DVD Review HTF REVIEW: I Remember Mama (RECOMMENDED).

Discussion in 'DVD' started by Herb Kane, Nov 27, 2004.

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  1. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    [​IMG]



    I Remember Mama





    Studio: Warner Brothers
    Year: 1948
    Rated: Not Rated
    Film Length: 134 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: 1.33:1 Standard
    Audio: DD Monaural
    Color/B&W: B&W
    Languages: English
    Subtitles: English, French & Spanish
    MSRP: $19.97
    Package: Single disc/Keepcase





    The Feature:
    To celebrate the 100th birthday of the late - great director, George Stevens, Warner Brothers is about to release four DVD’s that have never been released to the format. Most notably, the 1939 classic Cary Grant adventure film, Gunga Din will be released as will George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin and George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey. Also slated for release is the 1948 feature film, I Remember Mama. Unfortunately according to WB, the Gunga Din DVD is held up by manufacturing, so a review of that title will be delayed but will most definitely be forthcoming.

    George Stevens’ resumé resembles a who’s who of films from the mid 1930’s up and into the late 1950’s, responsible for the direction of such films as Alice Adams (1935), Gunga Din (1939), Penny Serenade (1941), Woman of the Year (1942), Talk of the Town (1942), Shane (1953), Giant (1956), The Diary of Anne Frank (1959) and one of my personal favorites, A Place in the Sun from 1951. During his long career, he was recognized with five Academy Award nominations for directing which resulted in wins for A Place in the Sun and Giant.

    In 1948, RKO was a studio in turmoil. In a transaction that was described the biggest since the Twentieth Century – Fox merger, Howard Hughes had just purchased the studio which prompted a flurry of rumors and innuendo of instability and discord. Many of those who worked for RKO felt their jobs weren’t secure and statements were issued to allay fears of layoffs or closure. Unfortunately, those fears were well founded as Dore Schary quit shortly after the Hughes acquisition due to interference with the new studio head and three-quarters of the studio’s work force was laid off due to production grinding to a sudden halt. Even the studio’s new up and coming number one bad boy, Robert Mitchum wasn’t immune from negative publicity due to his arrest for marijuana possession only a year after being upgraded to the “A” list.

    I Remember Mama was loosely based on Kathryn Forbes’ novel centered around her reminiscences of growing up with her Norwegian family in the San Francisco area during the period of 1910. As part of an agreement, it took the studio five years to bring the book to the big screen and in the meantime, Rodgers and Hammerstein (with the help of writer John Van Druten) had produced a successful stage version which helped raise its awareness and status as a film.

    The film and its story is a rather simple one which centers around Mama, Martha Hansen (played by Irene Dunne) and is a tender portrayal of the determined housewife who struggles to raise her family with four children. She runs the household and manages what little money there is like a forensic accountant, in a somewhat alien-like atmosphere of San Francisco. Papa Hansen (played by Philip Dorn), is a carpenter who isn't well paid and is on the verge of being on strike.

    Katrin (played by Barbara Bel Geddes) is the eldest girl, who, looking back as a writer in her young adulthood, narrates the story of her family in a series of recollections. The youngest girl, Dagmar (played by June Hedin) loves animals and aspires to be a veterinarian, she’s also the subject of a serious medical emergency, which inevitably tests the strength of the family. The eldest child, Nels (played by Steve Brown), is hoped to eventually become a physician, while the middle daughter Christine, (played by Peggy McIntyre) is the stubborn and forthright one.

    The story is a drama that is full of comedic infusion, particularly Mama's overbearing but likeable Uncle Chris (played by Oscar Homolka), who originated the role on Broadway. While his gruff and satirical demeanor is lost on the kids, a family secret is what eventually quells their fear of the colorful uncle. Unfortunately, we only learn late in the film how loving and how compassionate a man he truly was. Look for other superb performances from Ellen Corby, Edgar Bergen, Rudy Vallee and Sir Cedric Hardwicke.

