Auntie Mame (film)

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Auntie Mame
Auntie Mame Poster.jpg
Theatrical release poster
Directed byMorton DaCosta
Produced byMorton DaCosta
Written byPlay:
Jerome Lawrence
Robert Edwin Lee
Auntie Mame
Patrick Dennis (1955)
Screenplay byBetty Comden
Adolph Green
StarringRosalind Russell
Forrest Tucker
Coral Browne
Roger Smith
Peggy Cass
Jan Handzlik
Joanna Barnes
Robin Hughes
Pippa Scott
Music byBronislau Kaper
CinematographyHarry Stradling
Edited byWilliam H. Ziegler
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date
Running time
143 minutes
CountryUnited States
Box office$9.3 million (US and Canada rentals)[3]

Auntie Mame is a 1958 American Technirama Technicolor comedy film based on the 1955 novel of the same name by Edward Everett Tanner III (under the pseudonym Patrick Dennis) and its 1956 theatrical adaptation by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee.[4] This film version stars Rosalind Russell and was directed by Morton DaCosta.[4] Not to be confused with a musical version of the story, that 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 and exuberant woman, who hosts frequent parties with eclectic, bohemian guests. Patrick is quickly introduced to his aunt's free-spirited and eccentric friends, including Vera Charles (Coral Browne), a Broadway actress, who spends many of her nights passed out drunk in Mame's guest room, Acacius Page (Henry Brandon), who runs a nudist school, and Lindsay Woolsey (Patric Knowles), a book publisher. Mame's frequently repeated motto, as heard later in the film, is "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!"

As 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 Mr. Page's school. 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 and instead as Mr. Page's school, he orders that Patrick go to his alma mater, St. Boniface's in Massachusetts 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. Though she almost gets killed by Beau's betrothed (Brook Byron), 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 by falling down a glacier while they are climbing the Matterhorn, Mame comes home (after spending 10 months visiting the places she had been with Beau). Patrick surprises her by installing a dictaphone, typewriter, 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 called Upson Downs, 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 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 ribald content leads Gloria to insult the other attendees. Patrick defends them, attacking Gloria's friends instead. Mame then reveals that she bought the lot behind Upson Downs, to make a home for refugee Jewish children. The Upsons, and later 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.



Morton Da Costa directed the stage adaptation, which ran from October 1956 through June 1958, for 639 performances. Rosalind Russell originated the role of Mame and was nominated for the 1957 Tony award for Best Performance by a Leading Actress in a Play. She played Mame until January 20, 1958, when Greer Garson took over the part. [5] Russell, Peggy Cass and January Handzlik reprised their Broadway roles in the film.

According to TCM, Variety reported at the time that “risqué language and 'gamier aspects' of Dennis' novel, which remained in the stage play, were 'toned down' for the film and 'suggested rather than stated.' The Variety review mentioned that at least one scene written for the film was excised in the final editing.”[6][7]

The Motion Picture Herald Product Digest review observed that the film "provided a unique means of establishing time and plot progression" through the changing decor of Mame's Beekman Place apartment. A June 1958 Los Angeles Examiner article named six different styles: Chinese, 1920s Modern, “Syrie Maugham” a French style named for writer Somerset Maugham's wife; English, Danish Modern and East Indian. When the Upsons visit Mame, they run afoul of the Danish Modern furniture, which is equipped with lifts. [8] The film received an Academy Award nomination for Best Art Direction (Art Direction: Malcolm Bert; Set Decoration: George James Hopkins).

The costume design for the film, which includes outfits for Mame that coordinate with those sets, was provided by Orry-Kelly,[9] who had worked with Rosalind Russell on a number of films. New York Times critic Bosley Crowther observed: “The lavish décor of Mame's apartment is changed almost as frequently as are her flashy costumes, and all of them are dazzling, in color and on the modified wide-screen.”[4]

Rosalind Russell broke her ankle on the first take of a scene where she runs down the stairs. Filming was delayed until she recovered.[10]

Several online sources, including Rotten Tomatoes' and AllMovie's biographies of actor and journalist Joanna Barnes[11] [12], mistakenly describe Gloria Upson as “Vassar educated”. Gloria is “an Upper Richman Girls School girl”, and proud of it. She does not understand the concept of a college major, but proclaims that the school is “top drawer.”[13] In 2008, in The Seattle Weekly, Gavin Borchert described the character succinctly as a “lockjawed prep princess“. On AllMovie, Hal Erickson adds that the character “spoke as though she had novacaine in her upper lip (the playwrights' description of the character)“.[11] The moment she opened her mouth, Gloria's exaggerated mid-Atlantic accent spoke volumes to the 1958 audience, identifying her as a privileged WASP.


