Bil’s rating (out of 5): BBBBB. USA, 1958. Warner Bros.. Screenplay by Betty Comden, Adolph Green, based on the novel by Patrick Dennis. Cinematography by Harry Stradling Sr.. Produced by Morton DaCosta. Music by Bronislau Kaper. Production Design by Malcolm C. Bert. Costume Design by Orry-Kelly. Film Editing by William H. Ziegler. Academy Awards 1958. Golden Globe Awards 1958.
One of the funniest, most enjoyable romps ever to be produced is this hysterical comedy based on the popular Broadway play. Rosalind Russell gives the signature performance of her career as the free-wheeling, liberally-minded society dame who takes in her recently orphaned nephew Patrick (Jan Handzlik) and finds herself mad about him from the start. She raises him in an open minded environment that includes all manner of friends and educational styles, and nearly sees it all destroyed when a teenage Patrick (Roger Smith) brings home an obnoxious bore of a white upper-middle-class suburban girl (Joanna Barnes). There’s nothing worse than conformity, of course, so naturally it’s Auntie Mame to the rescue! On the surface it’s a breezy laugh fest, but you don’t have to look too deep to find the many ways in which Betty Comden and Adolph Green’s witty screenplay rightly criticizes the American social structure of racism, segregation and intolerance that reigned supreme in the 1950s (even Mame’s saving the fox from the hounds during a hunt in Georgia is a sharp political statement of its own). Audiences didn’t mind its calling them to task, making it the top moneymaker at the box office for 1958 (something rare for a movie that would be labelled as “a woman’s picture”). Peggy Cass (like Russell recreating her Tony award-winning stage role) has a hysterical supporting turn as Miss Gooch, the geeky, raspy-voiced secretary who is assigned to help Mame write her memoirs. Remade in 1974 as an abysmal musical with a near-comatose Lucille Ball.