Stevens. Stevens could do it all—a genius with genres. Over the course of his career he made a legit top 500 all-time film western, perhaps the best musical from Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, a superb 1930’s swashbuckling adventure, and a 1950’s anti-television Texas epic, a harrowing romance drama adaptation, and a winning Katharine Hepburn/Spencer Tracy vehicle. Those are his six best films. He’s not a style-plus director but the filmography is hard to argue with and he always elevated the material he directed. At this point to have 2 films in the top 500 and 4 films in the top 100 of their respective decade is rare to find left to choose from for slot #126—this is the reason for Stevens’ placement here.
Best film: Shane. I don’t think it’s a landslide but it is Stevens’ best work. Stevens’ stages the ambitious western masterfully. The tear-jerk ending with Brandon De Wilde, the shootout with Jack Palance, the stump-chopping scene with Ladd and Van Heflin. Shane isn’t stylistic bravado like Leone, an epic masterpiece like The Searchers or top-shelf auteur cinema like McCabe and Mrs. Miller– but it’s only a step or so down.
total archiveable films: 10
top 100 films: 0
top 500 films: 2 (Shane, Gunga Din)
top 100 films of the decade: 4 (Swing Time, Gunga Din, A Place in the Sun, Shane)
most overrated: Nothing. Stevens has two films in the TSPDT consensus top 1000. Shane is his top-rated film and is a #488. I’m at #376 so it’s underrated slightly for me. His other film on the TSPDT list is A Place in the Sun at #622. That may be slightly overrated but I’m close—not bad.
most underrated: Gunga Din is the correct choice. I have it at #478 and it isn’t in the TSPDT top 1000 somehow and I don’t get it. It’s is incredibly entertaining, editing briskly with a narrative that soars. Its influences can still be felt in action films today.
gem I want to spotlight: Giant. Giant has some problems and it doesn’t always land. Lofty ambitions (it isn’t the 1950’s Gone With the Wind like it wanted to be) is something I admire though. James Dean, Rock Hudson and Elizabeth Taylor all do really solid work—the story is engaging, and a few shots like this here (granted Stevens’ doesn’t have the talent for compositions like David Lean or even William Wyler) make a film I come back to often to study and appreciate.
stylistic innovations/traits: I mentioned it in the opening but Stevens mastered nearly every genre. They aren’t the quality of Hawks’ films and you can’t trace similarities among the films like you can with Hawks’ work but we’re still talking about 4 films that land in the top 100 of their decade and you can’t compare him with Hawks’– I currently have Hawks as the #29 director of all-time, and we’re at #126 here.
- Gunga Din
- A Place in the Sun
- Swing Time
- Woman of the Year
- The Diary of Anne Frank
- Alice Adams
- Penny Serenade
- Talk of the Town
By year and grades
|1935- Alice Adams||R|
|1936- Swing Time||HR|
|1939- Gunga Din||MS|
|1941- Penny Serenade||R|
|1942- Talk of the Town||R|
|1942- Woman of the Year||R|
|1951- A Place in the Sun||HR/MS|
|1959- The Diary of Anne Frank||R|
*MP is Masterpiece- top 1-3 quality of the year film
MS is Must-see- top 5-6 quality of the year film
HR is Highly Recommend- top 10 quality of the year film
R is Recommend- outside the top 10 of the year quality film but still in the archives