 had such a profound effect on him,that he never made another comedy after returning from the war.
The man was a genius at comedy. His slow-pace belief as depicted in 1942's "Woman of the Year" was terrific to watch. Remember the scene with Katharine Hepburn trying to make breakfast for Spencer Tracy?
Stevens was an American icon. His American Trilogy included "A Place in the Sun," as well as "Shane," and "Giant." His World War 11 classic, "The Diary of Anne Frank," shall live on in the hearts of all of us.
A fair-minded man, he went on the attack when Cecil B. DeMille demanded that everyone sign a loyalty oath in an attempt to drive out Joseph L. Mankiewicz from the film industry.
The following people received acting Oscars under the direction of Stevens: Charles Coburn, "The More, the Merrier, (1943) and Shelley Winters, "The Diary of Anne Frank" (1959).
The following people received Oscar nominations under the direction of Stevens but did not win: Katharine Hepburn- "Alice Adams," and "Woman of the Year." Brandon De Wilde and Jack Palance for "Shane," Montgomery Clift and Shelley Winters for "A Place in the Sun," as well as James Dean, Rock Hudson, and Mercedes McCambridge all for "Giant." Also: Ed Wynn for "The Diary of Anne Frank."
How ironic that 1962's "The Greatest Story Ever Told," was a colossal failure.
His early films interested me the most--especially the film that brought out the kid in all of us--GUNGA DIN. A generous amount of film clips from this film makes for enjoyable viewing, as does the long musical clip from SWING TIME with Astaire and Rogers cavorting around the highly stylized B&W art deco set.
Other enjoyable clips from THE MORE THE MERRIER (the famous love scene where he let Jean Arthur and Joel McCrea improvise), WOMAN OF THE YEAR (Katharine Hepburn trying to make breakfast for Spencer Tracy), and earliest of all, ALICE ADAMS with the breakfast scene that includes Hattie McDaniel as a hapless maid hired to impress Fred MacMurray.
Other clips from A PLACE IN THE SUN, GIANT, SHANE and THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK take up precious time but are worth viewing. And then a sad look at one of his box-office and critical failures--THE GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD.
Summing up: A not too objective look at his father's career by a doting son, but a tribute that is indeed deserved.
I'm proud of my dad too, but I wouldn't erect a monument to him for being one of America's all-time great little league coaches.
If George Stevens' films are important (they are) and stand the test of time (they do), then let others praise this unique American artist. For a son to create documentaries about (and name AFI awards after) his father is a tacky cry for attention. "Hey, don't forget my dad! He was a great American filmmaker!" Usually, TV producers will see the potential of (or a market for) a documentary about a great American filmmaker and ask the artist's family to participate by donating old photos and agreeing to be interviewed on-camera. George Jr. apparently grew impatient waiting for such an offer. Possibly he feared no offer would ever come...so he produced his own documentary. And all to build up his father's legacy.