Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: The Diary of Anne Frank (dir by George Stevens)


From 1942 to 1944, a teenage girl named Anne Frank lived in hiding.

She and her family lived in what was sometimes called The Secret Annex, three stories of concealed rooms that were hidden behind a bookcase in an Amsterdam factory.  At first, it was just Anne, her older sister Margot, and their parents.  Eventually, they were joined by another family and eventually a dentist, with whom Anne did not get along.  Life was not easy in the concealed space and tempers often flared.  As the months passed, Anne had a romance-of-sorts with Peter, the teenage son of the other family, but she wondered if she truly felt anything for him or if it was just because they were stuck together.  Anne looked forward to someday returning to school and seeing all of her old friends, again.  However, she knew that she could not leave the Annex until the Nazis had finally been forced out of the Netherlands.  She and the other occupants had to remain in hiding and they had to remain perfectly quiet eight hours a day because they were Jewish.  If they were discovered, they would be sent to the camps.  So, they waited and Anne kept a diary.

Tragically, the Nazis did eventually discover the Secret Annex.  Of the 8 occupants, only Anne Frank’s father, Otto, would survive the war.  The rest died in various concentration camps.  Anne Frank’s mother starved to death in Auschwitz.  Her older sister, Margot, was 19 when she fell from her bunk and, because she was in such a weakened state, was killed by the shock.  Anne Frank, it is believed, died a few days after Margot.  She died at the Bergen-Belsen Concentration Camp, one of the 17,000 prisoners to succumb to Typhus.  Before she died, Anne Frank spoke with two former schoolmates who were also being held at Bergen-Belsen.  She told them that she had believed her entire family was dead and that she no longer had any desire to go on living.

However, Otto Frank did survive and, at the end of the war, he returned to the Secret Annex.  That’s where he discovered Anne’s diary.  After editing it (a process that Anne, who aspired to be a journalist, had already started doing shortly before she was arrested), Otto arranged for the publication of the diary.  The Diary of A Young Girl (or, as it was titled in some countries, The Diary of Anne Frank) was a bestseller and has remained one ever since it was first published.  Along with being recognized as being one of the most important books ever written, it’s also been adapted for both stage and screen.

The first such screen adaptation was in 1959.  It was directed by George Stevens and it starred 20 year-old Millie Perkins as Anne.  (Perkins bore a great resemblance to Audrey Hepburn, who was reportedly Otto Frank’s preferred choice for the role.  Hepburn turned him down, saying she would have been honored to have played the role but believed that she was too old to believable as a 14 year-old.)  Joseph Schildkraut played Otto while Diane Baker played Margot and Gusti Huber played Edith Frank.  The Van Daans were played by Shelley Winters and Lou Jacobi while Richard Beymer played their son (and Anne’s tentative boyfriend), Peter.  Ed Wynn, who was best known as a comedian, played the role of Albert Dussell, the dentist to whom Anne took a dislike.  (The surviving family of Fritz Pfeffer — who was renamed Dussell in Anne’s diary — objected to the way he was portrayed in both the book and the film.)

As a film, it has its flaws.  George Stevens specialized in big productions but that was perhaps not the proper approach to take to an intimate film about a teenage girl coming-of-age under the most difficult circumstances imaginable.  Because this was a 20th Century Fox production from the 50s, The Diary of Anne Frank was filmed in Cinemascope, which made the annex itself look bigger than it should.  Scenes that should feel claustrophobic often merely come across as being cluttered.

But, in the end, the story is so powerful and so important that it doesn’t matter.  Though the Annex was recreated on a Hollywood sound stage, the exteriors were actually filmed in Amsterdam.  When we see the outside of the factory where the Frank family lived, we are seeing the actual factory.  When we see repeated shots of the uniformed Nazi police patrolling the streets at night, we know that we’re seeing the actual view that Anne Frank undoubtedly saw many a night from the Annex.  And because we know the story, we begin the film knowing how it’s going to end and that adds an even greater weight to each and every scene.  It’s impossible not to relate to Anne’s hopes for the future and it’s just as impossible to not mourn that Anne never lived to see that future.

