Auntie Mame (film)
Theatrical release poster
|Directed by||Morton DaCosta|
|Produced by||Morton DaCosta|
Robert Edwin Lee
Patrick Dennis (1955)
|Screenplay by||Betty Comden|
|Music by||Bronislau Kaper|
|Edited by||William H. Ziegler|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|Box office||$9.3 million (US and Canada rentals)|
Auntie Mame is a 1958 American Technicolor comedy film based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Patrick Dennis and its theatrical adaptation by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee. This film version stars Rosalind Russell and was directed by Morton DaCosta. Mame, a musical version of the story, appeared on Broadway in 1966, and was later made into a 1974 film Mame starring Lucille Ball as the title character.
Patrick Dennis (Jan Handzlik), orphaned in 1928 when his father unexpectedly dies, is placed in the care of Mame Dennis (Rosalind Russell), his father's sister in Manhattan. Mame is a flamboyant, exuberant woman, who hosts frequent parties with eclectic, bohemian guests. Patrick is quickly introduced to his aunt's free-spirited and eccentric lifestyle, including Vera Charles (Coral Browne), a Broadway actress, who spends many of her nights passed out drunk in Mame's guest room, and Lindsay Woolsey (Patric Knowles), a book publisher. Mame's frequently repeated motto is "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"
Since Patrick's father was a wealthy man at the time of his death, Patrick's inheritance comes with a trustee, Dwight Babcock (Fred Clark), who disapproves of Mame's lifestyle (as did her brother, Edwin) and wants to interject discipline in Patrick's life. Mame has Patrick enrolled at a progressive school run by a friend of hers, Acacius Page (Henry Brandon). Mr. Babcock insists that Patrick be enrolled at Bixby's, a nearby boy's prep school. When he learns that Mame has not enrolled Patrick at Bixby's, he orders that Patrick go to St. Boniface boarding school and Mame will only see him at the holidays and during the summer.
When Mame's investments are lost in the stock market crash of 1929, she takes a series of jobs—stage acting, telephone operator, sales girl at Macy's—that all end disastrously. At her sales job at Macy's, she meets a man named Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Forrest Tucker), a rich oil man from the South. He's immediately smitten with her, and she falls in love with him as well. He proposes to her at his estate in Georgia. For their honeymoon, they travel around the world. Through Mame's correspondence with Patrick, she senses that the now-grown Patrick (Roger Smith) is growing into a conventional man. After Beau dies while they are climbing the Matterhorn, Mame comes home. Patrick surprises her by installing a dictating machine and a secretary, Agnes Gooch (Peggy Cass). He and her friends persuade her to write her autobiography.
Patrick and Lindsay arrange for a collaborator (and ghost writer) for Mame, Brian O'Bannion (Robin Hughes). He is initially charming, but it soon becomes clear that O'Bannion is a hack and is using Mame as a meal ticket.
Patrick announces that he has a girlfriend, Gloria Upson (Joanna Barnes), and wants to bring her over to meet Mame, but he cautions Mame to act responsibly while Gloria is there. She calls him beastly and he almost leaves, but at the last minute Mame says she will do whatever he wants to make him and Gloria happy. Patrick leaves to bring Gloria. Meanwhile, O'Bannion insists Mame accompany him to a party to meet movie producers interested in Mame's autobiography. Mame instead dresses up the dowdy Agnes and tells O'Bannion that Agnes is an heiress merely doing secretarial work for "literary experience". O'Bannion's greed kicks in, and he escorts Agnes to the party in Mame's place. When Agnes returns the next day, she is disheveled and remembers very little of her night with O'Bannion—only that she drank heavily and thinks she saw a movie with a wedding scene in it.
Patrick brings Gloria over, but Mame is horrified to see she is nothing more than a spoiled rich girl. Against Patrick's wishes, she goes to visit Gloria's family in a "restricted" community in Connecticut, where they express anti-Semitic views. Her parents (Lee Patrick and Willard Waterman), although outwardly friendly, are just like Gloria.
