Saturday, July 19, 2014

The Diary of Anne Frank – episode 5

1a. Movie title

Due an injury to my left hand, repetitive strain injury, my blog of this film will have to be a highly abbreviated review of the film. I’m wring this blog with just my right hand, so you’ll have to forgive any errors. –Tom

I first saw the film on PBS. My opinion of it at that point in time, the mid-seventies, was that it wasn’t anything special. After viewing it a few times in the past month, and dong some research on the film itself, my opinion has changed 180 degrees. The film is an excellent piece of work. The acting is one of the problems. Shelley Winters specifically.

The film documents the lives of eight people in hiding. The Frank family and the van Daan family. For some reason I have yet to understand the script had the van Daan family arrive first in the annex, the hiding spot. The Frank family followed soon after the van Daan family. Shelley Winters moans, groans, and whines when the Franks don’t appear as scheduled. She claims the “green police” have captured them. “The Green Police” are so named because of their green uniforms. The Frank family just had to take a longer route from their home to the annex.

When Anne arrives at what will be her home for the next two years its July 1942 she wears a glum expression. But she doesn’t seem to understand the gravity of her situation, and treats moving into to annex as an adventure. That’s when we first see Anne. She’s just come through the front door of the building where she’ll be for the next two years.

16a. Anne20. Anne arrives

Millie Perkins did a fine job portraying Anne, but her naiveté got on my nerves at times. Her attitude was simply too up beat and optimistic at times. At times I found it hard to believe this person understood what was happening all around her.

After her father explains all the rules they must strictly obey everyone goes to their respective rooms, but not before Shelley Winters argues about the sleeping arrangements. A screen capture from this part of the film shows you her face – it’s a worried face. But every other person involved in the production is concerned. So she isn’t special.

42. Mr & Mrs. van Daan at lunchtime 

After the close of business that day everyone can move around. Anne’s father presents her with a present, a box containing clippings of her favorite film stars, a portrait of the queen of the Netherlands, and a diary (in reality it was an autograph book).

51. Anne opens a box meant for her

I was pleasantly surprised at the performances of Lou Jacobi as Mr van Daan. The way he put up with with abuse doled out from Shelley Winters was superhuman.  Joseph Schildkraut was astonishing. He was the voice of reason when all hell (Mr. van Daan stole food) broke loose. I think the best part of this film are the parts the parts that made the viewer think, look a little harder, and want to learn more about every one in the diary.

There was one line of dialog that almost made me retch considering it came from a person who was so close to death. Anne Frank spoke this minutes before she was arrested – “I still believe in spite of everything that people are really good at heart”.

An excellent film, but it had facets that could have been polished a bit more. If you get a chance I suggest you watch it. You’ll learn something. You won’t be able to help it.

Monday, July 14, 2014

The Diary of Anne Frank – Episode 4

It Never Fails…

Sometimes, no matter what you do, no matter how long you’ve been doing it, or how good you are, your dad checks up on you. He may be trying to pull your leg, he may even say it’s part of being a parent. But there’s always the chance he may just find out that you’re really good at what ever you do. And that’s what happened to George Stevens Sr. He is seen checking some footage his son shot for him as second unit director. George Jr., looking mildly perturbed, that his father is still checking his work. He’s probably thinking “For heavens sake dad I’m a grown man, and my father still checks my homework !”. George Sr. was pleasantly surprised at the quality of the footage his son sent from Amsterdam. George Jr. went on to become a well known director, and still directing television shows in the 21 century.

924. Father and son

                Always remember son to take the lens cap off

The diary, the film, and historical fact

Anybody who has followed this blog for any length of time will know that I’m a stickler for sticking with what actually happened. I’ve come to realize, albeit extremely slowly, that once Hollywood gets its hands on anything that is based on history, that it can’t help tinkering with the truth. Sometimes the changes are very minor, and that in itself is understandable. But when somebody gets it into their head to create a character that never existed, or have something rather important happen that never happened in reality, well that’s when I get cranky. And like many other films based in fact, The Diary of Ann Frank some details are changed. In the film the van Daan family arrived first, to be followed by the Frank family when in fact the Frank hid in the annex on Monday July 6 1942 to be followed by the van Daan family on July 13 1942. Some bits of dialog from the diary were mildly altered and given to another character in the film. The layout of the actual hiding place differs only in the fact that in reality some rooms were more spread out. The film brings everything closer together creating an aire of claustrophobia.  Below is a photo of the model of the actual hiding place. It’s a very large photo, and if I’ve done my job correctly you can download it to your computer where it will be much, much larger. In watching the extras for this film on the DVD Millie Perkins admits to being uneasy during two sequences – the Hanukkah scenes, and the very last scene she appears in. On the Internet Movie Database trivia page for this film Shelley Winters allegedly gave Millie a glass of Scotch prior to filming of the Hanukkah sequence to calm her nerves. The glass got her calm all right – it also got her drunk as a skunk. After Millie sobered up the entire sequence had to be reshot. I don’t know how much truth, if any, should be assigned to this. But it is interesting.

