|Directed by||Gene Saks|
|Produced by||James Cresson|
|Written by||Paul Zindel (screenplay)|
Patrick Dennis (novel, "Auntie Mame")
by Jerome Lawrence and Robert Edwin Lee
Joyce Van Patten
|Music by||Jerry Herman|
|Cinematography||Philip H. Lathrop|
|Edited by||Maury Winetrobe|
|Distributed by||Warner Bros.|
|March 27, 1974|
|Box office||$6.5 million|
The story focuses on the madcap life of Mame Dennis (Ball), which is disrupted when she becomes the guardian of her deceased brother's son. She marries a wealthy Southern plantation owner (Preston), is widowed, yet through it all, with the help of her dearest friend, Vera Charles (Arthur), manages to keep things under control.
At the reading of the will of young Patrick Dennis's (Kirby Furlong) father, a trustee, Mr. Babcock (John McGiver), reveals that Patrick is to be left in the care of his aunt, Mame Dennis (Lucille Ball), as well as his nanny, Agnes Gooch (Jane Connell). Taking a train to New York City ("Main Title Including St. Bridget"), Agnes and the boy arrive at Mame's home, where they walk into a wild party that Mame is giving for a holiday she herself created ("It's Today"). Patrick asks if he may slide down her banister, then reveals his true identity. Mame introduces the boy to her friends, including a renowned stage actress (and famous lush), Vera Charles (Beatrice Arthur).
Mame decides that she wants to fill the child's life with adventure ("Open a New Window"). She enrolls him in "the School of Life", a very non-traditional school. But when Vera inadvertently leads Babcock to the school, Patrick is taken from Mame's custody. Simultaneously, the stock market crash leaves Mame penniless. Vera offers her a small role as "The Man in the Moon" in her newest operetta about a lady astronomer. Mame flubs her one line and causes the play to be a disaster, which puts a major rift in their friendship. Patrick, who was in the audience, reassures Mame that he still loves her ("My Best Girl").
Mame works a string of jobs. One is in a department store, where she meets Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Robert Preston), to whom she attempts to sell a pair of roller skates. She cannot write up a cash order and is fired. Unable to remove the skates she has demonstrated, Mame roller skates home, dejected due to her inability to pay manservant Ito (George Chiang) or Agnes, who have loyally stayed with her. Mame decides to lift everyone's spirits by decorating the house for Christmas and giving everyone their Christmas gifts early ("We Need a Little Christmas"), which include Patrick's first pair of long pants. Agnes and Ito surprise her with the news that the butcher bill has been paid.
Beau, who has been looking for Mame since she was fired, appears at her front door and invites everyone to dinner. Beau falls in love and brings Mame and Patrick to his family's plantation in Peckerwood, Georgia, where they're greeted coolly by Sally Cato (Joyce Van Patten). A number of Beau's relatives, especially Mother Burnside (Lucille Benson) and Cousin Fan (Ruth McDevitt), are unhappy about Beau marrying a "Yankee". Sally decides to invite Mame to a foxhunt. Despite not knowing a thing about riding a horse, Mame accepts. After a wild ride, Mame accidentally captures the fox. All of Beau's family and friends (except for Sally) now sing her praises ("Mame").
She and Beau go on an extended honeymoon, traveling all over the world ("Loving You"). While they're away, Patrick goes from a young child who pulls in a B+ average to a high school senior (Bruce Davison) flunking many classes ("The Letter"). When Beau dies in an avalanche in the Alps, Mame returns home to be reunited with a now-grown Patrick, who is dating a snobby, conservative girl named Gloria Upson (Doria Cook-Nelson).
When Mame meets Vera for a drink, the two trade snippy comments, which they insist are not being made out of hatred, but simple honesty, as that's what "Bosom Buddies" do. The two come home and reminisce about men they've dated. Agnes, who is listening to the conversation, admits that she's never had a date. Mame and Vera decide to give the uptight, frumpy Agnes a makeover and send her out to live, because "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death." Six months later, Agnes returns home, visibly pregnant. Agnes then describes what she did while living it up ("Gooch's Song").
