- A Tribute to George Stevens
Year:  2004

  As part of our tribute to George Stevens, we are delighted to show the classic Western "Shane" (1953) with Alan Ladd, Jack Palance, Van Heflin, Jean Arthur, Brandon de Wilde, Ben Johnson (Saturday, March 13, 2004 @ 7:50 pm). And "George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey" (Saturday, March 13, 2004 @ 5:20 pm) made by his son, George Stevens Jr., who will be present for this tribute in person.

We also have the honor of Joseph McBride, a film critic, historian and presently a professor at San Francisco State University and the author of SEARCHING FOR JOHN FORD to introduce this program.

(Photo: George Stevens and his son, George Jr., at the Shane premiere, 1953. Photo by Sid Avery - courtesy MPTV)


George Stevens Biography:

Birth: December 18, 1904 - Oakland, CA
Death: March 8, 1975 - Lancaster, CA

American producer/director/cinematographer George Stevens made his professional acting debut at age five in the company of his actor parents. Developing an interest in photography as a hobby, Stevens became an assistant movie cameraman at the age of 17. From 1927 through 1930, he was principal cameraman at Hal Roach Studios, shooting such classic two-reelers as Laurel and Hardy's Two Tars (1928) and Below Zero (1930), as well as a handful of feature films, including the 1927 Western No Man's Law. Stevens was elevated to director in 1930 for Roach's Boy Friends series. Dismissed from Roach during an economy drive in 1931, Stevens moved to Universal and then to RKO to direct comedy shorts (he later professed to hate two-reel comedies, though he enjoyed the company of the comedians with whom he worked, especially Laurel and Hardy). RKO promoted Stevens to features in 1934; after several medium-budget projects, he was assigned the "A" feature Alice Adams (1935) over the protests of the film's star, Katharine Hepburn. When Alice Adams proved successful, Hepburn's attitude toward Stevens did a "180," and she insisted that he direct her starring vehicle Quality Street (1936). Another Stevens triumph from this period was the Astaire/Rogers confection Swing Time (1936), in which the director's father Landers Stevens played an important supporting role. Producing as well as directing from 1938's Vivacious Lady onward, Stevens turned out a string of critical and financial successes:

Gunga Din (1939) for RKO, Woman of the Year (1942) for MGM, and Penny Serenade (1941), Talk of the Town (1942) and The More the Merrier (1943), all for Columbia. Stevens' directorial style displayed the same acute sense of visual dynamics that had distinguished his earlier work as a cameraman; the director refined and improved upon that style through sweat and persistence. Once he reached the "A" list, Stevens became one of the most meticulous and painstaking directors in the business, commencing production only after extensive research, filming take after take until perfection was achieved, and then spending as much as a full year editing the finished product.

During World War II, Stevens was made an officer in the Signal Corps, filming vivid color footage of such historical milestones as the D-Day maneuvers and the liberation of the death camps; much of this footage was incorporated into the 1984 documentary George Stevens: A Filmaker's Journey, assembled by George Stevens Jr.

After the war, Stevens produced and directed his final RKO assignment, I Remember Mama (1948), then moved to Paramount for what many consider his crowning achievement -- 1951's A Place in the Sun, a brilliant filmization of the Theodore Dreiser novel An American Tragedy. While much of the film's content is dated, Stevens succeeded in transferring a bulky and verbose novel to the screen in purely visual terms; he also thrilled the bobbysoxer fans of Montgomery Clift and Elizabeth Taylor by shooting their love scenes in huge, provocatively lit closeups. A Place in the Sun won Stevens his first Oscar for best directing in 1951. Fifteen years later, he threatened legal action against NBC should the network edit out any portion of Place in the Sun for telecasting purposes, and he was backed up in his suit by the California Legislature.

The more time and effort Stevens expended on his individual projects, the fewer he produced. His output between 1953 and 1959 consisted of Shane (1953); Giant (1956), in which he put the awkward Cinemascope screen to superb artistic use, winning his second Oscar in the process; and The Diary of Anne Frank (1959). From 1960 through 1965, Stevens labored on a mammoth filmization of the life of Christ, The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).

His last film, The Only Game in Town (1970), stars Elizabeth Taylor and Warren Beatty. ~ Hal Erickson, All Movie Guide

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