the review site with a difference since 1999
Reviews Interviews Articles Apps About

Fox Home Entertainment presents

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

"I still believe—in spite of everything—that people are really good at heart."- Anne Frank (Millie Perkins)

Stars: Millie Perkins, Joseph Schildkraut, Shelley Winters, Gusti Huber, Richard Beymer, Diane Baker, Ed Wynn, Lou Jacobi
Director: George Stevens

Manufacturer: DVCC
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 02h:50m:02s
Release Date: 2004-02-03
Genre: drama

Buy from Amazon

Style
Grade
Substance
Grade
Image Transfer
Grade
Audio Transfer
Grade
Extras
Grade
A AA-A A

 

DVD Review

One can only imagine the intense pressure and responsibility director George Stevens felt over the task of bringing The Diary of Anne Frank to the screen. The book was not only a bestseller and historical document of Nazi persecution, but also a source of inspiration and hope to millions of people around the world. The Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett paved the way for the film adaptation (which the husband-and-wife team also wrote), but the medium's immediacy made casting a chore. Anne's image was ingrained on the world's collective consciousness and finding someone who both resembled her and could embody her elusive spirit required an exhaustive search.

In the end, talent scouts interviewed more than 10,000 girls around the globe before Stevens settled on Millie Perkins, a 19-year-old model with no acting experience. Ever since, people have quibbled over the merits and detriments of his choice, but there's little room for argument regarding the quality and power of Stevens' film. Although it contains no battle scenes, brutality, or military maneuvers, The Diary of Anne Frank remains one of the most important war movies ever made—a rare, first-hand account of the fear and degradation European Jews endured at the hands of the Nazis.

Anne's adolescent perspective and surprisingly mature musings about all aspects of life—penned under horribly oppressive circumstances—make her story unique. Much more than a tale of war and the Holocaust, The Diary of Anne Frank focuses on family dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and coming-of-age in a bleak, uncertain era. Yet despite her dim prospects, Anne remains optimistic, and her hope for peace and belief in the inherent goodness of mankind in the face of unspeakable evil continues to resonate and inspire to this day.

Anne, however, was far from an angelic saint, and the movie takes great pains to paint her as a typical recalcitrant teen. Aloof toward her mother, disrespectful to others, and often brazenly outspoken, Anne could also be vivacious, passionate, loving, and full of curiosity and wonder. All these fiery contradictions trapped in such a constrained atmosphere made her diary an ideal outlet, and into it Anne poured her soul, filling its pages with her innermost thoughts and feelings.

And in those pages, we learn the details of her heartbreaking and courageous story. Driven by fear of deportation to a concentration camp, the Jewish Frank family—father Otto (Joseph Schildkraut), mother Edith (Gusti Huber), and daughters Margot (Diane Baker) and Anne (Perkins)—disappears into hiding in a tiny attic above an Amsterdam office. Sharing their stuffy, cramped space are Hans and Petronella Van Daan (Lou Jacobi and Shelley Winters), their son Peter (Richard Beymer), and bachelor dentist Albert Dussell (Ed Wynn). Otto's business associates, Miep (Dodie Heath) and Harry (Douglas Spencer), supply them with food and sundries, but the lives of the "fugitives" are severely constrained. To avoid exposure, the families must restrict their movement to evenings and weekends, when the employees have vacated the building—and they can never, ever venture outside. For two years, they fritter away time in their rat-infested purgatory, always on edge, always frightened they'll somehow betray themselves. For the adults, such a bereft existence is hard enough, but for the three teenagers—poised on the cusp of life—the confinement borders on torture.

Although at first Anne dismisses Peter as a brooding nuisance, the two form an intense friendship that evolves into mutual attraction. Peter expresses his doubts about the future, but Anne bolsters his spirits with her rational thinking and contagious optimism. Sadly, the harsh realities of the times ultimately destroy their safe haven.

Few directors could appropriately capture the claustrophobia, tension, and oppression of the attic hideout in the expansive CinemaScope format, but Stevens does so with his customary brilliance. The Oscar-winning director of A Place in the Sun and Giant employs innovative camera angles to highlight details, long dissolves, and overlapping images to enhance mood, and hypnotic shadows to dress up the frame. Despite the single setting, the film is always interesting to watch, partially due to the complex, three-story (and Oscar-winning) replica of the hiding place built on the Fox soundstage. In addition, Stevens' highly effective use of sound and silence builds suspense to Hitchcockian degrees.