    Even though the film garnered critical acclaim and was praised as one of the best RKO films in years, it failed to turn a profit at the box office due to its excessive costs. Although it was shutout, the film was nominated for five Academy Awards including, Best Supporting Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actress x2 (Corby and Bel Geddes) and Best B&W Cinematography. The film was also the inspiration of the long running CBS TV series entitled Mama which ran from 1949 through 1957 starring Peggy Wood.

    The Feature: 4.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Video:
    If you were to ask me which studio was responsible for the production of the majority of films I prefer from the period of the late 30’s to the mid 50’s, without question, my response would be RKO. I have virtually every disc that represents almost every (RKO) film released to DVD thus far – including the majority of discs that have been released other than those here in Region One - most of those come from France and Spain. I feel pretty comfortable stating that this disc falls somewhere in the middle in terms of the presentation.

    It’s pretty evident that little to no restoration work has been done on this title since there are a significant number of blemishes, scratches as well as dirt and dust debris – bullet marks and all. During the opening scenes there is a heavy amount of light speckle which subsides early on, but is rather persistent throughout the entirety of the film. Image wise, the picture is stable and wasn’t marred by shimmer or jitter.

    Something the film does have in common with many of the RKO films of the period is a grayscale that couldn’t be any broader. With that, blacks were jet black and whites were mostly stark – showing only slightly gray at times. The level of contrast and shadow detail was more than acceptable.

    The level of image definition was satisfactory. It was rather on the soft side but only occasional instances of terrific sharpness were evident. Again typical of many RKO films and the stock used, there is a significant amount of moderate to heavy film grain present (not excessive), which renders a fine looking film-like image - definitely a film with a grittier or coarser look to it.

    Again, I feel the film is about average in terms of others from a similar period, and my grade reflects that. We also have to consider the fact that it is pretty common knowledge that many of the original RKO elements aren’t in the greatest shape.

    Video: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Audio:
    My comments as they refer to the audio portion of the transfer are similar to those of the video portion, in that “average” is probably the best word to sum things up.

    The audio track provided is the original monaural soundtrack and is rather basic. Needless to say, the vast majority of the film is dialogue driven and the range is limited at best. Unfortunately there were signs that the dialogue seemed strained (very slight) but for the most part, dialogue was clear and mostly bold.

    Thankfully, the track was clean and free of any hiss or other noisy distractions and the overall tonality of the track sounded natural but did border slightly on the harsher side of the scale.

    Beyond the inherent limitations of the track itself, this does what needs to be done – no more, no less.

    Audio: 3.5/5
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]



    Special Features:
    The disc only comes with two supplemental features. First up is:
    [*] An Introduction with George Stevens Jr. The son of the legendary director gives us a brief overview of some of his father’s works and a very brief account of the shooting of the film. The introduction is accessible from the main menu or on the special features menu. Duration: 3:06 minutes.
    [*] The only other feature is the Theatrical Trailer which is in surprisingly good shape. Duration: 1:48 minutes.

    Considering the sentiment of this film and those who were involved in its production, the lack of extras is disappointing. I’m not sure the film is the type that begs for an audio commentary, but at the very least, biographies or even production anecdotes would have been appreciated.

    Special Features: 2/5
    [​IMG][​IMG]

    **Special Features rated for the quality of supplements, not the quantity**



    Final Thoughts:
    I Remember Mama is a touching and heartwarming story that has indeed stood the test of time. Irene Dunne heads up a fine cast, and offers one of her best performances ever as Mama Hansen in this brilliantly and skillfully crafted film. I suspect a number of viewers will be able to relate and identify as to their family heritage and even if you can’t, I challenge anyone to watch this film for 134 minutes without shedding at least one or two tears.

    Beyond a family trying to succeed and flourish leading an almost impoverished lifestyle, the film is a testament of truth, honesty and commitment as well as undivided family love, not so commonplace within today’s society.