Mame visits the Upsons (Don Porter and Audrey Christie) at their home, Upson Downs in Connecticut. She learns for the first time that Patrick and Gloria are engaged. After spending several hours with the Upsons and finding them insufferable bores and bigots, Mame is asked to help pay for a piece of property next door to Upson Downs so that Patrick and Gloria could live there, as opposed to "the wrong kind of people". Afterward, she is candid with Patrick about her disdain for the family. He admits that he's ashamed of her and her "crazy" friends. A heartbroken Mame wonders what she did wrong with this boy she raised ("If He Walked Into My Life").
Mame and Patrick apologize to each other at her home. They are dressed for company: the Upsons. Mame promises to behave and Patrick meets Mame's new maid, Pegeen (Bobbi Jordan). Mr. and Mrs. Upson announce that the property they'd wanted has been bought by some "Jew lawyer". Vera and several men suddenly barge into Mame's house, singing "It's Today" (the reprise). Vera toasts the new couple, mistaking Pegeen for Gloria. At that moment, Agnes comes downstairs, and the Upsons discover she is going to be an unwed mother. A busload of other unwed pregnant women arrives, singing an "Open a New Window" reprise. Mame reveals to the Upsons that she bought the property next door so she could build the Beauregarde Burnside Memorial Home For Single Mothers. This is the final straw, and the Upsons leave, angry that Mame isn't "one of us." Patrick, visibly upset, also leaves.
Years later, following World War II, Patrick and Pegeen are married and have a child, Peter. Mame, who is going on a trip to Siberia, requests that Peter be allowed to go with her. Although Patrick and Pegeen resist at first, once Peter quotes Mame's "life is a banquet" line, they relent. The two get onto a plane, and Patrick states that Mame has not changed and that she's "the Pied Piper." Mame and Peter wave goodbye and go into the plane. The plane takes off, followed by clips of Mame embracing Vera, Agnes, Beau, adult Patrick, and young Patrick ("Finale: Open a New Window/Mame").
- Lucille Ball as "Auntie Mame" Dennis Burnside
- Beatrice Arthur as Vera Charles
- Robert Preston as Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside
- Bruce Davison as Patrick Dennis
- Kirby Furlong as young Patrick Dennis
- Jane Connell as Agnes Gooch
- Joyce Van Patten as Sally Cato
- Lucille Benson as Mother Burnside
- George Chiang as Ito
- Doria Cook-Nelson as Gloria Upson
- Don Porter as Mr. Upson
- Audrey Christie as Mrs. Upson
- John McGiver as Mr. Babcock
- Bobbi Jordan as Pegeen
- Patrick Labyorteaux as Peter
- Ruth McDevitt as Cousin Fan
- Burt Mustin as Uncle Jeff
- James Brodhead as Floorwalker
- Leonard Stone as Stage Manager
- Roger Price as Ralph Divine
- John Wheeler as Judge Bregoff
- Ned Wertimer as Fred Kates
- Alice Nunn as Fat Lady
- Jerry Ayres as Bunny
- Michele Nichols as Midge
- Eric Gordon as Boyd
- Barbara Bosson as Emily
- "Main Title Including St. Bridget" - Agnes, Orchestra
- "It's Today" - Mame, Orchestra
- "Open a New Window" - Mame, young Patrick
- "The Man in the Moon" - Vera, Chorus
- "My Best Girl" - Mame, young Patrick
- "We Need a Little Christmas" - Mame, Agnes, Ito, young Patrick
- "Mame" - Beau, Chorus
- "Loving You" - Beau
- "The Letter" - young Patrick, adult Patrick
- "Bosom Buddies" - Mame, Vera
- "Gooch's Song" - Agnes
- "If He Walked Into My Life" - Mame
- "It's Today" (reprise) - Mame
- "Open a New Window" (reprise) - Mame, adult Patrick
- "Finale (Open a New Window/Mame)" - Mame, Chorus
Filming, scheduled to begin in early 1972, was postponed when Ball broke her leg in a skiing accident. Owing to the delay, original director George Cukor was forced to withdraw from the project. The assignment went to Gene Saks, who had helmed the Broadway production.
