Amsterdam, Tolerance, and George Stevens’ ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’

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.

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My bestie and I in Dublin, Ireland

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.

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Anne in the first class of Jewish Secondary school, 1941

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.

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Love the B&W cinematography

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.

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The main cast crowded into one photo

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).

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The canals were gorgeous!

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.

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Anne and Otto Frank

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.

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This, for some reason, got me the most. 

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.

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The first page of Anne’s diary

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.

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I love this quote. Words matter. 

Photos property of Twentieth Century Fox.

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The Relevance of Judy Holliday and ‘It Should Happen to You’

It’s fortuitous that just last week I was introduced to this 1954 film. Many people turned to A Face in the Crowd, the 1957 drama starring Andy Griffith in the face of Trump’s inauguration. The film I want to discuss today was made a few years earlier and is considerably less dark, but deals with similar subject matter. It questions what fame is and why society values it, all while Judy Holliday cracks us up.

It Should Happen to You follows Gladys Glover (Judy Holliday), a young woman who’s close to broke and living in the big apple. On a walk, she meets a young photographer, Pete Sheppard (Jack Lemmon) and they start a’courtin’. Later, on her walk, she notices an empty billboard and decides to take what little funds she has to rent it. What, you may ask, does she advertise? Herself, of course! Enter a mega advertising firm and Evan Adams III (Peter Lawford), who will do anything to get the billboard away from her, including leasing several other billboards to Gladys. Pretty soon, Gladys’s name is everywhere and people think, Well, she must be someone if she has her name on a billboard. Her fame soon rises and she secures endorsementsall while Pete just wants to marry her. But, of course, Gladys is oblivious. Obvi, drama ensues because OF COURSE IT DOES.

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THAT LAWFORD THO.

Here are just a few reasons why It Should Happen to You is still relevant:

IMHO, the Casting!

For real, guys. Casting counts for so much, but especially in this film. I’d seen a few of Judy Holliday’s other films, like Born Yesterday and Bells are Ringing!, but I don’t think I really appreciated her until I saw her in this. While she can easily be discounted as a ditzy blonde in the vain of Marilyn Monroe, Holliday was really special. For one, she looked like a real person, which especially in this day and age, I appreciate. Our present movie stars all look like models and as such, there’s sometimes a difficulty in really relating to them.

She had real talent too, in singing and dancing. She was, after all, a broadway star. In this film though, I felt like she really had a chance to shine as an actress. The film is first and foremost a comedy, but she switches from comedy to drama easily, and makes the heavier moments lighter with her ditzy, hilarious charm.

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I wish people still wore hats. I think I have FOMO about the 50’s…

Jack Lemmon was just 29 in this film and it marked his film debut. And let me just say, he was dreamy even then…maybe I should say, especially then! His Lemmon schtick wasn’t completely set in stone yet. You can tell he’s still figuring it out…but he is so appealing, so effortlessly funny, you can’t but fall in love with him. It would be six years till he starred in one of my favorite films of all time, The Apartment.

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I love that eyebrow lift! ❤ ❤ ❤

Although Holliday had just given birth to her son a few months before shooting the film, it’s well known that she and Peter Lawford had an affair on the film. Their love scenes certainly do have a certain chemistry, but I have to say, I’ll aways be team Lemmon!

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Easy on the eyes though, no?

The Script Tho…

Garson Kanin penned the script and looking at his filmography, it almost looks like he was Miss Holliday’s personal screenwriter. He also wrote the screenplay for The Marrying Kind and Born Yesterday. He was also big in the Tracy-Hepburn films. Suffice it to say, he knew how to write a great screwball comedy.

The subject matter for this story wasn’t based on anything or anyone specific, but focuses on something even more relevant today than it was then: celebrity. We all grow up, putting people who are in the public eye on a pedestal. They’re famous, so they must be special, right? That’s what Gladys thinks too. Her yearning for fame has less to do with what fame actually is and more with a longing to be special, to belong. She learns in her journey that fame isn’t all it’s cracked up to be.

In the TCM article for the film, Jeff Stafford, quotes the director of this film, George Cukor as saying:

“The idea of becoming a great celebrity without being able to do anything is a very important notion,” Cukor stated in an interview with author Gavin Lambert. “Publicity can really do it, too. Today it makes Presidents. It’s really the name of the game.”

It’s difficult to read that statement and realize that that has never been more true. Jack Lemmon’s character routinely tells Gladys that fame is nothing if the real person behind it stands for nothing. I’ll just let that sit with you for a moment. *Cough* Trump *Cough*

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We’ve all had that dream…though hopefully we’ve grown out of it.

The Director

I mean, George Cukor is just a legend. He directed too many classics to name, but my favorites are My Fair Lady, Gone with the Wind (where he was one of many directors) and The Philadelphia Story. He knew a thing or two about romance and comedy…

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Case in point: THIS SCENE.

The gowns ❤ ❤ ❤

Jean Louis was a PROLIFIC costume designer and his gowns in this film are the epitome of 1950’s style! Incidentally, costume design was the only category the film received an Oscar nomination for.

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I NEED this outfit. 

The SNAP of the Dialogue

As a writer, I obvi appreciate wit and this one delivers the wit tenfold. Judy Holliday delivers them zingers well!

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GOLD. 

It’s hilarious, romantic, and most importantly, thought provoking!

Celebrity is a huge currency in our society, especially now that the internet has given rise to social media influencers. Last week, the U.S. inaugurated a president who’s famous because of his money. He hasn’t done anything worthy of our recognition. He’s rude and uncouth. His qualifications to be president are zilch.

In a way, we as a society, gave ourselves Trump because we view celebrities as special and worthy of our attention. We give celebrity status to people who shouldn’t have it. This film may not be profound, but it’s a nice reminder that fame for the sake of fame, to quote Jack Lemmon’s character, Pete, means nothing.

Vintage trailer below:

Gifs and photos property of Columbia Pictures/Sony.