    The film is wonderful, however, the presentation is average. As for the Stevens’ supplements, I’m afraid you’ll have to seek out the other three December 7th releases if you have a craving. Either way, the film is simply too good not to have among your library of classics.

    Overall Rating: 4/5 (not an average)
    [​IMG][​IMG][​IMG][​IMG]

    Recommended.





    Release Date: December 7th, 2004
     
  2. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Nice review Herb; looking forward to your thoughts on Gunga Din.
     
  3. Jack Briggs

    Jack Briggs Executive Producer

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    Also, nice review. Not a favorite film of mine, but it was of my late mother's. I will get this.
     
  4. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

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    This is one of my favorites.
    It is (like MEET ME IN ST LOUIS) the rare
    family story that is charming, funny,
    but also quite moving.

    MAMA is a must-see,
    with a near perfect performance
    by Irene Dunne, one of the most brilliant
    and underrated actresses of the golden age.

    In the 1990's,
    my drama students studied the various incarnations of the story...
    from the Kathryn Forbes stories, to the play,
    to the film.
    I never had a 5th grade fail to fall in love with it.

    On home screens, it has never looked 'pristine".
    Even when they show this on Turner Classic Movies, the picture is somewhat "pushed in"...losing some of the outer bits...the visual is usually quite dark, too.
    I have hopes for this dvd version, however.
     
  5. Steve...O

    Steve...O Producer

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    Thank you Herb. Thanks to Warners for continuing to put out their great classic library. I had forgotten how many great stars were in this film until I read your review.

    I agree with Jefferson, Irene Dunne is indeed an underrated actress. Hopefully a whole new generation of fans will come to appreciate her talents thanks to this release.

    Steve
     
  6. Charles H

    Charles H Screenwriter

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    Dunne is underrated. She was a superb comedienne, a good singer (SHOWBOAT, ROBERTA) and a fine actress (Her performance as Queen Victoria in THE MUDLARK (1950) opposite Alec Guinness --as Disraeli--is superb and hopefully Fox will bring out this charming but forgotten film on dvd one day).
     
  7. DaViD Boulet

    DaViD Boulet Lead Actor

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    I love this movie and will purchase ASAP.

    The other film that I have to watch EVERY mother's day is "To Each His Own" with Olivia de-Havolin. Now *THAT* is a DVD long overdue!!!

    thanks for the great review Herb...

    -dave [​IMG]
     
  8. Jefferson

    Jefferson Supporting Actor

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    Speaking of "I Remember"...
    I remember the not so long ago days, when all of the classic films being released on dvd got pages and pages of comments, and discussion here at HTF.
    Makes me rather sad.
     
  9. RafaelPires

    RafaelPires Second Unit

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    I remember that too, Jefferson. But I don't think that means people are less interested in classic releases. The thing is that, some time ago, this kind of announcement was pretty escarce and a good opportunity for everyone to estimulate companies to put out on the market more titles and to list theis favorites. Now with so many releases each month, people are very satisfied and know that, at least with WB, that is only a matter of time to see the other desirable titles coming.
    Take me for instance, I did not post a comment fopr I remember Mama, but have ordered it as well as Gunga Din and I'm very pleased with the transfers.
    But just not to loose the habit, I would like to see more RKO movies on dvd. Some late 30's and early 40's vehicles as Vivacious Lady, Bachelor Mother, Love Affair, The Hunchback of Notre Dame (a restored version), Kitty Foyle, The Magnificent Ambersons, Tom Dick and Harry, None but the lonely heart, Too many girls, Irene, Tender Comrade would be good choices.
    And the Ann Sothern/Gene Rraymond movies too. though I'm sure there is little possibility to see those on dvd someday.
     
  10. John Hodson

    John Hodson Producer

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    Hmmm; nice thought. I think The Hunchback of Notre Dame in particular is deserving of Warners SE treatment.
     