Production began in January 1973. Bea Arthur reprised her Tony award winning role of Vera Charles. Ball, who had casting approval, was dissatisfied with Madeline Kahn's interpretation of Gooch and had her replaced by Jane Connell, another member of the original Broadway cast.
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Radio City Music Hall selected the film to be its Easter attraction. The film was a U.S. box-office failure and many reviews, especially those for Ball, were particularly brutal; the movie has a 29% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Gene Siskel of the Chicago Tribune gave the film one-and-a-half stars out of four, calling it "a total bust, devoid of joy, wit, good music, or decent dancing", adding:
Much ado has been made about the film's photographic treatment of Lucille Ball's face. Each time we see Miss Ball in closeup, it appears as tho the camera lens has been smeared with Vaseline. This is no small matter. The goal of almost every film is to make you forget you are watching a movie. But the continual softening of focus each time Miss Ball's mug comes into view is at first distracting, then annoying, and, ultimately, offensive to our intelligence and to Miss Ball's strength as a performer.
Someone should have told Miss Ball that her public cares not about her face, but, rather, about what's behind it. The very essence of the Mame character, as I understand it, is that she is able to stare old age in the face and make it slink away. And she does this not with makeup, but with her personality.
Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright Paul Zindel ["The Effect of the Gamma Rays on the Man-in-the-Moon Marigolds"] is credited with the screenplay for "Mame," and it's a mess. Editing is partially to blame.
There are many awkward transitions that render character motivation absurd. Talking about "Mame" in terms of character motivation gives the enterprise more credit than it deserves. The film is coarse, embarrassing, and tedious in turn. That it has been billed as "wholesome family entertainment" is an insult to each of those words.
Aside from Robert Preston's brief appearance as the wealthy southerner, and an amusing music hall routine that smacks of the fine burlesque comedy of the original I Love Lucy television show, "Mame" is a failure.
Time wrote "The movie spans about 20 years, and seems that long in running time ... Miss Ball has been molded over the years into some sort of national monument, and she performs like one too. Her grace, her timing, her vigor have all vanished."[dead link] Time Out London declared she "simply hasn't the drive and steel of a Rosalind Russell, an Angela Lansbury or a Ginger Rogers, all of whom played the part before her," and wrote of Saks: "When he's not ogling his star in perpetual soft focus and a $300,000 fashion parade, [he] fails to get enough retakes, match his shots, or inject the essential vim." Pauline Kael in The New Yorker wondered, "After forty years in movies and TV, did she discover in herself an unfulfilled ambition to be a flaming drag queen?" The New Republic's Stanley Kauffmann, though he pointed out that Ball would have made a perfect Mame had she played the role "fifteen years earlier," described her as "too old, too stringy in the legs, too basso in the voice, and too creaky in the joints." Virtually every critic took notice of the heavy-handedness in photographing Ball out of focus, Rex Reed going so far as to suggest, albeit jokingly, that chicken fat was put over the lens. Some regarded this as evidence that those executives responsible for signing Ball, and Ball herself, knew from the outset that she was too old for her role. In her defense in regards to her lack of singing ability, Ball told one interviewer "Mame stayed up all night and drank champagne! What did you expect her to sound like? Julie Andrews?"
