I Remember Mama
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I Remember Mama is a play by John Van Druten based on Kathryn Forbes' fictionalized memoir Mama's Bank Account. The play focuses on the Hanson family, a loving family of Norwegian immigrants living at 115 Steiner Street (identified as Larkin Hill in the 1948 film) in San Francisco in the 1910s.
|I Remember Mama|
original film poster
|Directed by||George Stevens|
|Produced by||Harriet Parsons
|Written by||John Van Druten (play)
Kathryn Forbes (novel Mama's Bank Account)
DeWitt Bodeen (screenplay)
Barbara Bel Geddes
|Music by||Roy Webb|
|Edited by||Robert Swink|
|Distributed by||RKO Radio Pictures (theatre)
Warner Home Video (DVD)
|Running time||134 mins|
The film begins with eldest daughter Katrin completing the last lines of her autobiographical novel. As she reminisces about her family life, we flashback to 1910, where the first of a series of vignettes finds Marta Hanson preparing the weekly budget with her husband Lars, daughters Katrin, Christine and Dagmar, and son Nels, who announces his desire to attend high school. Each family member makes a financial sacrifice to contribute to the boy's education.
Marta's sister Trina arrives, announces she is marrying undertaker Peter Thorkelson, and implores Marta to break the news to their sisters Sigrid and Jenny. When Marta threatens to reveal embarrassing anecdotes about them, the women accept their sister's decision.
When Jonathan Hyde, the Hansons' impoverished lodger, reads A Tale of Two Cities aloud for the family, they are deeply moved by the story. Later, the family is visited by Marta's gruff but soft-hearted Uncle Chris and his common law wife Jessie Brown. When Chris discovers Dagmar is ill with mastoiditis, he insists on taking her to the hospital. Dagmar's operation is a success, but Marta is prohibited from seeing her. Disguised as a member of the housekeeping staff, she sneaks into Dagmar's ward and sings to her.
When Dagmar returns home, she learns her cat, Uncle Elizabeth, is ill. Despite Dagmar's belief in her mother's powers, Marta feels helpless to save the cat and sends Nels to buy chloroform so she can euthanize it. The following morning, she is astonished when Dagmar walks in with an apparently cured cat.
Mr. Hyde moves out, leaving his classic books and a check for his rent. The family's joy vanishes when they discover the check has no value. Sigrid and Jenny are furious, but Marta declares his gift of literature is payment enough.
Katrin brags to Christine that their mother is going to buy her the dresser set she has long admired as a graduation present. As she is about to leave to perform in the school's production of The Merchant of Venice, Katrin learns that her mother traded her heirloom brooch for the gift. Distraught, the girl performs badly in the play and later retrieves the brooch after trading back the dresser set. Katrin's father presents her with her first cup of coffee, which she had been told she could drink once she was grown.
Marta learns Uncle Chris is near death, and she takes Katrin to say goodbye. He reveals he has no money to leave his niece because he has been donating his income to help children with leg or foot problems walk again. After enjoying a final drink with his niece and Jessie, Uncle Chris dies.
Katrin is dejected when she receives her tenth literary rejection letter. Marta then takes some of her stories to famed author and gourmand Florence Dana Moorhead and convinces her to read them. Marta returns home and advises her daughter that Moorhead feels the girl should write about what she knows best. Marta urges Katrin to write about Papa. When Katrin's story is accepted for publication, she is paid $500. After announcing some of the money will go towards the purchase of the winter coat Marta wants, Katrin confesses her story is titled Mama and the Hospital. She begins to read it to her family, and its introduction concludes with the line, "But first and foremost, I remember Mama."
George Stevens originally offered the role of Mama to Greta Garbo, who balked at playing a motherly type. He then cast Irene Dunne, whom he had directed in Penny Serenade in 1941. Although she was 50 years old, the actress had a youthful appearance and had to be aged with makeup to portray the family matriarch convincingly. Oscar Homolka was the only member of the original Broadway cast to reprise his role for the film. Some scenes were filmed on Rhode Island Street, on San Francisco's Potrero Hill. The film premiered as the Easter attraction at Radio City Music Hall in New York City.
- Irene Dunne as Marta 'Mama' Hanson
- Barbara Bel Geddes as Katrin Hanson
- Oskar Homolka as Uncle Chris Halvorsen
- Philip Dorn as Lars 'Papa' Hanson
- Steve Brown as Nels Hanson
- Peggy McIntyre as Christine Hanson
- June Hedin as Dagmar Hanson
- Sir Cedric Hardwicke as Mr. Jonathan Hyde
- Ellen Corby as Aunt Trina
- Hope Landin as Aunt Jenny
- Edith Evanson as Aunt Sigrid
- Edgar Bergen as Peter Thorkelson
- Florence Bates as Florence Dana Moorhead
- Barbara O'Neil as Jessie Brown
- Rudy Vallee as Dr. Johnson
- Tommy Ivo as Arne
In his review in the New York Times, Bosley Crowther said the film "should prove irresistible" and added, "Irene Dunne does a beautiful job . . . handling with equal facility an accent and a troubled look, [she] has the strength and vitality, yet the softness, that the role requires."
The film was named one of the year's Ten Best by Film Daily.
The movie lost $1,040,000.
Awards and nominations
The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Dunne), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Homolka), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Bel Geddes and Corby), and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Nicholas Musuraca).
Corby won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.
DeWitt Bodeen was nominated for three Writers Guild of America Awards, for Best Written American Comedy, Best Written American Drama, and the Robert Meltzer Award for the Screenplay Dealing Most Ably with Problems of the American Scene.
Mama, a CBS television series starring Peggy Wood, ran from 1949 until 1957. The popularity and high ratings of Mama prompted a national re-release of I Remember Mama in 1956. In some theaters, this was accompanied by a stage presentation of "dish night," a recreation of the dinnerware giveaways theaters held during the 1930s to attract ticket-buyers.
After the success of the screen adaptation, Dunne, Homolka, and Bel Geddes reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film.
- Richard Jewell & Vernon Harbin, The RKO Story. New Rochelle, New York: Arlington House, 1982. p227
- I Remember Mama at Turner Classic Movies
- New York Times review
- TV Guide review
- Time Out London review
- Channel 4 review
- http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0814146/ IMDB entry for 1961 ITV production
- "I Remember Mama, Broadway, 1979" Internet Broadway Database listing, accessed March 24, 2012
- I Remember Mama at the Internet Broadway Database
- I Remember Mama at the Internet Movie Database
- I Remember Mama on Lux Radio Theater: August 30, 1948. Missing the first eight minutes. Program becomes audible at 1:09 of recording.