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DIARY OF DECREES

During George Stevens’ The Diary of Anne Frank, you keep asking questions the movie won’t answer: How did they handle emergency dumps when they couldn’t flush the water closet from 8 AM to 6 PM? Wouldn’t the wood floors creak even when wearing socks? Didn’t sweet darling Anne ever have an ugly thought or two about herself? Have handy her unexpurgated diary—she was uncanny in her prescience in providing the nosy details. Meant to be, the “star” of the show isn’t the endlessly expressive Anne, or the unrelenting dread of the “we’re coming to get you” sirens that signal transport of the hidden to the final solution but Stevens’ meticulousness. This is moviemaking so precise, so calculated that there aren’t any feelings that haven’t been decreed. One perfect example: Moushie the cat’s endangerment of the closeted occupants when eating from a plate on a counter top. Stevens’ mechanism and timing are so beautifully yet elongatedly transparent that a viewer does indeed have time to skim Anne’s diary while following the movie. He works some amazing magic: fearing a widescreen process would diminish a claustrophobic trauma drama atmosphere, he and photographer William Mellor managed to find admirable ways and angles to use CinemaScope to provide both the heavy feel of entrapment and the sense of air as well as life going on outside the limited parameters. (Without the process, we might go as crazy as Momma Frank does when she catches Mr. Van Daan stealing bread, the kind of response audiences have to a first rate version of the play.) In the title role the director hoped Audrey Hepburn would consent to do (she declined because she felt too close to the subject matter), Millie Perkins has the angelic sadness the weighted material seems to extol, though she’s certainly not 13 years old, or 15 when the Nazis come for the roundup. On the other hand, she’s not the unnerving exposer of emotions that Anne’s writing suggests, or what then-surviving father Otto Frank would permit. Surprisingly, Shelley Winters is perhaps too restrained as Mrs. Van Daan, which for the audience might be a mixed blessing. You keep waiting (hoping?) for one very shrill blowout, beyond her “Shut Up!” to her hubby, her defensive posturing when called out about giving him a larger slice of cake than others. She goes mildly berserk when clumsy Anne accidentally spills milk on her fur, but not so bonkers when the hubbie wants to sell the fur to feed his nicotine habit. Perkins’ Anne says off-camera that the Van Daans would argue violently but Stevens isn’t up for a full scale version of the Bickersons. Diane Baker as Anne’s sister gets sick from something unnamed; she’s fed all the meds available to keep her quiet and not entirely successfully. Richard Beymer hasn’t a whole lot to say, a good thing. Ed Wynn’s never-married dentist is a bit creepy, a sort of deeply repressed pedophile as hypochondriac who pops pills when he only hears that a cat is in their attic quarters. The cat gives the movie’s most memorable performance, knowing when to sit imperiously while whipping the long tail, knowing how to pace the floor as if mimicing the humans’ anxieties, knowing how to keep the audience in a state of suspended panic when two Nazis are snooping around, and knowing when to get the hell out of that place. William Mellor’s photography—especially the celebrated pan of the floors—earned an Oscar. Regrettably not sure who gets the most credit for the dissolves: Stevens and Mellor, but also film editors David Bretherton, William Mace and, one of William Wyler’s dependables, Robert Swink. One likely factual error: the movie fingers a thief as Judas, but very likely it was an employee working in the spice factory underneath the attic. He reportedly received from the Nazis about $1.40 for each Jew taken into custody. Francis Goodrich and Albert Hackett adapted their Pulitzer prize winning play. The location shooting was directed by George Stevens, Jr. and photographed by Jack Cardiff. Actress Nina Foch an uncredited second unit assistant; Haskell Wexler an editorial assistant. Original running time 170 minutes for limited roadshow and special engagement showings; “popular prices” prints at 156 minutes. Additional Oscar wins for best supporting actress (Winters) and b & w art direction; nominated for best picture, director, supporting actor (Wynn), original musical score (Alfred Newman), b & w costumes.

ROLL OVER IMAGE / THE SET

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THE SET

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2000 RALPH BENNER  Revised 2010 All Rights Reserved.