Tuesday, May 16, 2017

The Diary Of Anne Frank 1959

             The other night I made a dvd visit to this film, which I first saw as a 12 year old at its reserved seat engagement at the Palace Theatre on Times Sq.  I was the same age as Anne was when she entered the hiding place and for the first time in my young life I realized how hated I was simply because of who I was. I was a little weary of returning to this gut-wrenching piece of history for a number of reasons. Would it hold up, would it move me as it did that Sunday afternoon at the Palace or would I be bored and disappointed. Happily or miserably I was not disappointed and I would have to give the director George Stevens a big bag of thanks.
        My history with this slice of horror is long having read the “diary” as a young boy in junior high school and even writing a play based on it for a class assignment. Years later when I was in Amsterdam with John we went to the house and it wasn’t the tourist must see attraction that I have been told it has become. We just walked in and we were pretty much alone in this sad place.
                When the film was released there was much hoopla about it, and I knew I would have to see it, and see it I did. It was the big road show picture of the season and if you still couldn’t get tickets for Ben Hur you walked north to the Palace to see “The Diary” as it was referred to sometimes in my childhood circle of friends and family.
                 The film holds up nicely because of the care that went into the production including the beautiful lush black and white photography of William Mellor who won a black and white cinematography Oscar for it. Back then they use to give out Oscars for both black and white and color cinematography, art direction and costume design. Stevens who didn’t want to film it in cinemascope at first finally backed down and because he was such a great technician and film artist he used the ratio brilliantly.
              He did win his case with the studio about not shooting it in color and that was a wise decision on the studio’s part to allow him this, I shudder to think of this misery in De-Luxe color, all flashy and bright. . 
          Stevens was a marvelous director who began his film career in the early days of sound working for the Hal Roach studio and directing many comedy shorts including some for Laurel And Hardy. He went on to a sublime career, winning two director Oscars and making some of the best loved movies of all time including Alice Adams, Swing Time, Gunga Din, Woman Of The Year The More The Merrier, I Remember Mama, A Place In The Sun, Shane, Giant and finally The Diary Of Anne Frank which was his swan song, his final fine film.
             He was also recognized for his films documenting the Normandy landing and the liberation of the Nazi concentration camps (made even more horrible if that’s possible because they are in color) that he saw first hand when he was serving in the army signal corp where he headed up a combat motion picture unit for two of the war years and his witnessing this crime against humanity had a lasting affect on him, no doubt influencing him to make “The Diary”.
              He had a great eye for composition and you can see this in all of his films including “The Diary”. The film is claustrophobic and cramped and this is an amazing accomplishment on his part considering that the film is in cinemascope, his groupings of the occupants of the annex is commanding and accomplished making us feel as if we are also there. He filmed it on a set that was 3 stories high and the long filming and demands put stress on everyone involved including the cast, which deserves some notice here. I should say that I found Millie Perkins to be better than she is given credit for. She is usually attacked and torn down for, her lack of experience, her discomfort, her flat nasal accent, (she was born in New Jersey) and above all her bad acting.
                I thought she was fine, ideally not my Anne but not horrible either. Richard Beymer also is usually attacked for his performance, but again I thought he was fine, the same goes for Diane Baker who was making her film debut. The rest of  the supporting cast has many golden performances notably from Joseph Schildkrautt, Lou Jacobi, Ed Wynn, Gusti Huber and Shelley Winters who won a supporting actress Oscar and donated to the Anne Frank Foundation.  Stevens toyed with the idea of following the Franks and the others into the concentration camp after their capture but vetoed this idea. The 2001 TV movie does continue their story into the camps and is brutal and disturbing. With a lovely score by the great Franz Waxman. 


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