  11. Doug Schiller

    Doug Schiller Supporting Actor

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    I can't wait for the review of the smash sequel:

    I Dismember Mama!

    [​IMG]
     
  12. Mark Philp

    Mark Philp Second Unit

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    Just got "I Remember Mama" yesterday and as it is one of my all-time favorites I sat right down and watched it. I think finding fault with the quality over a few marks or lines is being picky. It's simply impossible that every film from that era can be restored to pristine condition especially when we know how poorly the RKO library was maintained in the years prior to Ted Turner getting it. I'm really beginning to think that collectors today expect far to much in terms of the quality of older films and nothing short of perfection will please them. As for me, I'm delighted to have this one in my collection.
     
  13. Roger Rollins

    Roger Rollins Supporting Actor

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    Agreed!

    I have the disc, and am so grateful to have it. It does have
    (here we go) "age-related arifacts" which means,by no means perfect, it looks better than it has since it opened, and is an excellent release, worthy of the $13 I paid for it.

    What would have been a kick is if they had included (and couldn't if they wanted to because of rights expenses) the awful excerpt on the Tony Awards with Liv Ullmann barking out Richard Rodgers last score for the ill-fated B'way version:wink:
     
  14. Herb Kane

    Herb Kane Screenwriter

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    Mark... or others, I hope you don’t feel that what I am reporting amounts to being nit picky, particularly in the case of older classics or vintage titles. That’s certainly not my intent. Please know that generally my comments (or even those which appear to be critical or negative) are usually observations, more than criticisms. While I would reserve one or two stars for the usual Alpha or Madacy-like transfer (a crappy port of a VHS or LD or even worse, a cable TV broadcast), I save the fours and fives for transfers similar to the recent Strangers On A Train or a Sunset Boulevard. I’d be inclined to go five + for something like the Casablanca SE or Now, Voyageur, for those truly are exceptions.

    I am mostly impressed with the vast majority of vintage titles that have been released by all of the major studios as of late and like you, I too am thrilled to be able to add these to my collection. But I do agree however, it would seem as though many many fans have unrealistic expectations of what or how these films should look, especially considering as Roger points out, these can be picked up for little or nothing.

    Herb.
     
  15. Mark Philp

    Mark Philp Second Unit

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    Herb: I wasn't really finding fault with your review. As with most of your others I found it to be pretty much "on the nose", As a reviewer you have to point these things out.It just kind of set me off on a pet peeve of mine. You know yourself that there are many people on this forum who are never satisfied about any release regardless of the money or effort that went into preparing it. Look at some of the beautiful titles from Warners or the work of Robert Harris and others. As wonderful as they are, we still find them being ripped apart over some minor thing. And if they can't find fault with the DVD they find fault with the packaging or the label or who knows what.

    These people don't know how lucky we are to have all these films available to us. When I first got into collecting the only way you could get a movie was on 16mm film. We would have been thrilled to have a print 10% as good as what we can now get on DVD.

    Do I want the best possible quality to be released? Of course I do. It's just that I'm grateful for what we have and I don't expect miracles.
     
  16. John Morgan

    John Morgan Supporting Actor

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    CITIZEN KANE is one of the best looking RKOs on DVD, although I think it has been admitted, they may have gone a bit overboard with grain reduction and other cleansing, it does show what a good fine grain can look like when the camera negative no longer exists. Another RKO standout for quality on DVD is LITTLE WOMEN. And the Criterion release of RKO's THE MOST DANGEROUS GAME shows what a 1932 film can look like.

    Although I am not technically knowledgable in the area of what can and can not be done with material, it would be interesting if Warners and other companies could mention what materials they had to work from and how many generations from the original camera negative a certain transfer is. For instance, the box set of the Val Lewton films on laser had beautiful looking transfers for THE CAT PEOPLE and GHOST SHIP. If I am remembering correctly, those two were newly transferred from camera negatives, so I guess only so much can be done with whatever surviving materials are around.
     

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