Stevens originally planned for the film to end with a scene of Anne at Bergen-Belsen.  To their discredit, 20th Century Fox removed the scene after preview audiences complained that it was too upsetting.  People should be upset while watching (or, for that matter, reading) The Diary of Anne Frank.  Even today, there are people who still seem to struggle with acknowledging the enormous evil that was perpetrated by the Nazis and their allies.  As a result, it’s not uncommon to find people who, when they don’t outright deny that it happened, try to minimize the Holocaust.  It’s a disgusting thing.  There was recently a viral video, which was released by NowThis that featured a student at George Washington University saying, “What’s going to happen if there’s another Holocaust? Well, we’re seeing what’s happening. We’re seeing people die at the border for lack of medical care. That’s how Anne Frank died. She didn’t die in a concentration camp, she died from typhus.”  NowThis later said that the student meant to say that Anne Frank “didn’t die from a concentration camp, she died from typhus,” and you really have to wonder just how fucking stupid someone has to be to think that 1) that’s somehow an improvement on what was originally said and 2) that typhus and the concentration camp were not essentially the same thing.  Even if one accepts that the student misspoke, it would seem that her main complaint was the the concentration camp didn’t have proper medical care, as opposed to the fact that it was specifically created to imprison and kill Jewish people.  It’s an astounding combination of ignorance and antisemitism.  NowThis later edited her comments out of the video, which again seems to miss the point of why people were upset in the first place.  Instead of just saying, “Hey, this idiot is a Holocaust denier and, regardless of whether she hates Trump as much as we do, we want nothing to do with her,” NowThis instead said, “Well, if that comment offends you, we’ll take it out and you won’t have to hear it.”  To me, that’s why The Diary of Anne Frank is still important and why it should still be read and watched and studied.  There are too many ignorant people and craven, weak-willed organizations out there for us to turn our backs on teaching history.

The Diary Anne Frank was nominated for best picture of the year.  While Shelley Winters won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress, the Best Picture Oscar went to Ben-Hur.  Interestingly enough, Ben-Hur’s director, William Wyler, was originally interested in directing The Diary Anne Frank before George Stevens was brought on board.

Film Review: This Island Earth (dir by Joseph M. Newman and Jack Arnold)


Oh, those poor aliens!

Ever since the 1950s, intergalactic diplomats, soldiers, and explorers have come to Earth looking for help.  Some of them have come from planets that orbit dying stars.  Some represent civilizations that have been destroyed by war or pollution.  Some of them have come here looking to inspire us to be more peaceful and less destructive.  Others were just looking for something to eat.

What they all have in common is that they all came to Earth and things really didn’t work out that well.  Occasionally, they ran into humans who, due to cynicism and skepticism, simply weren’t willing to help.  Often, the aliens arrived just to discover that the humans had no interest in being conquered.  Remember what Eros yelled at the Plan 9 From Outer Space?  “Your stupid, stupid minds!”  Oh yeah?  Well, our menfolk kicked your ass and blew up your flying saucer.  So there.

Consider the sad case of Exeter (Jeff Morrow), the alien at the center of 1955’s This Island Earth.  Exeter has come to Earth with his associates and disguised himself as a human.  Despite the fact that they all have remarkably high foreheads and a total inability to relate to actual humans, no one seems to suspect that Exeter and his friends are from outer space.  Even when he starts recruiting leading scientists to come hang out at his isolated headquarters, it doesn’t seem to occur to anyone that they should be too concerned.  Exeter’s just a little bit weird.  Why worry?

Well, Dr. Carl Meacham (Rex Reason) is worried!  He’s a pilot and a scientist and he’s got a square jaw and one of those deep, 1950s American male voices.  Everything that Dr. Meacham says sounds authoritative.  When you hear that confident, take-no-prisoners voice, you have no doubt that Eisenhower’s in the White House and everything’s going to be alright.  Carl doesn’t trust Exeter and he suspicions are proven correct when he and Dr. Ruth Adams (Faith Domergue) are taken to Exeter’s war-ravaged planet.  Not only is the planet on the verge of blowing up but the whole place is crawling with mutants!

Unfortunately, it takes a while for Carl, Ruth, and Exeter to reach the planet.  This Island Earth is an oddly structured film.  The first third of the film deals with Carl and his squirmy associate, Joe (Robert Nichols), building something called an interocitor.  Once Carl has shown that he can follow the alien instruction booklet, Carl is allowed to meet Exeter.  (For some reason Joe is left behind.)  Once Carl arrives at Exeter HQ, it’s another lengthy wait before he, Ruth, and Exeter are launched into space.

