In September, I spent a month traveling Europe with my best friend. I’d never been to Europe. Heck, I’d never even been on a plane. Thus, this trip was a little frightening but also terribly, terribly exciting.
I thought that since it’s been a while since I’ve posted, it’d be fun to cover one movie for each of the places I visited. So, of course, I’m starting with the most depressing.
The first is Amsterdam. I was lucky enough a few years back to attend a screening of this film at the TCM Film Fest. Its stars Diane Baker and Millie Perkins were even in attendance to discuss the film afterwards. It’s a film which is not easy to forget. It was only made twenty years after and so, the events were still fresh. The film’s director, Mr. George Stevens, had seen the consequences of the holocaust firsthand.
I, myself, read the book when I was in middle school. I remember the overwhelming nature of the story – I was still in my phase of always wanting a happy ending. I knew before I read it that it did not end happily, but reading it was still a more emotional experience than I expected it to be. I was 13, just as Anne was at the beginning of her diary and it was hard for me to grasp that this wasn’t just a story, that this had really happened, that a girl not dissimilar from me had been murdered.
I saw the movie afterwards and remember liking it, though when I saw it on the big screen at the TCM Fest, I was absorbed in a completely different way. The claustrophobia and anxiety was palpable and I was a mess (even through my mother constantly leaning over to ask me how much was left – she’s not good in long movies).
When I sat down to write, this was the first movie which popped into my head, mostly because with recent events like what happened in Charlottesville, Virginia, I have been thinking about Anne’s diary and George Steven’s adaptation a lot. I think, more than ever before, this film and Anne’s outlook on the world is of the utmost importance.
Believe it or not, the actress that director George Stevens first had in mind to play Anne was not an unknown. Instead, it was a little actress by the name of Audrey Hepburn. At the time, Hepburn was twenty-eight, not to mention the fact that she was not Jewish. Hepburn had, however lived through that period in Amsterdam and witnessed the horrors of the Holocaust.
Still, either because of scheduling conflicts or mixed feelings, Hepburn turned down the part and Stevens was forced to do a large casting call where he finally found Millie Perkins, a model from Passaic, New Jersey. Perkins was twenty at the time and completely green, which I think ultimately, made her the perfect actress to play Anne. She was unassuming and tenacious, just like Anne, and she hit every dramatic beat perfectly.
Diane Baker was also a newcomer, playing Anne’s older sister, Margot. She brought a vulnerability and sweetness to the part and obviously, went on to do great things in movies like The Silence of the Lambs and many others.
Shelley Winters was totally committed to her role of Mrs. Van Daan. She was asked by George Stevens to gain twenty-five pounds for the role. She said she’d gain fifty if necessary. She and Stevens had collaborated once before on A Place in the Sun and she had the utmost respect and confidence for him.
Someone who doesn’t get his due is Richard Beymer, who plays Anne’s love interest, Peter. Though Beymer maybe shouldn’t have been cast as Tony in West Side Story, his charm can’t be discarded. You can totally see why Anne falls for him.
My Amsterdam Experience (Visiting the Anne Frank House)
Amsterdam was my favorite place. I’m not sure if it was the great food, or the friendly people, or the gorgeous canals. Regardless, it was beautiful and fascinating city, even if they do make you press a button to get off the train at your stop (TBH the transportation was so confusing).
Having grown up hearing stories about the Holocaust in Hebrew school as well as reading the diary itself, I thought I was fairly knowledgable about the subject. Still, when the tour guide started taking us through the history, the gravity of the situation hit me. At many points leading up to the Holocaust, many people, including the Franks thought it impossible. No one could imagine such horror would actually take place, that people would give in to hatred and bigotry.
Walking through the Anne Frank house itself was different than what I expected. It was a lot smaller than I imagined it to be, especially Anne and Margot’s room. There was newspaper clippings, all over the walls, movie stars they liked. Funnily enough, there were quite a few photos of Deanna Durbin.
It was an emotional experience, but an important one. Whether or not Anne’s diary was given some help by her father after his death or not, the feelings behind it, what her diary represented is what matters. In such a cynical time, Anne’s optimistic view of humanity is vital.
Living in a country where we, the people elected Donald Trump doesn’t feel a step in the direction of tolerance. Still, I can either be cynical and rant about how it feels like the world is ending or I can do my part: pay attention, speak out against injustices, promote tolerance, and try my hardest to see the good in people.
This film may not be cheerful, but it’s poignancy can’t be denied. George Stevens was known for his comedic sensibility. He directed Swing Time, the best Fred Astaire/Ginger Rogers film IMHO, and a string of great screwball comedies like Woman of the Year and The More the Merrier. However, when after he came back from being part of a film unit which documented the war, he didn’t make comedies anymore. Instead, he chose to direct important dramas like A Place in the Sun and Giant.
While there have been other adaptations of Anne’s diary, Stevens’ is IMHO the best. I’ve spoken before on this blog about our inability to grasp events that happened before we were born. It’s one of the reasons film is such a powerful medium. We can watch The Diary of Anne Frank and gain a new perspective; understand that these events did take place and that we all need to do our part to make sure they never happen again.
Photos property of Twentieth Century Fox.