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A great deal of the credit for Mama belongs to Producer-Director George Stevens. Always one of Hollywood's better directors (Alice Adams, Woman of the Year), he developed while he was away at war, like a few other talented picturemakers (notably William Wyler, John Huston, John Ford). In Mama, his first movie since his return, he felt no timidity about tackling a script that lacked action and a strong plot. He concentrated, with confidence and resourcefulness, on character, mood and abundant detail, and on the continuous invention of satisfying and expressive things to look at.
The picture is not without faults. Often some heavy trick of tearjerking or laugh-getting or some exaggeration in acting or in the story shatters the unusually rich and pleasant moods that Stevens develops. At such moments, the whole business becomes tinny or unbelievable. And although a leisurely pace is often as happily used as in Going My Way, and the picture has the easy, sweet-tempered continuity of a growing crop, there is too little reason why it shouldn't be an hour shorter than its two hours and 17 minutes.
Above everything else, the picture has obviously been made with the lively affection and pleasure which are the life blood of good popular art. The casting is wise and the acting is almost entirely satisfying. Miss Dunne, who has been prone to hurt her serious roles with snobbish or ironic undertones, takes her tongue out of her cheek and gives a performance that is warm, disciplined and unaffected. Homolka is a blend of good actor and bag-of-tricks; but most of the tricks are good, and seem appropriate to his florid role (one trick a sudden shifting of his bulk on the deathbed is almost magical). Barbara Bel Geddes has little to do except register gentle, clear emotions, but she does it exceedingly well and even manages not to make it monotonous. Rudy Vallee does nicely in his minor role and Edgar Bergen does some funny and touching things with his slightly larger one.
Crisis in Italy (MARCH OF TIME) follows TIME Correspondent Emmet Hughes in a well-conducted tour of Communist activity in Italy. An excellent background for the Italian elections, the film is particularly instructive on the Communists' talent for playing both ends against the middle. (One neat trick: party-run soup kitchens distributing U.S. food.) Bigger sticks in the party's handful of fasces are the despair and near-starvation of the masses ; the ease with which the governing middle-of-the-roaders can be accused of ineptitude and worse ; the ease with which promises can be made by a party which is not faced with the immediate embarrassment of carrying them out; the party's powerful voice in industrial management; its ability to cripple Italian industry overnight. Biggest stick against the Communists : enough food and financial help from the U.S.
All this material is made eloquent on the screen by intelligent cutting of vigorous, incisive camera work. Many of the shots of people and events have the power of cartoons and of political art. One of the most interesting things that emerges, in contrast with every other kind of Italian face, is the Party Face. Whatever its individual peculiarities, this face always gives the illusion of dry, bony, almost inhuman concentration, as if its owners were intent, in a dim light, on threading a needle.