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MOVIE INFO

Director:
George Stevens
Cast:
Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer, Gusti Huber, Lou Jacobi, Diane Baker, Douglas Spencer
Writing Credits:
Anne Frank (diary), Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett

Synopsis:
An extraordinary portrayal of humanity set during one of history's most inhumane periods, The Diary of Anne Frank features Millie Perkins as the insightful 13-year-old biographer of her family's two year hiding in an Amsterdam attic. At first, the strong-willed teenager embraces her fugitive lifestyle as an adventure; but in time, the ever-increasing fear of discovery and close quarters prove nearly unbearable for the eight personalities in hiding, which include Mr. Dussell (Ed Wynn), the abrasive Mrs. Van Daan (Winters), her husband (Lou Jacobi), and their son Peter (Richard Beymer), for whom Anne develops an impossible love.

MPAA:
Rated NR

DVD DETAILS
Presentation:
Widescreen 2.35:1/16x9
Audio:
English Dolby Digital 5.1
English Dolby Digital 4.0
Spanish Monaural
Subtitles:
English
Spanish
Closed-captioned

Runtime: 180 min.
Price: $19.98
Release Date: 6/16/2009

Bonus:
• Audio Commentary with Actor Millie Perkins and Director’s Son George Stevens Jr.
• “George Stevens in WWII” Featurette
• “The Making of The Diary of Anne Frank: A Son’s Memories” Featurette
• “The Diary of Anne Frank: Memories from Millie Perkins and Diane Baker” Featurette
• “Shelley Winters and The Diary of Anne Frank” Featurette
• “The Sound and Music of The Diary of Anne Frank” Featurette
• “The Diary of Anne Frank: Correspondence” Featurette
• “Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman” Featurette
• Interactive Pressbook Gallery
• Behind-the-Scenes Gallery


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RELATED REVIEWS


The Diary Of Anne Frank: Studio Classics (1959)

Reviewed by Colin Jacobson (June 26, 2009)

As the defining event of the 20th century, World War II has spawned a tremendous number of films, both factual and fictional. Probably the best-known historical account from an average citizen comes from the famous journal kept by an early teenage Jewish girl. That text first came to the big screen with 1959’s The Diary of Anne Frank.

After a quick segment in 1945 to set up the setting and premise, we head back to July 9, 1942. In the face of increasing Nazi persecution, two Jewish families in Amsterdam go into hiding. We meet the Franks: Otto (Joseph Schildkraut), his wife Edith (Gusti Huber), daughter Anne (Millie Perkins) and her slightly older sister Margot (Diane Baker). In addition, the attic houses the Van Daans: father (Lou Jacobi), mother (Shelley Winters), and son Peter (Richard Beymer). Locals Mr. Kraler (Douglas Spencer) and his secretary Miep (Dodie Heath) help hide and care for them.

The movie sets up the ground rules, and we learn that the two families can’t move much or make noise between 8 AM and 6 PM due to the presence of workers below them. Gradually we see the various personalities emerge, particularly in regard to the younger inhabitants. Peter and Margot show some romantic interest, but the young man feels irritated by Anne, who clearly wants him to notice her. Eventually the clans add another tenant: an aging bachelor dentist named Dussel (Ed Wynn). He brings some additional conflict to the group; a cranky hypochondriac, he accentuates the worst of the situation.

Slowly we watch time pass in their cramped situation. The first half of the flick concentrates on the initial five months of their isolation and ends with a Hanukah celebration. The action then jumps ahead about 13 months to see the situation in early 1944. We find the characters in less positive straits, though they still hold on to some hope. Anne’s started to mature, and Peter develops a romantic interest in her. We watch their blossoming relationship and other changes in the situation for the folks in hiding as their time heads toward its conclusion.

I’ve always felt interested in the history of World War II, and I looked forward to The Diary of Anne Frank. I usually feel that personal takes on broad subjects most strongly accentuate the drama, so I thought Frank would be a compelling dramatization of the events. Unfortunately, the film provided only a sporadically successful examination of its topic.

Much of the problem came from the casting of Thoroughly Modern Millie Perkins as Anne. For about half the film, she plays Anne at 13, and the other half gives us a slightly older Anne. Perkins handles neither period in a very satisfying way. Already in her twenties when they shot Frank, Perkins seems too old for the part, and she does a poor job of compensation. During the flick’s first half, she portrays Anne as too young. She gives the role a pouty and bratty sheen that seems more appropriate for a five-year-old character and doesn’t connect with a 13-year-old. When we meet the older Anne, Perkins veers too far in the other direction. She gives Anne an air of quiet coquettishness that doesn’t match the girl we saw in the first half. Sure, people mature and change, but this swing seems way too radical.

