GUNGA DIN 
I REMEMBER MAMA
GEORGE STEVENS: D-DAY TO BERLIN
GEORGE STEVENS: A FILMMAKER'S JOURNEY (WARNER HOME VIDEO) 
THE MORE THE MERRIER (COLUMBIA TRI-STAR HOME VIDEO) 

If George Stevens had only directed SHANE, he'd be my favorite director. If George Stevens had only directed A PLACE IN THE SUN, he'd be my favorite director. If George Stevens had only directed GUNGA DIN, he'd be my favorite director. If George Stevens had only ------  by now you're probably aware that George Stevens is, without a shadow of a doubt, my favorite director.

Why? No other cinema director was and is so continuously able to literally make me feel as if I was an integral part of the emotional fabric of his masterpieces. The boy who said "Come back, Shane!" as Alan Ladd rode into the setting sun for the last time? That was me. The impoverished young man in A PLACE IN THE SUN desperately clinging to a romantic vision he could never possess? That certainly was me. In GUNGA DIN there was Grant, Fairbanks, McLaglen and ------ me. There were two film families I longed to be a part of. One was the Norwegian family in I REMEMBER MAMA. And as I grew from boyhood to manhood I longed to be one of the Starett family in SHANE. No longer was I the boy seeing Shane ride out of my life forever. I had become Shane myself, regretfully riding away from a familial lifestyle I knew I could never be part of.  Through George Stevens' uncanny ability to gently but firmly pull me in and make me an active participant in these and other films of his I learned about the value of family, friendship, moral standards, the need to stand up for what you believe in at all costs and so much more. George Stevens said to me at the start of each of his films: "Come with me. I want you to share this experience, these passions, this love, this yearning, this unyielding loyalty, this longing." And I did. And I expect to do so for the rest of my life. That is why George Stevens is, and will always be my favorite director.

The fact that Warner Home Video is paying tribute to this greatest of all directors by way of their simultaneous release of four previously unseen-on-dvd Stevens cinematic gems is cause for considerable celebration, for at last the most exhilarating action film ever made (GUNGA DIN), the warmest of all family films (I REMEMBER MAMA), the best and most intimate of all director documentaries (GEORGE STEVENS: A FILMMAKER'S JOURNEY) and a personal color-film compilation of Stevens' wartime experiences (GEORGE STEVENS: D-DAY TO BERLIN) are all gratifyingly available for the discerning film-fan.

The full-screen black and white image of GUNGA DIN, though not a restoration, is vastly superior in every conceivable way, to that of the Special Edition laserdisc, though the laserdisc's special features were infinitely more abundant. (I've just finished transferring the laser's complete Stevens color footage of the Lone Pine locations as well as its hundreds of original stills to dvd and I now have the GUNGA DIN Special Edition that should-have-been. I must admit I feel this particular film deserved the same exemplary treatment that Warner's accorded CITIZEN KANE.) Still, it looks better than I've seen it look in a very long time.

Twenty years ago I was privileged to be part of an audience that included such luminaries as Cary Grant and Fred Astaire at the very first showing of George Stevens Jr's warm and wonderful tribute to his father, GEORGE STEVENS: A FILMMAKER'S JOURNEY . It was a once-in-a-lifetime evening, and Warner's full-screen color and black-and-white dvd, which puts the previous laserdisc in the dust, brings back very happy memories indeed. My only caveat is a minor one --- I wish the DIARY OF ANNE FRANK and GREATEST STORY EVER TOLD segments had been redone in the correct widescreen ratio instead of the pan-and-scan versions on display here.

The full-screen image on GEORGE STEVENS: D-DAY TO BERLIN is nothing less than astonishing and shockingly reveals the fact that the quality of the 16mm KodaChrome color stock of six decades ago surpasses that of most of the stock available today, so rich and warm are the colors which are revealed in this truly remarkable footage.

It's probably obvious by now to any dedicated classic film collector that Warner Home Video is simply incapable of releasing any classic title on dvd wherein the image is less than good, and their I REMEMBER MAMA is no exception. However, it must be admitted that this particular full-screen black-and-white transfer, due to the fact that it's somewhat dark and grainy, doesn't quite do full justice to the warm, smooth and buttery perfection that was Nicholas Musaraca's luminous Oscar-nominated cinematography.

The mono sound on all four of the above releases is very good to excellent, and it's particularly gratifying that Alfred Newman's stupendous score for GUNGA DIN and Roy Webb's lyrical and lovely music for I REMEMBER MAMA are reproduced so faithfully and without any discernable distortion.

Last, but certainly not least, is Columbia-Tristar Home Entertainment's release of Stevens' out-and-out comedy THE MORE THE MERRIER, the very last he would make before his wartime experiences would forever alter his outlook on life and, therefore, his future films.

The main constant in all of Stevens' pre-and-postwar films is his unbridled affection for his central characters, and in THE MORE THE MERRIER, which chronicles the adventures of a patriotic young lady (Jean Arthur)in crowded wartime Washington who decides to rent half of her apartment to a retired gentleman (Oscar-winning Charles Coburn) who in turn, and without her knowledge, rents half of his half to a clean-cut young man (Joel McCrea), this affection is constantly on generous display.

In hands other than those of Stevens this featherweight story would be one of many agreeable and instantly forgotten trifles that populated movie theatres of the day, but Stevens manages, with the considerable aid of Arthur, Coburn and the amazingly underrated McCrea, to create what is conceivably the ultimate "date movie" of all time, and one that is absolutely essential viewing for the light-hearted and romantically inclined.

While Columbia's black and white full screen transfer and mono sound are just serviceable, nothing can diminish the mirth and warmth that this delightful and uniquely charming gem supplies in such copious amounts.

--DICK DINMAN 

 

 

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