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Classic film review: Auntie Mame (1958)

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By Teon. Owen. Cromwell, Jr.

In 1928, when young Patrick Dennis’s, (Jan Handzlik) father unexpectedly dies, he is orphaned and placed in the care of his eccentric aunt living in Manhattan, Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell). Since he was an extremely wealthy man at the time of his death, Patrick's father had designated a trustee, Mr. Dwight Babcock (Fred Clark), to protect Patrick's inheritance. Mr. Babcock disapproves of Mame's lifestyle, and seeks to place Patrick in a boarding school so that he will not absorb too much of Mame's rather unconventional perspective. Despite this inconvenient restriction, Mame and Patrick grow very devoted to each other with Mame continuing to raise her nephew to be a free spirit and the two of them experiencing some rather zany adventures.

Released in December of 1958, Auntie Mame is a comedy from Warner Bros. Pictures. Rosalind Russell, Jan Handzlik, Yuki Shimoda (Ito) and Peggy Cass (Agnes Gooch) who were all in the original Broadway cast reprised their roles in the film. There is an oft-repeated line in the film: “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” which has become so famous that it ended up at #93 on the American Film Institute’s 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes. The film became the #1 moneymaker of 1959, even going on to earn three Golden Globe Nominations and six Academy Awards Nominations including Best Picture and Best Actress for Rosalind Russell.

Almost 2½ hours long, but flying by in no time flat, Auntie Mame is a hilarious, touching and dazzling film. Sometimes you watch a movie, and you feel that an actress or actor in it was born to play that part — Rosalind Russell as Mame Dennis is one of those pairings. Ms. Russell gives a tour-de-force performance that does not truly seem like a performance, it feels as if she is Mame. With an amazing cast of supporting players including Coral Browne as Vera Charles — a Broadway actress (and one of Mame’s friends), who spends many of her drunken nights at Mame's lavish penthouse — Auntie Mame is a comic gem in a class all by itself. With great acting, rich production values, memorable score and steady direction, Auntie Mame is a superb comedy that one will never forget and truly stands the test of time.

  • Directed by — Morton DaCosta
  • Produced by — Morton DaCosta
  • Written by — Betty Comden & Adolph Green, (based on the play by) Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee and the (novel by) Patrick Dennis
  • Starring — Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne, Roger Smith
  • Music by — Bronisław Kaper

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