Everyone’s a Winner with Auntie Mame

This post is part of a Book-to-Film Series hosted by the fabulous Lindsey at The Motion Pictures. The series runs until June 30.

Not so fast, dah-ling

Rosalind Russell ends up sporting every bracelet in the Warner Bros. Props Department.

It is hard to imagine a family relative more flamboyant than Rosalind Russell in the legendary 1958 comedy Auntie Mame.

Briefly: Auntie Mame is about an orphaned boy (Jan Handzlik) who is shipped to Manhattan to live with his unconventional aunt, a lavish woman who wears bracelets up to there. Auntie Mame lives in a posh two-storey apartment and throws over-sized parties for artists, free-thinkers and world travellers.

Who can out-shine, out-do, out-be Russell’s Auntie Mame? She re-models her apartment, her wardrobe and her hair with each new phase in her life. Look: She’s a Buddhist in silks; a dutiful Aunt in pastels; a poor working woman with buttoned-down collars; a southern belle in flouncy skirts; a wealthy bohemian swimming in accessories. And so on. It’s like a 1950′s issue of Vogue!

This movie is loads of fun because Russell seems almost giddy with such a juicy role. When she first meets her long-lost nephew, she quips, “If he misbehaves, we can always throw him in the river.”

Although she is the dominant personality in this movie, Russell doesn’t overshadow her supporting cast. There is a superb collection of characters in this film which, in the hands of less skilled writers, would be mere stereotypes (the obnoxious nouveau riche, the drunk Irish writer, the mean bank trustee). But these characters don’t feel like stereotypes. Each one is amusing and, in his or her own way, adds texture to the film.

Now, if anyone overshadows Russell’s Auntie Mame it is the Original Auntie Mame, star of the novel by Patrick Dennis upon which the movie is based.

Now this is an Auntie Mame. She is even more charming than Russell’s screen version, if you can believe it, plus we have the benefit of Dennis’ witty prose. As a book, Auntie Mame is exceedingly hard to put down. (We read the novel in practically one sitting!)

Original Auntie Mame uses livelier language than Movie Auntie Mame, but both Mames have the same inspiring zest for life. As Russell says in the movie – with language tidied up from the novel – “Life is a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”

Oh dear. Our goal was to make a legitimate book-to-movie comparison. But the normal rules of comparison do not apply to the Mames. Both are delightfully outrageous, yet both have a soft heart for those in need. You can enjoy Movie Auntie Mame because of Russell’s performance. But you also enjoy Original Auntie Mame because Dennis’ clever, breezy writing.

Two terrific Mames in two terrific formats, and we love them both. Either Mame’s a winner!

Auntie Mame: starring Rosalind Russell, Forrest Tucker, Coral Browne. Written by Betty Comden and Adoph Green. Directed by Morton DaCosta. Warner Brothers, Colour, 1958, 150 mins.

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23 comments

  1. Brilliant!!!!! I love your description of this wonderful movie. I’ve seen the movie twice in the past few weeks and really loved it. Now I am desperate to find the book. I love the idea of a book to film series, two of my favorite things, old movies and books! Great job dear :)

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  2. I have never read the book, but I did see the movie last year and although I wasn’t excited about watching the movie, I ended up liking it quite a lot. It was way funnier than I thought it would be. Thanks for the post.

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  3. What a coincidence! Right now, I’m reading a biography on Patrick Dennis called Uncle Mame. Although I need to upgrade my VHS copy to DVD, this is one of my favorite movies, and your review captures its ebullient spirit. By the way, have you read about the plans to remake this movie with Tilda Swinton as Auntie Mame?

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      1. The bio reveals a lot about Patrick Dennis through interviews with his family and friends, but Patrick Dennis’ reprinted writings are the highlight. His letters and notes show as much flair as his books.

        Hopefully, the Auntie Mame remake pans out because I look forward to seeing Tilda take on the role myself!

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  4. Russell is fabulous as Auntie Mame! I can only wish I had an fun loving liberal Aunt like that when It’s one of my favorite Russell roles along with HIS GIRL FRIDAY and MY SISTER EILEEN.

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  5. This is one of my favorite Rosalind Russell roles, and now you’ve made me want to read the book. Would it mean I was a bad person if I imagined Russell as the book’s heroine? Would it absolutely ruin my experience? I get the feeling from your review that the book and movie are fairly compatible, which is a rare occurrence, indeed! Thank your for your post!

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    1. Hi Margaret, it would not ruin your experience if you imagined R. Russell as the book’s heroine…but don’t be surprised if that doesn’t stick for very long. I, too, pictured Russell but after a few chapters the “book” Auntie Mame became a different character. Let me know your thoughts if you do get the chance to read it.

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  6. Ruth, I’ve only read bits and pieces of Patrick Dennis’ memoirs, but I’ve seen both the marvelous 1958 film version and the less impressive 1974 version with the well-meaning but miscast Lucille Ball (to be fair, I enjoyed the musical numbers), and your review of both the book and the Rosalind Russell were great fun to read! My dear late mom had the privilege of seeing Angela Lansbury in the musical MAME on Broadway. Heck, Mom’s family nickname was “Auntie Mame,” on account of her own warm, wonderful, larger-than-life personality and beauty! To slightly paraphrase your title, Ruth, everyone’s a winner if they have an Auntie Mame-type in their lives — wonderful post!

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      1. Oh, Ruth, my mom was as remarkable as she was lovable and beautiful, as all of us who knew and loved Mom could attest! In fact, in January 2011, I wrote a TotED blog saluting Mom, writing it as both an affectionate memoir and a review of the film that was Mom’s favorite during the last two years of her life, NO COUNTRY FOR OLD MEN. Yes, for all her soignee and sophisticated qualities, Mom also loved Westerns, especially those of Sam Peckinpah! If you’re interested, here’s the link:

        http://doriantb.blogspot.com/2011/01/no-country-for-old-men-tell-mother-i.html

        Thanks for listening, my friend! :-)

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