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December 24, 2004

From Giant: George Stevens, A Life on Film,
by Marilyn Ann Moss

by Ron Hogan
Long an admirer of [Carl] Sandburg, Stevens was said... to admire his "soaring lyricism" and "his human and Olympian point of view." Stevens said, "I want to get his poetry on the screen--his sense of ordinary conversation. He is a profound man, yet he thinks with humility." ... After that, however, no one could ever determine what Sandburg actually contributed to the script, but at least some amusing stories of his behavior surfaced--including talk of Sandburg's habit of falling asleep during story meetings, or of his walking into story meetings with no jacket, complaining that he was cold, being offered a jacket to put around his knees, and then walking out of the room at the end of the meeting without returning the jacket; he eventually collected quite a number of them.

The film Sandburg worked on, The Greatest Story Ever Told, will be on Turner Classic Movies for Christmas (check your listings). Once (though briefly) the most expensive film ever made in the U.S., it never quite fulfilled Stevens' ambitions, and I personally prefer Nicholas Ray's King of Kings as far as the Jesus films go, but it's still an impressive piece of work.

As is (how's that for a segue?) Giant: Moss has produced a solid biography of one of Hollywood's great directors. Between this book and the Emmy-winning documentary George Stevens: D-Day to Berlin, I got a quick education about someone I'd taken for granted until now--it's hard to imagine how I got this far without knowing that the director of The Diary of Anne Frank had been leading an American military film crew that accompanied the advancing troops when they arrived at Dachau...and though it's easy to see how that and other wartime experiences shaped the second half of Stevens' film career, it's anything but simple.

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