I Remember Mama (film)

This article is about the 1948 feature film. For the 1944 play, see I Remember Mama (play). For the 1949 TV series, see Mama (TV series). For the 1979 musical adaptation, see I Remember Mama (musical).
I Remember Mama

original film poster
Directed by George Stevens
Produced by Harriet Parsons
George Stevens
Written by John Van Druten (play)
Kathryn Forbes (novel Mama's Bank Account)
DeWitt Bodeen (screenplay)
Starring Irene Dunne
Barbara Bel Geddes
Oskar Homolka
Ellen Corby
Philip Dorn
Music by Roy Webb
Cinematography Nicholas Musuraca
Edited by Robert Swink
Distributed by RKO Radio Pictures
Release dates
  • March 9, 1948 (1948-03-09)
Running time
134 mins
Country United States
Language English
Budget $3,068,000[1]
Box office $2.9 million (US rentals)[2]

I Remember Mama is a 1948 drama film, directed by George Stevens, from a screenplay by DeWitt Bodeen, based upon the play by John Van Druten, which itself was based on Kathryn Forbes' novel, Mama's Bank Account (Published 1943 by Harcourt, Brace). The film starred Irene Dunne in the titular role, as well as Barbara Bel Geddes, Philip Dorn, and Oscar Homolka who reprised the role of Uncle Chris, which he had created on Broadway. The film was nominated for 5 Academy Awards.[3]


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 housekeeper Jessie Brown, who is secretly his wife. 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. Marta then gives the brooch to Katrin as a graduation present. Katrin's father presents her with her first cup of coffee, which she had been told she could drink once she was a grown-up.

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.[4][5][6][7]

Production notes

The film premiered as the Easter attraction at Radio City Music Hall in New York City. Director 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.[8] 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.[9]



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."[10]

TV Guide calls it "a delicate charmer, sometimes precious, but nonetheless fine" and "meticulously directed."[11]

Time Out London describes it as "a charmer . . . directed and acted with real delicacy."[12]

The film was named one of the year's Ten Best by Film Daily.

Box Office

Despite receiving good reviews, the movie failed to turn a profit due to its high production costs.[1] It recorded a loss of $1,040,000.[13]

Awards and nominations

The film was nominated for Academy Awards for Best Actress in a Leading Role (Irene Dunne), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (Oskar Homolka), Best Actress in a Supporting Role (Bel Geddes and Ellen Corby), and Best Cinematography, Black-and-White (Nicholas Musuraca).[14]

Ellen Corby won the Golden Globe Award for Best Supporting Actress.[15]

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.[16]

Additional adaptations

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.[17]

After the success of the screen adaptation, Dunne, Homolka, and Bel Geddes reprised their roles in a Lux Radio Theater adaptation of the film.[18]

There was also a British Independent Television production in 1961.[19]

A musical stage adaptation starring Liv Ullmann and George Hearn had a brief run on Broadway in 1979.[20]


External links

Related Reading

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