Oct 29, 2010

[Movies] Auntie Mame (1958)

Auntie Mame (1958)Yes, while it is in fact Halloween weekend coming up, I don't exactly have a horror movie review for today. It just goes to show that I really haven't seen enough horror movies for me to easily pick one out from my bag of tricks for reviewing purposes. So instead I'm just going to run a normal review for the day and you can take or leave it. It's not the least bit scary, but it certainly is entertaining.

I recently went into a bit of a Rosalind Russell binge in terms of movies my partner and I spent time watching while I was home sick. She was one of those more prolific actresses with a movie and stage career spanning more than 30 years starting around 1934, which is definitely impressive. She was never the prettiest actress, but that's not what she became famous for, so I suppose it worked for her. She's probably the modern equivalent of the smart, witty yet not necessarily sexy comedy actress like Nia Vardalos or perhaps Toni Collette. Obviously they come to mind since I'm a huge Connie and Carla fan, hehe.

A friend of mine recommended this movie to me since he does tend to be a little campy at times. It's a shame that I waited so long before finally taking the time to watch this - he's no longer with us but I'd like to think that he got a kick out of me trying to enjoy this movie, which in itself is a different kind of comedy classic.

Auntie Mame is a 1958 comedy movie that is an adaptation of a theatrical adaptation of a novel of the same name by Patrick Dennis. (Whew, that was a mouthful). It was directed by Morton DaCosta and was later adapted as the musical, Mame. So I suppose you could think of this as a remake franchise in its own right, yes?

Screenshot of Rosalind Russell from the traile...Image via WikipediaThe movie begins with young Patrick Dennis (Jan Handzlik) now finding himself in the care of his aunt, Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell) after his father dies unexpectedly. But she's not exactly your stay-at-home single woman but instead lives a highly dynamic and eccentric lifestyle in New York. Rather than settle down and focus on the boy's upbringing, she decides to break convention and introduces him to her crazy life. This is all in life with her often quoted motto, "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

Dwight Babcock (Fred Clark), as executor of Patrick's father's estate, highly disapproves of Mame's lifestyle and wants the boy to be sent off to a prep school for his education. Thus begins the early conflict with her keeping to her unusual ways with Mr. Babcock trying to catch any inappropriate behavior and use it as grounds to shift Patrick away. As another twist, the stock market crashes, taking most of Mame's investments with it. Thus she goes from being a wealthy socialite to a woman in the poor house, forced to take on odd jobs while she tries to keep Patrick as close to her as possible despite the circumstances.

Now the comedy of this film would be a little hard to understand within a modern context since we've degenerated into a sad parody of slapstick humor combined with gross-out situations. Oh no, this is an older type of comedy where the writing in itself is inherently humorous and the characters do their best to keep a straight face as they unleash zinger after zinger in a highly rapid fashion.

There a few comedy actresses who manage that kind of lightning-fast delivery of razor sharp wit, but Rosalind Russell is definitely one of them. She does have a bit of a flair for roles where she gets to be classy, snarky kind of upper class women with some real fire for spirit. She had so many fun lines like, "That's a B. It's the first letter of a seven-letter word that means your father" or, "Please dear, your Auntie Mame's hung", it can get a bit dizzying trying to keep up. Not that this isn't a worthwhile experience - a lot of the fun to be had is catching then really good lines as Russell goes on and on with her steady stream of banter.

The movie is rather long, which is typical for the period, and at times it feels like it gets a tad lost. We do get to track Patrick's life as a young boy until he becomes a young man and for Mame we follow her as a rich socialite, a desperate part-time worker, a woman happily married to a oil mogul and someone prepared to write an autobiography. That's a pretty significant period of time and thus expect the movie to go through quite a number of points of significance in Mame's life.
I haven't much to say about the other actors apart from the fact that Gloria (Joanna Barnes) and her family the Upsons are terribly annoying and it's a miracle I survived all the scenes they were in. I know they were designed to be that aggravating, but MAN, I really didn't need most of that, hehe.

Auntie Mame is a classic example of a classy comedic from the golden years of cinema. It may not become everyone's cup of tea but if you're the kind of person who enjoys a strong, sassy woman being a real crazy bitch to the rest of the world, then this movie just might work for you. It gets 3.5 exotic locations Mame gets to visit with her husband out of a possible 5.

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