In addition, with the possible exception of Anne, the various characters never develop into full-blooded personalities. Shelley Winters won an Oscar for her work as Mrs. Van Daan, but I’m not sure why. The role stays fairly one-dimensional, as do most of the rest.

Ed Wynn probably brings the most depth to his character. He makes Dr. Dussel sympathetic and warm when necessary but also turns him sour and paranoid as appropriate. It’s a good performance. The others seem fine in their roles, but the parts appear underwritten and thin, so there’s only so much they can do.

Diary does have a number of strengths, though. For the most part, director George Stevens gives us a fairly good portrayal of the claustrophobia and paranoia of the situation. Some of the movie’s best sequences concentrate on threats to their safety; these nicely demonstrate their tenuous circumstance. At times the movie feels too light and it could have stressed the tension a little more, but when push comes to shove, we get a good sense of the reality.

Easily the best parts of the movie come at its end. Stevens depicts the end of the families’ stay in a lovely manner. The conclusion comes in a heartbreakingly understated way that makes some of the movie’s other flaws all the more glaring. The last reel works spectacularly well and makes me wish that more of the prior two and a half hours had been in a similar vein.

Ultimately, The Diary of Anne Frank seems only sporadically successful. An inconsistent film, parts of it come across as well as one could hope, but partially due to erratic pacing and an inappropriately cast lead actress, other elements undercut the experience. There’s enough good stuff here to merit a look, but I must admit I find the flick to be something of a disappointment.


The DVD Grades: Picture B/ Audio B-/ Bonus B

The Diary of Anne Frank appears in an aspect ratio of approximately 2.35:1 on this double-sided DVD-14; the image has been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. This wasn’t an exceptional transfer, but it mostly replicated the source material well.

Sharpness usually appeared solid. Some wider shots displayed a bit of softness, but those examples seemed minor. The majority of the flick came across as nicely detailed and distinctive. I noticed no issues connected to jagged edges or moiré effects, but light edge enhancement seemed apparent periodically throughout the film.

Blacks looked nicely deep and firm, and contrast seemed good. The low-light shots demonstrated solid clarity and definition, with no issues connected to excessive opacity. Mild print flaws cropped up through the film, but they remained acceptably modest for a 50-year-old flick. I noticed occasional examples of specks, grit and spots, but overall the image was reasonably clean. I fluctuated between a “B” and a “B-“ but went with the higher grade simply because so much of the flick looked strong.

Diary presented a relatively good Dolby Digital 4.0 soundtrack. Not surprisingly, the soundfield remained strongly rooted in the forward channels. Much of the audio remained essentially monaural. Music demonstrated decent stereo imaging in the front, and occasional examples of effects emanated from the side speakers. However, those examples were fairly infrequent, as the soundscape didn’t do much to broaden its horizons. Bells and explosions dominated the side material. Surround usage tended toward general reinforcement of the front channels and added little. Given the limited scope of the action in Frank, however, one can’t fault the sound design for these restrictions.

Audio quality appeared fine for a movie of this vintage. Speech occasionally demonstrated some edginess, especially when dialogue competed with other elements; one scene in which many bombs fell demonstrated some of the roughest talking. Still, most of the lines were nicely crisp and reasonably natural. I noticed no problems with intelligibility. As usual for a flick of this vintage, music sounded somewhat thin and constricted, but the score was somewhat broader and better defined than the average movie of the era. Dynamic range failed to impress strongly but still worked out well.

Effects also seemed somewhat tinny in general. Some louder elements like trucks and explosions manifested decent low-end, however, and the effects usually were acceptably detailed. Distortion mainly affected explosions, which came across as moderately rough. A little hiss appeared at times, but the biggest distraction came from a light hum that cropped up through much of the film. That never became terribly intrusive, but it remained a minor nuisance and led me to lower my grade a little. Nonetheless, Frank earned a somewhat above-average “B-“ for its audio.

This edition of Diary also provides a Dolby Digital 5.1 soundtrack. Don’t expect this remix to surpass the original track. Indeed, it comes with most of the same flaws but suffers from additional problems. The 5.1 mix tended to be muted and lifeless. It sounded like someone overutilized noise reduction techniques and turned the track into a dull, flat experience. The 4.0 mix isn’t great, but it’s the better option here.

