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 five Academy Awards.
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.
"For as long as I could remember, the house on Steiner Street had been home. Papa and Mama had both been born in Norway, but they came to San Francisco because Mama's sisters were here. All of us were born here. Nels, the oldest and the only boy— my sister Christine— and the littlest sister, Dagmar."
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.
Marta ‘Mama’ Hanson: Being rich is like being ten feet tall. Good for some things, bad for others.
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 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.
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.”
TV Guide calls it “a delicate charmer, sometimes precious, but nonetheless fine” and “meticulously directed.”
Time Out London describes it as “a charmer . . . directed and acted with real delicacy.”
The film was named one of the year’s Ten Best by Film Daily.
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).
Ellen 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.