Last week, I began rehearsals for Titan Theatre Company's production of The Taming of the Shrew, opening at the end of this month. In an unexpectedly exciting twist, the first read through was held at the historic club known as The Players. Over 120 years old, the club was the brainchild of famed 19th century American actor Edwin Booth, whose bedroom still exists on the upper floors of the club, reportedly untouched since his death in 1893. Quite a step back in time, let me tell you. Along with its incredible roster of famous past members, The Players is also noted for being the location at which Actor's Equity was covertly formed.
We turn now to another of the Academy's picks from 1959 for Best Picture...
The Diary of Anne Frank
Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett
(based on their play, which was based on "The Diary of a Young Girl" by Anne Frank)
Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer, Gusti Huber, Lou Jacobi, Diane Baker, Douglas Spencer, Dodie Heath, Ed Wynn
3 wins, including Best Supporting Actress (Winters)
Based on the famous diary itself, The Diary of Anne Frank recounts the story of a young Jewish girl (Perkins) in Amsterdam who spends two years hiding from the Nazis in a small attic above a spice factory. Sharing the cramped quarters with her are her parents, Otto (Schildkraut) and Edith (Huber), and her sister Margot (Baker), along with Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan (Jacobi & Winters) and their teenage son Peter (Beymer). The claustrophobic living space causes many a strained relationship, compounded even further when they also take in Mr. Dussell (Wynn), a sullen old man who seems to get on everyone's nerves. Anne finds solace in her diary, reporting on the disagreements among her cohabitants, the near misses when Nazi officers search the building, and her budding relationship with Peter.
The Diary of Anne Frank is that rare example of a seemingly incompatible genre mash-up, the coming-of-age Holocaust movie. Interestingly, the focus on Anne's adolescent journey makes the story feel somehow less tragic than most films that tackle this subject matter. Not because it's not tragic, because it is, and I'll get to that later, but because there are several moments of sweetness and charm as Anne deals with her burgeoning romantic feelings, as well as the usual teenage angst and confusion.
In fact, the love story subplot is a clever misdirection, aiding in distracting us from the tragedy at hand, as it does for the parties involved. Mind you, it is a little disconcerting how maturely this romance is presented, complete with orchestral themes that seem more appropriate for a sweeping epic love story, full of passion and lust, rather than a teenage flirtation.
Adding to the misdirection is the story's unflinching use of humour, at times approaching downright silliness, provided mostly by Shelley Winters and Lou Jacobi. Not until Life Is Beautiful has humour been used to more effect in a Holocaust picture.
Millie Perkins (pictured) as the titular diarist is adorable, which assists in making the story more charming while simultaneously making it all the more tragic. Joseph Schildkraut (a previous Oscar winner for The Life of Emile Zola) brings the perfect blend of authority and compassion as the Frank patriarch. Serving as the comic relief for the majority of the picture are Shelley Winters, earning her first Oscar here for Best Supporting Actress, and Lou Jacobi, both very effective once you get past the oddity of a Dutch couple with New York accents. Ed Wynn was also nominated by the Academy for his curmudgeonly performance of Mr. Dussell.