Still, on the plus side, one of the scientists gets to drive this really cool car:

(Unfortunately, the car doesn’t make it to the end of the movie.)

The movie gets a lot better once the action moves to Exeter’s home planet.  The planet was a gloriously realized world, a pop art masterpiece:

And then there were the mutants!  Look at this thing:

Anyway, despite the slow start, This Island Earth is a classic of 1950s science fiction, one that manages to maintain a perfect balance between the sublime and the ludicrous.  Rex Reason and Faith Domergue are inoffensively bland as Carl and Ruth but Jeff Morrow brings a weary and even tragic dignity to the role of Exeter.  If nothing else, it lives up to its title by suggesting that Earth actually is just one insignificant island in the vast ocean of the universe and that both humans and aliens are mere slaves to fate.  For all of his deep-voiced authority, Carl really doesn’t accomplish much over the course of the film.  By that same token, for all of his efforts and his integrity, there’s little that Exeter can do to alter the destiny of his planet.  At times, This Island Earth is almost existential in its portrayal of both human and extraterrestrial inability to alter the whims of fate.  Of course, it’s also a frequently silly film that will be a lot of fun for anyone who appreciates a good B-movie.

On Saturday night, I watched This Island Earth with my friends in the Late Night Movie Gang.  After last week’s experience with Disco Beaver From Outer Space, I decided to play it safe this week.  We had a lot of fun with This Island Earth.  In case you want to learn how to make an interocitor of your very own, the film is available on YouTube.

Lisa Reviews An Oscar Nominee: Shane (dir by George Stevens)


“Hey, Shane!  Come back, Shane!”

There’s a few ways in which you can view the 1953 film, Shane.

The more popular view is that it’s a Western about a man named Shane (Alan Ladd) who rides into town and gets a job working for the Starretts, Joe (Van Heflin) and Marian (Jean Arthur).  Joe is a farmer who is determined to hold onto his land, despite the efforts of cattle baron Rufus Ryker (Emile Meyer) to force him off of it.  While we don’t learn much about Shane’s background, it becomes apparent that he’s a man who can fight.  That comes in handy when Ryker brings in a sinister gunfighter named Wilson (Jack Palance).

Another view is that Shane is the story of a man who just wants to settle down but, instead, finds himself continually hounded by an annoying little kid, to the extent that he finally gets involved in a gun battle just so he’ll have an excuse to leave town and get away from the little brat.  Little Joey Starrett (Brandon deWilde) idolizes Shane from the minute that he comes riding up.  When he hears that Shane refused to get into a fight at the local saloon, Joey demands to know whether it was true.  He tells his mom that he loves Shane almost as much as he loves his father.  When Shane does get into a brawl with all of Ryker’s men, Joey stands in the corner and eats candy.  And then, when Shane tries to leave town, Joey runs behind him shouting, “Come back, Shane!  Come back!”

Myself, I think of it as being the story of Frank Torrey (Elisha Cook, Jr.).  Frank is the farmer that’s been nicknamed “Stonewall,” due to his status as a former Confederate and his quick temper.  Stonewall may be smaller than the other farmers but he’s usually the quickest to take offense.  Still, it’s impossible not to like him, largely because he’s played by Elisha Cook, Jr.  When Wilson feels the need to put the farmers in their place, he does so by picking a fight with Torrey.  Standing on a porch in the rain, looking down on the smaller man, Wilson starts to insult both him and the South.  When Torrey finally starts to reach for his gun, Wilson shoots him dead.  While Torrey lies in the mud, Wilson smirks.  It’s a shocking scene, all the more so for being shown in a long shot.  (By forcing those of us in the audience to keep our distance from the shooting, the film makes us feel as powerless as the farmers.)  If you didn’t already hate Wilson and Ryker, you certainly will after this scene.

Shane is a deceptively simple film, one in which many of the details are left open for interpretation.  We never learn anything about Shane’s background.  He’s a man who shows up, tries to make a life for himself, and then leaves.  He’s a marksman and an obviously experienced brawler but, unlike Ryker’s men, he never specifically looks for violence.  In fact, he often seems to avoid it.  Why?  The film doesn’t tell us but there are hints that Shane is haunted by his past.  Shane seems to want a chance to have a life like the Starretts but, once he’s forced to again draw his gun, he knows that possibility no longer exists.