Known for his masterful treatment of actors, the director also draws magnificent performances from his ensemble cast. Schildkraut, Huber, and Jacobi all recreate their stage roles to perfection, while Winters took home the Oscar (and later donated it to the Anne Frank Museum) for her gutsy, no-glamour portrayal of Mrs. Van Daan. Beymer touchingly transmits Peter's awkward uncertainty, and vaudeville comedian Ed Wynn (father of Keenan) shifts gears as the fastidious dentist, and received an Oscar nomination for his marvelously textured performance. Although at times Perkins seems a bit artificial, prim, even WASPish, her overall work impresses despite a few sour notes. Was there a better Anne out there lurking among the 10,000 candidates? Probably. But Perkins' self-effacing acting style wins us over, and she brings Anne's complex characteristics to life.

Stevens' production is so compelling we even forgive its sugary treatment of (and occasional preoccupation with) adolescent love. The climactic kiss between Anne and Peter may be a cinematic invention, but it's a devastating expression of thwarted youth and shattered dreams, as well as an unforgettable movie moment. Stevens was a master of creating flashes of unbridled emotion and the climax of The Diary of Anne Frank ranks among his most stirring sequences.

Admirers of the diary and Anne Frank scholars will surely decry the liberties taken with the original material, but one must remember Stevens' film is an adaptation, not a systematic reenactment. Stevens tried his best to remain both factually accurate and true to Anne's spirit, and he largely succeeds. The film will never replace Anne's written record, but it will remain a beautiful, enduring companion piece.

Rating for Style: A
Rating for Substance: A

 

Image Transfer

 One
Aspect Ratio2.35:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes
Anamorphicyes


Image Transfer Review: Fox renders an often exquisite transfer of a difficult film. William C. Mellor's Oscar-winning black-and-white cinematography makes marvelous use of deep shadows and silhouettes, which heighten the film's dark, tense mood and intensify the expression of adolescent emotion. Such a gloomy environment can be problematic on DVD, but Fox's stunning restoration brightens the image without altering the lighting effects. Rich, inky blacks and excellent contrast add both a stark reality and lush tenderness to various scenes, with razor sharp close-ups providing dramatic impact. Subtle variances in the gray level scheme lend the film a surprisingly expansive palette that adapts to the story's ever-changing emotional shadings. At times, the transfer might seem a bit murky, but we learn on the commentary track that Stevens often intentionally lit scenes on the dark side to force the human eye to dig out details. Still, clarity is largely superb and minimal print defects only distract during the blackest sequences. A few noticeably grainy segments interrupt the smooth flow of the transfer, giving it a slightly patchy feel, but for a 45-year-old film, this is an exceptional effort.

Image Transfer Grade: A-
 

Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish, French, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital
4.0
Englishyes


Audio Transfer Review: Sound—as well as silence—are critical elements of The Diary of Anne Frank, enhancing the sense of fear and dread afflicting the characters, and providing a few highly effective jolts. The superb Dolby Digital 4.0 track offers detailed and vibrant audio reproduction, along with extended periods of clean silence that add taut suspense to several scenes. A few extended sequences rely almost exclusively on subtle effects, from a cat nibbling on a piece of toast to delicate footsteps, creaking floorboards, and distant sirens, and the track emphasizes the nuances without overplaying them. On the flip side, louder noises, such as gunfire, screams, even the rattling of pots and pans, jarringly disrupt tense quiet to great dramatic effect. A lengthy bombing raid allows the bass frequencies to shine, and although most of the sonic activity is anchored in the front channels, the audio possesses enough presence and depth to nicely simulate a surround atmosphere. Dialogue is always clear and understandable, and any age-related defects have been totally erased.

Audio Transfer Grade:

Disc Extras

Static menu
Scene Access with 33 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
2 Original Trailer(s)
1 Documentaries
1 Featurette(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by associate producer George Stevens Jr. and actress Millie Perkins
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
1 Disc
2-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual
Layers Switch: 01h:34m:31s

Extra Extras:
  1. George Stevens press conference
  2. 6 Movietone News segments
  3. Millie Perkins screen test
  4. Still Gallery
  5. Original overture and exit music
    Restoration comparison
Extras Review: This fifteenth volume in Fox's Studio Classics collection is arguably the best yet in terms of special supplements. The double-sided disc features the film and audio commentary on Side One, and a wealth of fascinating extras on Side Two. Such a historically relevant story and complex production demand in-depth analysis, and the folks at Fox have scoured their vaults in search of complimentary material. What they've compiled is well worth a look...and listen.