Mame arranges a dinner party at her apartment and she invites Gloria, her parents, and a few of her own friends. On the night of the party, Patrick meets Pegeen (Pippa Scott), Mame's new secretary; Agnes is now several months pregnant due to her night with O'Bannion. Everything about the evening is a carefully planned disaster: the food, the drink, the furniture, and the company. Lindsay surprises the attendees with the galleys from Mame's autobiography. The ribald content leads Gloria to insult the other attendees. Patrick defends them, attacking Gloria's friends instead. The release of the book prompts a telegram from O'Bannion demanding his collaborative efforts be rewarded and declaring that his wife Agnes can substantiate his claims. The Upsons and Mr. Babcock leave in a huff.
Several years later, when Patrick and Pegeen are married, their son, Michael, wants to travel with Mame on her trip to India. The two of them wear down Patrick and Pegeen's objections, and the movie fades away as Mame tells Michael of all the wondrous sights they will see.
The film received mostly positive reviews from critics, with Rosalind Russell drawing wide praise for her performance. Bosley Crowther of The New York Times wrote that "for all its absurd exaggerations and bland inconsistencies, this picture of a tireless party-giver is a highly entertaining thing to see. And, because of the gags that gush from it, it is a constantly amusing thing to hear. Variety called the film "a faithfully funny recording of the hit play, changed only in some small details to conform to motion picture mores ... Rosalind Russell recreates the title role for the film and re-establishes herself as a top picture personality." Harrison's Reports called the film "a fast and furious comedy, with a glamorous background and considerable deep human appeal ... Rosalind Russell, who scored a huge success in the stage play, repeats her wonderful performance as the uninhibited heroine in this screen version. She fits the role so ideally that it is difficult to imagine any one else in the part." Richard L. Coe of The Washington Post called the film "broad as the Atlantic, too broad for me, but it's still a hilarious, observant comedy ... Miss Russell remains just plain wonderful in the part." John McCarten of The New Yorker dismissed the film, writing that Russell "works hard," but that the film "bogs down badly before it has gone any distance." The Monthly Film Bulletin wrote that the film was "virtually a one-woman revue, a series of turns—Mame as hostess, shopgirl, telephone operator, counterfeit Southern Belle, writer, actress—carried along on a strong current of personality. Rosalind Russell, who created the part on the stage, takes a turn or two to get into her stride; once established, however, her superbly confident timing and powerfully empathic comedy personality see her happily through."
Awards and honors
- Best Motion Picture: Warner Bros.
- Best Actress: Rosalind Russell
- Best Supporting Actress: Peggy Cass
- Best Art Direction: Art Direction: Malcolm Bert; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins
- Best Film Editing: William Ziegler
- Best Cinematography (Color): Harry Stradling
The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:
- 2000: AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs – #94
- 2005: AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes:
- Mame Dennis: "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!" – #93
Box office performance
This film was the #1 moneymaker of 1959, earning a net profit of $8,800,000.
- "Auntie Mame - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
- Crowther, Bosley (December 5, 1958). "Screen: 'Auntie Mame'". The New York Times: 39.
- Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M144.
- "Auntie Mame". Variety: 6. November 26, 1958.
- "'Auntie Mame' with Rosalind Russell". Harrison's Reports: 191. November 29, 1958.
- Coe, Richard L. (January 1, 1959). "Auntie Roz - At Home and Broad". The Washington Post: B11.
- McCarten, John (December 13, 1958). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 210.
- "Auntie Mame". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 26 (301): 14. February 1959.
- "Auntie Mame". Rotten Tomatoes. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
- "Oscars.org – Auntie Mame". Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences. Retrieved December 11, 2013.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
- "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
- Steinberg, Cobbett (1980). Film Facts. New York: Facts on File, Inc. p. 23. ISBN 0-87196-313-2. When a film is released late in a calendar year (October to December), its income is reported in the following year's compendium, unless the film made a particularly fast impact (p. 17)
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