Is Shane in love with Marian Starrett?  It certainly seems so but, again, the film never specifically tells us.  Instead, it all depends on how one interprets the often terse dialogue and the occasional glances that Marian and Shane exchance.  When Shane and Joe get into a fist fight to determine who will face Ryker and Wilson, is Shane really trying to protect Joe or is it that he knows Marian will be heart-broken if her husband is killed?

One thing’s for sure.  Little Joey sure does love Shane.  “Come back, Shane!”  Little Joey follows Shane everywhere, with a wide-eyed look on his face.  To be honest, it didn’t take too long for me to get sick of Little Joey.  Whenever director George Stevens needed a reaction shot, he would cut to Joey looking dumb-founded.  Brandon deWilde was 11 years when he appeared in Shane and he was nominated for an Oscar but he’s actually pretty annoying in the role.  Elisha Cook, Jr. was far more impressive and deserving of a nomination.

I know that many people consider Shane to be a classic.  I thought it was good, as long as the action was focused on the adults.  Alan Ladd plays Shane like a man who is afraid to get too comfortable in any situation and the film works best when it compares his reticence to Wilson’s cocky confidence.  Whenever Joey took center stage, I found myself wanting to cover my ears.

Shane was nominated for Best Picture but lost to From Here To Eternity.

The Fabulous Forties #6: Trapped (dir by Richard Fleischer)


220px-Trapped_1949

After being disappointed with Guest In The House, I decided to go ahead and watch the sixth film in Mill Creek’s Fabulous Forties box set and I’m glad that I did.  1949’s Trapped turned out to be an entertaining little discovery.

Much like Port of New York, Trapped opens with documentary footage of the government at work and an official sounding narrator explaining to us that we are about to see a film about the hardworking agents of the Treasury Department.  In fact, the narrator goes on for so long about the Treasury Department that he starts to sound downright worshipful.  There’s nothing that the Treasury Department cannot do!  Who protects the President?  The Treasury Department!  Who tracks down counterfeiters?  The Treasury Department!  Who protects the coast?  The Coast Guard but guess what? The Coast Guard is actually a part of The Treasury Department!  The tone of the narration is so worshipful that it could almost pass for a Scientology recruiting film.  Just as only the Sea Org can protect us from Evil Lord Xenu, only the Treasury Department can stop phony money pushers!

Eventually, the narration ends and the actual movie begins.  Fortunately, the rest of Trapped more than makes up for that awkward introduction.  The film opens with a bunch of Treasury agents looking over a phony twenty-dollar bill.  The bill is almost perfect and the agents believe that it was printed using plates designed by one of the world’s greatest counterfeiters, Tris Stewart (Lloyd Bridges).  The only problem is that Stewart is in prison.  Obviously, someone else has gotten their hands on Stewart’s plates.

Stewart is upset that someone is getting rich off of his work.  So, he strikes a deal with the Treasury Department.  In return for being released, he will help them track down his plates.  The Treasury Department agrees and arranges for Stewart to “escape” during a phony prison break.

However, Stewart has plans of his own.  As soon as he’s out of jail, he knocks out his handler and escapes for real.  Tris is not only planning on tracking down his plates but he’s also going to go back into business printing and passing phony money.  He also reunites with his girlfriend, nightclub hostess Meg Dixon (Barbara Payton).

When he meets Meg, he discovers that she has a new admirer.  Johnny Hackett (John Hoyt) likes to hang out whenever Meg’s working.  Even though Johnny appears to have a thing for Meg, he and Tris still become friends.  Tris is even willing to bring Johnny in on the operation but, what Tris doesn’t realize, is that Johnny Hackett is actually Treasury agent John Downey (John Hoyt)…

Needless to say, violence, betrayal, and death follows.

Shot on location in some of the seediest parts of 1940s Los Angeles, Trapped is a fast-paced and exciting film noir.  (This is one of those films, like The Black Book, where shadows are literally everywhere.)  Lloyd Bridges (who, as a young man, could have passed for Kirk Douglas’s brother) gives a great performance as the charming but ultimately cold-hearted Tris Stewart while John Hoyt does a fairly good job as the conflicted Downey.  Barbara Payton, one of the more tragic figures from Hollywood’s Golden Age, does such a good job as Meg that it’s even more tragic to consider that, just a few years after making Trapped, her career would be destroyed by alcoholism and personal scandal and she would eventually end up as a homeless prostitute on Sunset Boulevard.

Trapped was a good discovery and you can watch it below!