939. Anne_Frank_House_Model

Beware this is a large download. It is 4608 x 3456 pixels and 3.46 MB in size. Thank you Alexisrael.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

The Diary of Anne Frank – Episode 3

The set for the film wasn’t the most complicated, but it was certainly one of the more difficult. George Stevens wanted to replicate the hiding place, but he also wanted to replicate the entire building. Getting the plans from the city of Amsterdam was not an easy task. Used to getting his way he ran head on into that roadblock known as red tape. After waiting forever he discovered he would have to make alterations. There had to be room for the crew, a camera, lights, and other miscellaneous equipment.  After studying the problem he found there was a very easy solution. Instead of building a complete building he built a building with only three sides.

925. One sound stage

He had one pet peeve, and that was the way explosions were depicted on film. Usually a boom was heard, and the camera was jostled just a bit. His military experience had taught him that explosions were felt and not simply seen. To achieve this effect he built the entire building on springs. Now the camera would stay steady, and entire set would rock, and sway. When the sequence where Amsterdam was being bombed dust would fall in a straight line, the entire set would shake, and the actors would look genuinely worried.

932. Plans of the house

These are the initial plans George Stevens had to work with. In time he obtained more detailed ones.

935. holding the bookcase

Here he’s showing Millie Perkins, who played Anne Frank, a model of the set. His hand is on a movable model of the bookcase that hid the staircase.

Studio Politics

There were two minor skirmishes during pre-production. Almost all films of the time were done in color. George Stevens was of the opinion that the film should be in black and white. His felt black and white would convey the feeling of claustrophobia. Color film would open up the film, and bring a rather cheery feeling. He was so adamant about it he threatened to withdraw from the film completely. Considering how much the studio had had invested in the film it was a small concession. But then head of 20th Century Fox, Spyros Skouras, informed George that since the studio owned the rights to to Cinemascope, that this film would in Cinemascope. George countered that using this particular aspect ratio would destroy any claustrophobia the black and white film would show. Spyros Skouras would have none of Georges protestations. 3a. Scope copyright The film would be shot in Cinemascope, and that was that. George and the director of photography, William C. Mellor, worked to salvage the damage inflicted by Mr. Skouras. They discovered that by adding a few hardy timbers to the set, and limiting action to the center of the screen, that the effect of claustrophobia could be retained. Light filters were also employed. The original plan called for George to get exterior shots in Amsterdam. But just before shooting began it became obvious that he would have to have a second unit director. He employed his son George Stevens Jr., who had been directing television shows such as Dragnet, and Alfred Hitcock Presents. George Jr. 929. Jr. directs second unit worked in Amsterdam with legendary cameraman Jack Cardiff. Jack played a small prank on George Jr. by telling him had never shot a frame of black and white film. George went into a mild panic, then realized he had been had, and that Jack was joking. George produced small outside scenes that were short in duration, yet crucial to the film as a whole. Some of the scenes undoubtedly unnerved some of the local inhabitants. It’s not everyday you see Nazi soldiers marching down the street. Scenes were the siren is employed caused some people on the set to break into a cold sweat. George Jr. tells the story where a woman fainted when the siren suddenly wailed.

Name, name, which name to use

Ann Frank allowed for pseudonyms to be used for some of the characters in her diary. The names used in the film for her family are factual. However names used for the van Daan family, and Mr. Dussel are fictional. She was concerned how some people might react if she used real names.

Film Name                                      Real Name 

Mr. van Daan                                  Mr. Hermann van Pels

Mrs. Petronella va Daan                   Mrs. Auguste van Pels

Peter van Daan                                Peter van Pels

Albert Dussel                                   Fritz Pfeffer

Mr. Kraler                                       Victor Kugler


Otto Frank edited his daughters diary and removed entries that were highly critical of Anns mother. Other than that most of the diary was published.

In the film Ann is referred to as Annica, and Annelies(her given name). Mrs. van Daan referrs to her as Annica, whereas her father almost always referrs to her as Annelies. If you have the DVD at home it may take several viewings of the film to get used to all the nick names, pet names, and given names used. Peter is pronounced “Payter”, and his name can confusing at times.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

The Diary of Anne Frank–Episode 2

926. The Cameras Eye  George Stevens, as a civilian, was the director/producer of film, as well as an actor, writer, and cinematographer. But it was the experience he gained as Lieutenant Colonel George Stevens that allowed him to see things in a way that would later allow him to make Shane, A Place In The Sun, The Diary of Anne Frank, and The Greatest Story Ever Told.

