Monday, July 7, 2008

Auntie Mame (1958)

MAME: Oh, no. You said October 1, and today is September 31.

NORAH: Today is October 1

MAME: That's not possible. Everyone knows thirty days has September, Apr--(to PATRICK) OH, DARLING! I'm your Auntie Mame!

Auntie Mame (1958)

There are few characters more flamboyant in American drama than Mame Dennis, the bohemian socialite who takes in her orphaned nephew Patrick and shows him that "life is a banquet." Starring the brilliant and beautiful Rosalind Russell, the film Auntie Mame was based upon the play which was taken from the novel of the same name. Not always edifying, but unwaveringly hilarious, Mame, in spite of her flare, is without pretense and shuns any kind of hypocrisy. For all of her worldliness she is incredibly unworldly. Money is never an aim in itself; wealth comes in handy for her various projects and benefactions. When she loses her fortune during the Depression, Mame is not particularly downcast, but goes to work at a department store (and makes a mess of the sales slip.) She is unflaggingly loyal to her collection of eccentric and colorful comrades. The actress Vera Charles is her best friend. When asked by Patrick why Vera sports an English accent, Mame explains that Vera is from Pittsburgh, and "when you're from Pittsburgh, you have to do something." Eventually Mame falls in love with southern gentleman Beauregard Burnside. She faces his hostile clan and risks her life riding the mad stallion in the fox hunt, which is one of the funniest scenes in the movie.

I first saw the film when in college. Few people had cable but on Saturday afternoons they would show old movies on the major networks; Auntie Mame was one they would show a lot, at least where we lived. For awhile Mame was one of my heroines. Now, as a parent, I tremble at the thought of any innocent child falling into the clutches of such a wild woman, especially the way she sent little Patrick to that weird avant-garde school in Greenwich Village. What I once naively thought was funny I now think is awful.

However, Mame, for all her kookiness, is a generous and compassionate soul, sheltering the unwed mother Agnes Gooch, and overall having no tolerance for "babbitty little snobs" with false values. She goes to great and comical lengths to keep her nephew from marrying an empty-headed social climber, Gloria Upson. (Gloria thinks books are "SO decorative.") She makes certain that Patrick meets Pegeen, who is poor but cultured and intelligent. Self-centered but generous to a fault, elegant and effervescent, Mame is a flawed but lovable character. Combining humor with scathing social commentary, Auntie Mame is a gem of a film which elicits mostly laughter, but a few tears as well. Share


Terry Nelson said...

You probably know this is one of my all time favorite films, I almost know the dialog by heart.

elena maria vidal said...

Yes, Terry, and that's why I hereby dedicate this post to you.