Auntie Mame (1958) Blu-ray Review: And It’s Completely Lucille Ball-Free, Too!

Beginning as a best-selling novel by Patrick Dennis in 1955, Auntie Mame became a Broadway success starring the one and only Rosalind Russell a few years later. As was customary with just about every (even minor) stage triumph in those days, a film version wasn’t too far behind. Released to theaters at the tail end of 1958, Warner Bros.’ Auntie Mame became the highest-grossing film of 1959. While that may not seem like much of an accomplishment at first glance, it should be noted the films it vanquished at the box office included North by Northwest, Ben-Hur, Anatomy of a Murder, and On the Beach.

Obviously, they must have done something right.

Spread out over the course of twenty years, the delightful comedy from producer/director Martin DeCosta (who also helmed the stage version) finds Ms. Russell as the eccentric and flamboyant Mame Dennis, who ‒ as the story opens ‒ is given the task of raising her nephew Patrick (Jan Handzlik) per his late father’s will. And, whereas that particular storyline might be enough for one to change the channel right then and there, Auntie Mame is quite a different gal. Eccentric, flamboyant, and possessing a heart of gold, Mame is about as independent and free-spirited as they come. Alas, her late brother’s will strictly prohibits her raising him in a similar manner.

But as anyone who has the good fortune to witness Auntie Mame will soon discover, Mame does as she pleases. Even after the Depression sets in and Mame is forced to stop hosting extravagant parties for her avant-garde pals and find work. Which doesn’t go over well. Fortunately, lady luck sends Miss Mame a variety of gentleman suitors ‒ if only for a brief fraction of time ‒ beginning with wealthy Southern oil magnate (and future F-Troop star) Forrest Tucker. If you think Rosalind knows how to actively steal a scene, wait until you see Forrest subtly swipe some for himself as the avid camera-nut with a fatal passion for getting those hard-to-reach angles.

Other men in Mame’s life include a progressive school teacher (Henry Brandon), a pretentious author (Robin Hughes), and a longtime book publisher confidant (the great Patric Knowles, looking mighty darn sexy with those silver fox locks) who eventually assists a grown-up Patrick (now played by Roger Smith) in his plan to get Mame to write down the many her amazing and fabulous life. Also appearing in this hilarious and poignant tale are Coral Browne as Russell’s stage star bestie, Fred Clark as the conservative trustee of Patrick’s inheritance, Peggy Cass in an utterly hilarious role as Mame’s secretary, and Joanna Barnes and Pippa Scott as the ladies in Patrick’s life.

Also featuring Connie Gilchrist, Yuki Shimoda, and look-fast-or-you’ll-miss-them cameos by classic Hollywood character actors Fred Kelsey and Margaret Dumont, Auntie Mame arrives on Blu-ray from the Warner Archive Collection via a restored 2K scan of an original Technirama interpositive. The stellar MPEG-4 AVC 1080p encode presents the film in as beautiful of condition as there is ever likely to be ‒ truly, it’s immeasurably gorgeous ‒ preserving the film for all time in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio with DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono soundtrack, optional English (SDH) subtitles, and there’s also an isolated score in DTS-HD MA 2.0 to entertain you.

Wrapping up the release are two trailers. One is for the original 1958 movie in question itself. The other ‒ a preview for the 1974 film adaptation of the 1966 musical stage version of the story, simply titled Mame ‒ is the sort of thing which should come with a warning. Starring a freshly face-lifted Lucille Ball, the ’74 musical is perhaps best-loved for not being loved at all: it laid a big egg at the box office, leaving those who saw it feeling as if they had been “Mamed” in some way. Fortunately, you only have to contend with the trailer for Lucy’s Mame here (which is enough), as Rosalind Russell’s original interpretation is the sort of thing you’ll remember for all-time.

Highly Recommended.

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Luigi Bastardo

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