Auntie Mame (1958)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Guide for the Film Fanatic title; click here to read more.]

“Life is a banquet — and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

AM Poster

Synopsis:
When a young orphan named Patrick (Jan Handzlik) goes to live with his eccentric Aunt Mame (Rosalind Russell) in New York, the executor (Fred Clark) of his deceased father’s estate worries that Patrick will be subjected to “unhealthy” influences — but Patrick grows into an upstanding young man (Roger Smith) with a mind of his own, eventually deciding to marry a stuffy socialite (Joanna Barnes) who’s radically different from free-spirited Mame.

Genres:

  • Character Studies
  • Comedy
  • Non-Conformists
  • Orphans
  • Play Adaptation
  • Raising Children
  • Rosalind Russell Films

Review:
This Oscar-nominated adaptation of Jerome Lawrence’s play (based on Patrick Dennis’ bestselling novel) is conspicuously missing from Peary’s book. Despite its flaws — it was nowhere close to being one of the best films of the year — it nonetheless holds a special place in film fanatic history, given that Rosalind Russell (who originated the title role on Broadway) is the definitive Mame. While Oscar-nominated Peggy Cass as Agnes Gooch is (to me) less impressive, and Yuki Shimoda’s turn as Ito the butler is painful to watch, others — including Coral Browne as Mame’s lifelong acting friend, Jan Handzlik as young Patrick, and Forrest Tucker as a wealthy southerner who falls head over heels for Mame during the Depression — do a fine job bringing the heart-warming story to life. Some portions of the 2-hour-plus episodic narrative are, inevitably, better than others (the entire Deep South sequence, for instance, could easily have been omitted), but the structure is perfectly suited to Mame’s live-each-day-as-it-comes philosophy, and there are countless laugh-out-loud moments. Indeed, it’s hard not to be amused by Mame’s reactions to the inexplicable stuffiness of most folks — we could all use a bit of her world-view.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Rosalind Russell as Mame
    AM Mame
  • Mame enduring a visit with Patrick’s obnoxious in-laws-to-be
    AM Enduring
  • The cool kaleidoscopic opening titles
    AM Opening Titles

Must See?
Yes, simply for Russell’s noteworthy, historically relevant performance as Mame.

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One Response to “Auntie Mame (1958)”

  1. An absolute must – and, indeed, an odd oversight in Peary’s book.

    Here is a movie that can be enjoyed any number of times; it’s a gem from start to finish. It’s also one of those that’s fun to revisit if much time has passed – it thoroughly charms all over again, and that is its main intent.

    While it’s true that over-familiarity with the film can make some of the dialogue seem quaint, it’s surprising how much of the script still knocks it out of the park, particularly (as happens quite often) when it is accompanied by spot-on delivery and direction.

    Whenever I saw this film growing up, it was always on tv in a pan-and-scan version (of course) – which, irritating as that was, still did not reduce the joy of it all. Happily, ‘Auntie Mame’ is now available in a stunning DVD print that heightens the film’s color-feast factor, and its often-incredible Technirama breadth. (Those sound stages look enormous!)

    It’s been a long while since I read the Mame books but, if memory serves (and it’s possible it doesn’t), the film has a certain gravitas absent from the originals. By that I’m referring to the depth of feeling Roz Russell brings to it – esp. in her relationship with Handzlik and, later, Smith (as well as her servants in the Christmas/Depression sequence). I’ve just seen the film again and, during a number of those scenes, I get all choked up.

    Favorite scenes (if forced to choose):
    -when the Depression strikes; Mame is forced to actually work for a living and she fails miserably and hilariously in a series of posts
    -at home with the Upsons

    Of course, basically this is Russell’s film all the way but, honestly, I can’t find fault with any other aspect here. The film slaps a grin on my face and keeps it there. What else need be asked of a must-see?

    Note:
    Author Patrick Dennis was a fascinating character. The biography on him – ‘Uncle Mame’ by Eric Myers – is a terrific read (and contains surprising background info on the Mame material, esp. how rights to it slipped away from him). As much as I admire the Mame books, however, I have a preference for some of his other works, such as ‘Little Me’ and ‘Tony’. Dennis’ work bubbles and sparkles – he was something of another Noel Coward in his day, something of a Joe Keenan in ours.

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