Reviewed by: Brett Willis
|Featuring||Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Richard Beymer, Gusti Huber, Lou Jacobi, Diane Baker, Ed Wynn|
|Distributor||20th Century Fox|
Josef Stalin said something like “One death is a tragedy; a million deaths is a statistic.” that’s why the most effective war-related movies focus on just a few characters as representatives of a larger group. No exception here.
This film is based on the story of Anne Frank, who hid along with seven other Dutch Jews in an attic for two years and three months during WWII. They were discovered by the Nazis and shipped to concentration camps, just weeks before the Allies liberated Amsterdam. The opening scene shows Anne’s father, the only survivor, returning to the attic to retrieve Anne’s diary; the main body of the film is flashback, as he spot-reads the diary and reminisces.
All the major players—Millie Perkins as Anne, Joseph Schildkraut as her father, Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Dean, Richard Beymer as Anne’s “boyfriend” Peter, and Ed Wynn as the fussbudgety dentist, Albert Dussell—do an outstanding job. What we see are ordinary, average human beings trying to live their lives and hold on to their hopes and dreams in the midst of extraordinary circumstances.
There are about four uses of d*. There’s one exterior scene in which German soldiers machine-gun a fleeing off-camera suspect. Also images of Jews being rounded up, antiaircraft fire against British planes flying over the city on their way to German targets, and the tastefully-handled climax in which the Franks’ hiding place is discovered. The entire film is claustrophobic and tension-filled; the tension ratchets up a notch in scenes where the families believe someone in the factory below may have heard them.
Perkins, actually 21 at the time, effectively portrays a 13—to 15-year-old girl trying to make sense out of the world she finds herself in. Sometimes a plum role at the beginning of an actor’s career is hard to top; that seems to be the case with Perkins, although she’s been active ever since (she played Elvis Presley’s girlfriend and later his mother, and she’s Pete Maravich’s mother in “The Pistol”).
Winters [Shirley Schrift] earned a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as the contrary Mrs. Van Dean, who berates her husband and occasionally makes suggestive moves at Anne’s father. In 1986 she again played a Jewish victim in the Chuck Norris vehicle “The Delta Force,” a very-fictionalized retelling of a 1985 airline hijacking by Arab/Muslim terrorists.
Wynn [Isaiah Edwin Leopold], who played numerous Disney comic roles and also worked with the Three Stooges, is perfect as Dussell. Our emotions are yanked in all directions because Wynn’s personality and mannerisms scream out “comedy,” yet in this setting there’s little to laugh about. At the same moment that the news of D-Day comes over the hidden radio, an argument breaks out between the families about unequal distribution of food. Wynn chimes in with “Stop it! You’re spoiling the whole invasion!” Priceless work.
Some have challenged Anne’s diary as faked; others have challenged the entire story of WWII exterminations as faked. Those wanting a “second witness” about the practice of hiding Jews in Holland should read, or watch the film version of, Corrie Ten Boom’s story “The Hiding Place.”
Remakes: TV movies (1967, 1980, 1987 and 2001).