Diary of Anne Frank, The (1959)

Diary of Anne Frank, The (1959)

“I want to go on living, even after my death.”

Holocaust survivor Otto Frank (Joseph Schildkraut) reflects back on the two years he and his wife (Gusti Huber) and two daughters, Margot (Diane Baker) and Anne (Millie Perkins), spent hiding in the attic of a business owned by Harry (Douglas Spencer) and Miep (Dodie Heath) Kraler, along with Mr. (Lou Jacoby) and Mrs. Van Daan (Shelly Winters) and their teenage son Peter (Richard Beymer) and a dentist (Ed Wynn).

Genres, Themes, Actors, and Directors:

  • Coming of Age
  • George Stevens Films
  • Jews
  • Millie Perkins Films
  • Play Adaptations
  • Shelley Winters Films
  • Survival
  • World War II

Millie Perkins made her screen debut as the title figure in this adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett’s play based on Anne Frank‘s diary. Director George Stevens and DP William C. Mellor deftly handle the challenges of filming a story taking place almost entirely within the confines of a crowded attic:

… with the theme of survival under extraordinary circumstances helping keep us in suspense despite knowing the tragic outcome of the story.

We are intrigued by the inevitable interpersonal tensions that emerge amongst this motley crew of refugees:

… and can only imagine trying to endure something like this ourselves. Winters won a Best Supporting Actress award for her portrayal of a quibbling housewife most interested in holding onto her fur coat and (later) ensuring her husband (not her son!) has enough to eat:

Meanwhile, Schildkraut, reprising his Broadway role, is perfectly cast as a noble and patient father doing his best to keep the group peaceful and alive, and Douglas Spencer and Dodie Heath are appropriately subtle as the couple who risked their own lives to save others:

Less successful is the ongoing subplot about Anne’s (mutual) crush on Peter, which is belabored to the point of distraction:

While we know that romance and other adolescent concerns were top of mind for Anne during her time in hiding, the presence of these two good-looking actors ultimately feels too much like simply a cinematic excuse to portray young love. Perkins is soulful and pretty as big-eyed Anne:

… but I couldn’t help wondering how the original stage star (Susan Strasberg) would have fared in this complex role. While this movie isn’t must-see, it’s a worthy adaptation and recommended for one-time viewing.

Notable Performances, Qualities, and Moments:

  • Joseph Schildkraut as Mr. Frank
  • Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Daan
  • Fine cinematography

Must See?
No, but it’s certainly worth a look. Listed as a film with Historical Importance in the back of Peary’s book.


One thought on “Diary of Anne Frank, The (1959)

  1. Rewatch (1/6/22)

    A once-must, for its historical significance.

    A respectful, generally well-acted and directed reenactment (for which the father acted as an advisor). However, it’s an example of a film that is depressing from the get-go because we know what the ending of the true story is – so it’s sort of miserable watching a group of people whose fate keeps reverberating.

    That said… the story is representative of a crucial time for humanity and serves strongly as an illustration of subjugation of ‘The Other’.

    cf.: ‘The Hiding Place’ (1975)

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