Friday 23 March 2018

On Blu-ray - David Hare ponders the late 50s Warners house style in AUNTIE MAME (Morton DaCosta, USA, 1958)

Mame (Roz Russell) with Vera Charles (Coral Browne) and Lindsay (Patric Knowles), (above, click to enlarge) in a rare didactic moment from the eponymous adaptation of Patrick Dennis' quasi-biographical novel, Auntie Mame.

If ever there was a movie that sang out (Louise) the gay experience of a young boy, without ever acknowledging it (more or less impossible in 1958) this movie must be it although the only fleeting reference to that which dare not speak its name or any other parts is once only alluded to with a clutch of several older Tweed-clad Radclyffe Hall dykes at one of Mame's late parties in Manhattan.

I am in multiple minds about this picture. On one hand I accept it as a part of that run of highly static and Broadway-based stage and music theatre works Warners adapted from the mid-fifties onwards, forever ending the direction of the peak movie musical, along with Fox studios and their R&H franchise. But I am a dinosaur and I still regret the passing of the Freed Unit and its glories, probably absurdly and wrong-headedly. So I am an official Mame Grump.

But how far can one be a grump when confronted with so much high end campery in a single film (despite the subject being the literal elephant in the room), with the supreme talents of people like Orry-Kelly for wardrobe, the adaptation of Dennis' book by Comden and Green, a brassy Warner orchestra (post Salinger) score from Bronislau Kaper, and Harry Stradling photographing one of the very first 6 perf Technirama movies, itself a graduation from the earlier and more expensive, super high quality 8-perf VIstavision, with dye transfer 50s top quality printing for the 35mm and masked reduction prints by Technicolor.

At bottom however I have a distaste for the sheer mercenary throwaway of a nasty line like "Life is a banquet and all the suckers are standing outside." It seems to belie a would-be Bohemian approach to life being performed by a woman, indeed a group of people for whom possession and white privilege is everything, for all their protestations of liberalism. So grump I remain.

The disc needless to say is from a spanking new 2K scan of pristine elements and is flawless. To be downed with a lot of vodka martinis to keep the occasional saccharine moments at bay.


  1. You don't get any camper than Aussie Coral Browne and the film is worth it for her alone.

  2. B K I prefer her in Aldrich's far more post lib and highly " Bad taste" Sister George in the windup lezzo sex scene suckin away on Susannah York's tits. THIS (as they say) is something nobody thought they would ever see. Twenty out of ten to Coral for doing the take. (And Susie too.And Aldirch too. THis got it an X rating.)


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