Rosalind Russell drew wide praise for her performance. In an article describing why Turner Classic Movies has named it one of “The Essentials.”[14] Andrea Passafiume observes that the role transformed Russell's career, “first on the Broadway stage and then on the big screen. Having long been a top level movie star throughout the 1930s and 40s, Russell's career in Hollywood was dwindling as she settled into middle age. The role of Mame Dennis... gave her the chance to be glamorous and showcase her sharp comedic talents, which reminded the world that she was still a vital force to be reckoned with. The success of the play made her the toast of Broadway, and the hit film gave her her first Oscar® nomination as Best Actress in more than a decade”.[15]

Passafiume adds that the film also transformed Warner Bros. Studios, which was “desperate for a hit, having suffered through a string of recent disappointments which put the once thriving studio increasingly in the red. Auntie Mame was the answer to their prayers and helped restore the studio's former glory.” [14] Auntie Mame became the second highest-grossing film of 1958, earning a net profit of $8,800,000.[16]

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.[4]

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."[17]

The trade journal 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."[18]

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."[19]

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."[20]

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."[21]

Leonard Maltin gives the film 3.5 out of 4 stars: “ Episodic but highly entertaining, sparked by Russell's tour-de-force performance.”[22]

As of September 2020, Auntie Mame has a score of 93% on the review-aggregation website Rotten Tomatoes, based on 14 out of 15 surveyed critics giving the film a positive review.[23]

Awards and honors[edit]

Academy Awards Nominations[24]

Others The film is recognized by American Film Institute in these lists:

Home video[edit]

Auntie Mame was released on Blu-ray on December 5, 2017 with an all new HD remaster of the film and an audio-only track of music from the film.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ "Auntie Mame - Details". AFI Catalog of Feature Films. Retrieved July 4, 2018.
  2. ^ Crowther, Bosley (December 5, 1958). "Screen: 'Auntie Mame'". The New York Times: 39.
  3. ^ Cohn, Lawrence (October 15, 1990). "All-Time Film Rental Champs". Variety. p. M144.
  4. ^ a b c d Crowther, Bosley (1958-12-05). "Screen: 'Auntie Mame'". The New York Times. ISSN 0362-4331. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  5. ^ "Auntie Mame – Broadway Play – Original | IBDB". Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  6. ^ "Auntie Mame (1958) - Notes -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  7. ^ As of September 18, 2020, the original review is not available on Variety's website.
  8. ^ "Auntie Mame (1958) - Notes -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  9. ^ "Tunic, from the film "Auntie Mame" - Orry Kelly". FAMSF: Search the Collections. 2016-06-21. Retrieved 2019-08-07.
  10. ^ "Auntie Mame (1958) - Trivia -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  11. ^ a b "Joanna Barnes | Biography, Movie Highlights and Photos". AllMovie. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  12. ^ "Joanna Barnes - Rotten Tomatoes". Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  13. ^ "Gloria Upson Quotes in Auntie Mame (1958)". Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  14. ^ a b "The Essentials - Auntie Mame". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  15. ^ "The Essentials - Auntie Mame". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  16. ^ 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)
  17. ^ "Auntie Mame". Variety: 6. November 26, 1958.
  18. ^ "'Auntie Mame' with Rosalind Russell". Harrison's Reports: 191. November 29, 1958.
  19. ^ Coe, Richard L. (January 1, 1959). "Auntie Roz - At Home and Broad". The Washington Post: B11.
  20. ^ McCarten, John (December 13, 1958). "The Current Cinema". The New Yorker: 210.
  21. ^ "Auntie Mame". The Monthly Film Bulletin. 26 (301): 14. February 1959.
  22. ^ "Auntie Mame (1958) - Overview -". Turner Classic Movies. Retrieved 2020-09-18.
  23. ^ Auntie Mame (1958), retrieved 2020-09-18
  24. ^ " – Auntie Mame",; accessed February 4, 2020.
  25. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Laughs" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 21, 2016.
  26. ^ "AFI's 100 Years...100 Movie Quotes" (PDF). American Film Institute. Retrieved August 21, 2016.

External links[edit]