a banquet, and most sons of bitches are starving to death!”
Warner Archive has just released the Blu-ray version of Mame, 1974’s film
version of the hit Broadway show.The
musical itself was based on the play Auntie Mame starring Rosalind Russell,
also a film and also available from the Warner Archive.
paper, this movie had “hit” written all over it with Mame’s Broadway director
Gene Saks on board along with Bea Arthur (Saks’ wife) and Jane Connell
reprising their stage roles.The popular
score by Jerry Herman was augmented with a new song, Loving You.Phillip H. Lathrop was the cinematographer,
Onna White staged the production numbers and veteran composer/arranger Fred
Werner supervised the music.
casting of the title role created controversy at the time as the star of the
Broadway version of Mame, Angela Lansbury, was overlooked in favor of
television and film legend Lucille Ball.It was decided at the time that Ms. Ball would draw a larger audience as
film musicals had been sputtering at the box office.Previous efforts such as Paint Your Wagon,
Hello Dolly and Lost Horizon had been financial disasters, and the studio
wanted to stack the deck in favor of Mame breaking this trend.
Ball had never been known as a singer and at age 63 she may have not been as
nimble on her feet as she was in earlier musicals.One just has to remember her taming the cat
dancers with a whip in MGM’s Ziegfield Follies in 1946.Ms. Ball’s performance as Mame Dennis is
still enjoyable and, if anything, is somewhat restrained.Scenes involving a comic foxhunt with Mame
riding sidesaddle and a disastrous stage debut could have turned into Lucy
Ricardo style slapstick, but were wisely held in check by director Saks.Ms. Ball conveyed warmth, strength and gentle
humor in her performance as the eccentric, but lovable aunt.
story follows the young and recently orphaned Patrick Dennis being sent to New
York to live with his only living relative: his father’s sister Mame, a
free-spirited bachelorette socialite.Mame instantly takes a liking to her nephew and vows to show him all the
culture and unconventional personalities of Manhattan during the late 1920s.Her friends include a stage actress of dubious
talent, the headmaster of a Bohemian nudist school, a less- than- successful
stockbroker and a loyal houseboy.
escapades with Patrick are made aware to his guardian, a conservative bank
president, who sends the child to boarding school.Despite this setback, Auntie Mame remains the
main influence on her nephew’s upbringing, and the story tracks their
relationship through Patrick reaching adulthood and his preparations to
marry.Along the way Mame encounters the
stock crash of 1929, employment in customer service, marriage to a Southern
aristocrat and a sudden tragedy.Her one
constant through everything is her loving relationship with young Patrick.
fantastic supporting cast includes Bea Arthur as actress Vera Charles, Jane
Connell as Patrick’s nanny Agnes Gooch, Robert Preston as Mame’s love interest
Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, George Chiang as the houseboy Ito, Joyce
Van Patten as Southern belle Sally Cato, Bruce Davison as the adult Patrick and
John McGiver as Mr. Babcock, Patrick’s guardian.
highlights include the beautifully staged title number sung by Robert Preston,
a touching duet, My Best Girl, between Mame and Patrick, the hilariously wicked
Bosom Buddies, where Mame and Vera confirm their lifelong friendship and a
genuine holiday moment with the charming We Need a Little Christmas.
script by Paul Zindel does drag a bit in the second act as adult Patrick
contemplates marriage.There is an
awkward jump as one wedding is called off and another takes place.Zindel does include many of the one-liners
that made the stage version so humorous.Chiang, the houseboy answers a call from Mame’s financial adviser asking
“he wants to know what to do with your stocks before he jumps out the
window.”Vera enters the room after an
all-night binge and declares: “Somebody has been sleeping in my dress!”
was one of the last epic roadshow musicals and while it was a box-office
failure, it did set records during its initial run at Radio City Music
Hall.Films from this era tend to be
judged harshly by today’s viewers and one of the reasons for this is lack of
preservation.To evaluate a movie like
Mame it has to be seen in widescreen Panavision on a large HD screen with high
quality audio.VHS copies and pan and
scan television versions simply don’t tell the whole story.
Warner Archive has given us the opportunity to appreciate Mame as it should be
seen.An outstanding 1080p video master
in anamorphic widescreen and full range 2.0 mono sound allow us to watch this
film the proper way.The color is bright
and saturated with the reds and blacks being especially striking.The much-criticized soft focus effect used on
Ms. Ball’s close-ups is not a distraction.Today’s movies utilize all manner of digital trickery to enhance the
look of actors.The 2.35 aspect ratio is
essential in enjoying the chorus line choreography during the wonderful title
song.I truly wonder if Mame looked this
good in theaters back then. Bonus features are an original "making of" featurette and the trailer.
you want to take another look at an underappreciated musical from the early 70s
or if you’d like to show off that new flat screen you received for Christmas,
give Mame a try.
CLICK HERE TO ORDER FROM THE CINEMA RETRO MOVIE STORE