Not all the reviews were bad. Vincent Canby in The New York Times, for example, expressed "great reservations" about the film and Ball's close-ups, but noted that the film is "as determined to please in its way as Mame is in hers" and that the opening credits, "which look like a Cubist collage in motion, are so good they could be a separate subject." Canby went on to praise Ball as well: "When the character of Lucy, an inspired slapstick performer, coincides with that of Auntie Mame, the Big-Town sophisticate, 'Mame' is marvelous. I think of Lucy's turning a Georgia fox hunt into a gigantic shambles, or of her bringing the curtain down on a New Haven first-night when, as a budding actress, she falls off a huge cardboard moon. I even treasure her prying loose the fingers of a sloshed Beatrice Arthur who won't give up her martini glass." Variety reported in its February 27, 1974 review that Ball was "showcased, coiffed, made-up and ably guided from almost television-like slapstick to character sincerity with loving care." Molly Haskell in The Village Voice was "pro-Ball but anti-'Mame'" and felt that Lucy made the character of Mame—someone "you'd walk a mile to avoid" in real life—palatable. In the March 18, 1974 issue of New York magazine, Judith Crist similarly was displeased with the film but supportive of its star: "Lucille Ball is – and no 'still' about it – a first-rate entertainer, supplementing her superb comedic sense with a penetrating warmth and inner humor. She is without peer in making a hung-over stagger from bed to bathroom an exercise in regal poise, in using her slightly crooked smile to vitiate the soppiness of an overly sentimental sequence, in applying her Goldwyn Girl chorine know-how to a dash of song and dance." Milton Krims, the film critic for The Saturday Evening Post, wrote (in the magazine's March 1974 issue) a breathless paean to Lucille Ball and the film, concluding that "Mame is Lucille Ball and Lucille Ball is Mame."
The Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded Ball a Golden Globe nomination (Arthur received one as well) but, disheartened by its reception, she swore she never would appear on the big screen again, and the film proved to be her last theatrical film (not counting Stone Pillow, her 1985 made-for-TV film).
Beatrice Arthur later called her involvement with the film a "tremendous embarrassment", and expressed regret at having participated. Although she enjoyed working with Lucille Ball, she made no secret of her opinion that Lucy was "terribly miscast".
Mame was released on pan-and-scan VHS and pan-and-scan and letterbox laserdisc editions in the 1980s and 1990s. While these official editions have long since been out-of-print, bootleg DVDs taken from the widescreen laserdisc or widescreen TV broadcasts on American Movie Classics and Turner Classic Movies have been known to exist.
On June 19, 2007, Mame officially was released on DVD both separately and in a special DVD collection of Lucille Ball's films. The DVD includes a remastered version of the film in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, the original theatrical trailer, and the featurette Lucy Mame.
Although Warner had intended to give the film a 5.1 stereo remastering, it was unable to do so due to several factors. The main factor was the fact that Ball's vocals in her songs often had to be pieced together line by line in order to get a more pitch-perfect performance (this method is a lot more obvious on the soundtrack CD, where one often hears a difference in fidelity in each individual line as well as the occasional line that sounds like two Lucys singing.) This and the varying conditions of the original master copies caused Warner Bros. to simply restore the original release's mono soundtrack and remaster it in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and use it for the DVD's audio track.
- "Sons of bitches" in the musical was changed to "suckers" in the film version. Weaver, David E. "Mame’s Boys: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee" Archived February 22, 2014, at the Wayback Machine, "Ohioana Quarterly", Fall 2006, Ohioana Library Association, accessed September 5, 2012
- Simonson, Robert. "Jane Connell, Character Actress Known for Mame, Dies at 87". Playbill. Archived from the original on February 23, 2014. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
- "Angela Lansbury Biography". tcm.com. Retrieved February 8, 2014.
- Siskel, Gene (April 1, 1974). "Put the blame on 'Mame', boys" Chicago Tribune. Section 2, p. 10.
- "Mame". Time Out. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
- Maltin, Leonard, ed. (2007). Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide. New York: Signet. p. 857. ISBN 978-0-451-22186-5.
- Canby, Vincent (March 8, 1974). "Mame Puts On New but Familiar Face--Lucille Ball". The New York Times. Retrieved July 11, 2020.
- Amazon.com - Lucille Ball Film Collection
- Desilu: The Story of Lucille Ball and Desi Arnaz by Coyne Steven Sanders and Tom Gilbert, published by William Morrow & Company, 1993, pages 336-340
- Showtune, A Memoir by Jerry Herman with Marilyn Stasio, published by Donald I. Fine Books, 1996, pages 209-211