Monday, April 08, 2013

I've Overlooked George Stevens

Gap-filling recently with Alice Adams (1935) and A Place In The Sun (1951), George Stevens is emerging for me as a bang-up director. Before this I'd mainly thought of him in connection with Penny Serenade (1941) [fine but not my sort of thing], Shane (1953) [great], and Giant (1956) [just OK], stupidly never associating him such star-identified classics as Swing Time (1936) and Woman Of The Year (1942). Given that Alice Adams is good with some great parts and A Place In The Sun is flat-out terrific - Stevens is already up to between 5 and 7 classics. Beyond that I have at least Annie Oakley (w/ Stanwyck) Gunga Din (w/ Grant), Talk of The Town (w/ Grant and Arthur), and The More The Merrier to further gap-fill with, and who'd bet against finding at least one classic among those?

Stevens is neither a dazzling stylist like Hitchcock or Kubrick nor a dialogue fireworks specialist like Wilder or Lubitsch, instead, rather like immediate peers Wyler and Cukor, he's a talented craftsmen who serves the story whatever it may be, gets great performances, always has the camera in the right place. The upshot is that Stevens racked up (near-)triumphs for more than twenty years, a very fine career albeit not a revolutionary one. But the history of any artform must give proper respect to its exemplary regular practitioners.

Note that about 28 mins into Alice Adams there's a 'rain streaks on the windows as tears' shot that substantially anticipates a famous shot from near the end of In Cold Blood (1967):

One difference: the rain-streak shadows are in addition to Katharine Hepburn's real tears whereas they're instead of Robert Blake's. But Hepburn's father in the film, hearing his daughter weep, gets (subtler) rain-streaks instead of real tears, so I say that Stevens and his DP Robert DeGrasse indeed gazump almost all of Richard Brooks's and his DP Conrad Hall's conception.

Update: Talk Of The Town (1942) is just OK. Above all it's brutalized by a crazy ending (apparently enofrced by giving A/B test audiences final cut!) in which, Movie-Star Logic holds - Cary Grant gets the girl - at the expense of Story and Performance Logic - a beautifully underplaying Grant allows and helps Ronald Coleman (w/ a touch of Victor Laszlo about him) to get the girl. Obviously Grant's movie-star-ness had deformed Suspicion (1941) the previous year so we're now pressing up against the serious downsides of the Golden Age studio/star system: it became impossible for beloved actors to surprise us, and only utterly archetypal story forms could be diligently cast and competently told. In the early '40s both Hitchcock and Stevens are trying to find new stories and open Grant and other stars up to different kinds of roles but the studios (and to some extent audiences) won't let that happen yet.

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