How did this “50th Anniversary” release of Diary compare to the prior DVD? I felt that both audio and picture seemed virtually identical between the two – at least in terms of overall quality. When I compared the old DVD to the 50th Anniversary one, I could tell that both offered different transfers, but neither seemed superior to the other. Both presented the same strengths and weaknesses.

The 50th Anniversary release mostly includes new supplements. The only returning component is an audio commentary from actor Millie Perkins and associate producer George Stevens Jr., the son of the producer/director. They sit together for this running, screen-specific piece. In general, they create a useful discussion.

Stevens and Perkins go over quite a few topics. For instance, we hear about casting, the atmosphere on the set, the reasons for the use of Cinemascope and black and white photography, locations, and adapting the original material. In the early parts of the flick, Stevens talks the most, but Perkins soon warms up to the task and offers a lot of good personal observations. The pair go silent more often than I’d like, but given the film’s extended length, I don’t regard these gaps as a terrible issue. Overall, the commentary seems engaging and informative.

As we move to Side Two, we find a mix of featurettes. George Stevens in WWII runs seven minutes, 40 seconds. It includes notes from Stevens, Jr., as he discusses his father’s work as a filmmaker during the war; we also get a few comments from actor Diane Baker. The notes are fine, but the footage becomes the highlight of this interesting little piece.

During the 25-minute and four-second The Making of The Diary of Anne Frank: A Son’s Memories, George Stevens, Jr. again comes to the forefront. He talks about his experiences during the production of Diary and other aspects of the film’s creation. Some of this info repeats from the commentary, but Stevens still manages to provide a lot of good material here.

We get more from the actors in The Diary of Anne Frank: Memories from Millie Perkins and Diane Baker. This piece lasts 25 minutes, 53 seconds as actors Perkins and Baker discuss how they got their roles as well as their characters and aspects of their experiences during the production. More interesting tidbits emerge in this enjoyable program.

Another performer shows up for the six-minute and 59-second Shelley Winters and The Diary of Anne Frank. In this interview from 1983, Winters discusses working with George Stevens and shooting the film. Stevens remains the main focus of the piece, so don’t expect a broad range of Diary memories from Winters. Still, she gives us a good perspective in this short but informative clip.

We look at audio during The Sound and Music of The Diary of Anne Frank. It goes for seven minutes, 54 seconds and features Stevens, Jr., as well as composer Alfred Newman’s sons Thomas and David Newman. As expected, we get info about the movie’s score and its use of sound effects. The observations about the music become the most useful aspects of this reasonably interesting piece.

The Diary of Anne Frank: Correspondence lasts 13 minutes, 12 seconds, and features the ubiquitous Stevens, Jr., as he reads letters connected to the production of Diary. These are pretty cool to hear, as they offer an intriguing first-person perspective on the production.

Finally, Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman fills 14 minutes, six seconds with comments from the Fox Filmed Entertainment CEO as he discusses the source material and its move to the big screen as well as some aspects of the production. We’ve essentially heard all of this info elsewhere, so “Legacy” doesn’t add much to the package.

Two Galleries finish the set. We get an “Interactive Pressbook” (14 screens) and a “Behind-the-Scenes Gallery” (55 screens). Both are interesting. I like the fact the “Pressbook” allows us to zoom in and more closely examine some elements, and the other gallery includes a lot of interesting shots from the set.

Does the 50th Anniversary release lose anything from the prior DVD? Yup – and it loses a lot of material. It drops a very good 90-minute documentary, a few other featurettes, screen tests, newsreels, more photos, and trailers. Why drop all these components? I don’t know, but they should’ve been included here as well.

The Diary of Anne Frank takes on an important subject but only provides an occasionally effective examination. While the movie clearly has some terrific moments, it also falls flat at times and seems too erratic to be a thorough winner. The DVD offers generally positive picture and sound plus a nice set of extras. Enough of Diary works for me to recommend it to those with an interest in the subject, but it remains a moderate disappointment.

And this “50th Anniversary Edition” DVD comes as a letdown as well. It provides picture and sound that are on a par with what we found on the prior disc, but it omits most of that set’s supplements. While this release’s exclusives are interesting, they don’t substitute for the elements found on the original disc. Completists will want to own both, but if you just desire one Diary, I’d recommend the old version of the 50th Anniversary Edition.

To rate this film visit Fox Studio Classics review of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK

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