Jan Handzlik

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.