He joined the army in 1942, and was a combat photographer. A lot of the footage he shot found its way onto newsreels which wound up in theaters. Footage from the Battle of the Bulge, D- Day, the meeting of Allied troops at the Elbe river all made for riveting watching. But his films concerning the liberation of Nazi death camps had a profound effect on people the world over. He couldn’t believe mans inhumanity to other human beings, and this almost always showed itself in some form in the films he made after the war. He was frequently called as a witness during the Nuremberg War Trials to testify as to the truth of the images of the Dachau death camp films. His work helped to put the nooses around many a Nazi’s neck.

He spent a total of four years of his life working on the film Diary of Anne Frank. During pre-production he went back to Dachau. He wanted to make sure what he saw with his own two eyes really happened. The trip included a meeting with Otto Frank, a trip to the building where the Frank family hid, and at the insistence of Otto Frank a visit to the actual attic where Anne wrote so much of her diary. George was accompanied by his son George Jr. who noted that during the visit to the attic that his father was ill at ease being there. His father mentioned that he felt the ghosts of all the people who had been there were crying out to tell their story, and that the attic was hallowed ground.

927. Inside a ga chamber at Dachau 

George Stevens Jr. took this haunting photo of his father as he inspected a gas chamber at Dachau.

The casting of the film

The casting was both simple and complex. George knew he wanted to re-create the diary as faithfully as possible so he took photos of the attic, and got the plans for the actual building from the city of Amsterdam.

The people was quite a bit more difficult. He got Joseph Schildkraut, Gusti Huber and Canadian actor Lou Jacobi to reprise the roles they had created in the play The Diary Of Anne Frank. But the role of Anne presented a problem. Otto Frank wrote Audrey Hepburn requesting she take on the role. She turned it down on the basis that it would cause too many unpleasant memories of her own war time experiences to surface. Plus she felt she was told old to play the role of a 13-15 year old girl. Natalie Wood was considered, but George wanted an unknown to play the role. A nation wide sweep of the nation took place.

Some three thousand girls were actually interviewed, and another three thousand were corresponded with. When Millie Perkins was initially approached she was in a restaurant with a friend. After hearing the pitch she came to the conclusion it was all a big joke. She was a model, and preparing to go overseas. Somebody tore her picture from a fashion magazine cover and sent it to George Stevens. When she was in Europe she was contacted by the studio to return to the states to test for the role. Millie contacted George Stevens and informed him that if any test was to take place it would have to wait until she returned to the states, and be done at night. The reason her screen test was done at night was that was the only free time Millie had that didn’t interfere with her modeling career. George knew after meeting with Millie that he had his Anne.

Another important role to fill was that of Margot Frank. Diane Baker left high school, a decision her parents were far from thrilled with, to pursue an acting career. She was also an unknown. It also pure luck. Her being at the studio at the right time helped her secure the role. This role would be her film debut.

Actress Nina Foch was employed to help the two girls with lines, blocking, and filming terminology they would hear on set. She also prepared the girls mentally. George Stevens had a reputation of being rather “vocal” with his actors. Nina informed the two girls to be prepared for hurtful remarks. If George thought hurting your feelings would elicit the kind of reaction he wanted on film he’d stomp all over you. With Shelley Winters he would scold, which usually caused her to whine. He would ignore Joseph Schildkraut in spades, call him Pepe, which usually elicited a better performance. Diane wasn’t wild about this unsolicited tutoring since she’d already been to acting school. So she wasn’t immune to the Stevens sarcasm. Whenever George saw Diane do something he didn’t like he’d say “I see we’ve been to class” – which was a polite way of saying “All right young lady, I’ve caught you red handed. Forget that acting class junk, and just do what I tell you”. But Millie wouldn’t take sarcasm from George. She made it clear she’d walk off the set and go right home if that happened. She wasn’t playing a diva – she simply didn’t like mind games. But George could be a teddy bear  at times. Diane Baker had a crush on him even before she started working with him. Sometimes she’d walk up to the table where he was having lunch, and burst into tears in front of him, eventually telling him what was wrong. He’d hug her, dry her tears, and really listen to what she had to say. Millie was a special case. He had to handle her with kid gloves. Halfway through shooting, and far behind schedule, Millie came up to George and said she was tired and wanted to go back home. George listened, told her to take a break, and if she still felt the same way at the end of the week that would be the end of it. Luckily for us she snapped out the funk she was in, and George breath a huge sigh of relief.