The scene-specific audio commentary by associate producer George Stevens, Jr. (who co-directed the location scenes in Amsterdam) and actress Millie Perkins goes deep inside the production, addressing such topics as the senior Stevens' judicious use of close-ups (he saved them for emphasis), the decision to shoot the film in sequence (rarely done, but easier for the actors), and the imagination and creativity required to make the "story of confinement" cinematic. Perkins, who had never acted before and claims she never intended to be an actress, talks about her on-the-job apprenticeship and close relationship with Stevens, whom she affectionately dubs "the warden." Stevens, Jr. mentions his dad's fight to shoot the movie in black-and-white so it wouldn't look "too beautiful," and how he viewed the film as not just a story of Jews in hiding, but one of universal humanity and human behavior. Both he and Perkins relate amusing on-set anecdotes, fondly recalling Schildkraut trying to upstage other actors and steal focus, and Winters' futile attempts to glamorize the dowdy Mrs. Van Daan. They agree Winters "brought life to the set," although admit she was often "a handful." (A particularly memorable example caused the cancellation of a day's shooting when Winters inadvertently intoxicated Perkins in an attempt to relax her before a difficult scene.) Perkins also vividly remembers a special dinner she shared with Otto Frank, and Stevens, Jr. recounts how he accompanied Frank to the attic hideout in Amsterdam and was able to handle Anne's actual diary. Both speakers possess rich voices and present their views in an engaging, conversational style. An endurance test for participants and listeners alike, this two-hour-and-fifty-minute commentary track is both informative and rewarding.

The Diary of Anne Frank: Echoes from the Past is a riveting 87-minute documentary narrated by Burt Reynolds that chronicles both the making of the film and, more importantly, the Frank family history. The film fleshes out the personalities depicted in the diary, addresses discrepancies (and how Anne's perception of the people with whom she lived might have been slanted by her adolescence), and details the ultimate fate of each person in the attic hideout. There's also a fascinating discussion of Anne's signature statement about the goodness of mankind, and its bloated sense of importance. (Had Anne survived the horrors of concentration camp life, one wonders, would she have changed her viewpoint?) Millie Perkins and George Stevens, Jr. offer fond recollections of Otto Frank, who visited the set, but could never bring himself to see the play or film, while rare color footage of the Dachau concentration camp (shot by Stevens himself), as well as interviews with Anne's American pen pal, one of her childhood friends, Otto Frank's stepdaughter, and Shelley Winters add immeasurably to this comprehensive and involving documentary.

An eight-minute excerpt from another feature-length documentary, 1985's George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey (when will this marvelous film make it to DVD?), focuses on the production of The Diary of Anne Frank, and includes clips, stills, narration by George Stevens, Jr., and an interview with Millie Perkins, who provides a perceptive, eloquent character sketch of the demanding Stevens at work. George Stevens Press Conference is a five-minute pre-production interview (shot from two separate angles) in which Stevens chronicles his international search for an actress to portray Anne Frank. Stevens expresses his desire to cast an unknown, preferably a 13- or 14-year-old girl. (Millie Perkins was 19 when she won the role.) At the time of the press conference, more than 6,000 candidates had already been considered.

Millie Perkins' screen test runs about two-and-a-half minutes and reveals a far more sophisticated young woman than she would eventually portray on film. The 19-year-old answers questions posed by an off-camera interviewer, who quizzes her about her interests (horseback riding, sketching) and modeling career. A Still Gallery features 82 highly interesting black-and-white images from a wide range of sources. Highlights include shots of Stevens at work on the set and conferring with actors; a couple of lovely photos of Millie Perkins with Otto Frank; George Stevens, Jr. perusing Anne Frank's actual diary; and the elder Stevens touring the gas chambers at Dachau concentration camp, as well as the attic hideout with Otto Frank.

Four of the six Movietone News clips on the disc chart the journey of Millie Perkins from her discovery to the film's Los Angeles premiere. The initial report shows Perkins being introduced to the press, and subsequent entries chronicle her meeting with a Netherlands official, dressing for the premiere, attending an Anne Frank exhibition at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, and arriving at the premiere on the arm of Dean Stockwell, whom she would later marry. Highlights of the 1959 Academy Awards (which sadly do not include footage of Best Supporting Actress winner Shelley Winters) and a brief look at a Belgian priest who won the Nobel Peace Prize for reuniting refugee families after the war are the subjects of the remaining two Movietone segments.

Both American and international trailers are included, which, when viewed in succession, embarrassingly reveal the fickle, shallow nature of U.S. audiences. While the almost five-minute international trailer recounts the Anne Frank story in a sober, literate manner, the American preview makes the film look like an adolescent romantic potboiler. Capping off the U.S. trailer are rave quotations from Hollywood's preeminent gossip columnists(!)—Louella Parsons, Hedda Hopper, and Sheilah Graham—along with one from Ed Sullivan. These are the opinions Americans most respect?

Finally, a restoration comparison illustrates the film's journey to DVD, beginning with a 1996 film transfer, which is matched up against the 2003 restoration and the final 2003 digital video restoration. The improvements are, of course, remarkable, but in addition to appreciating the enhanced image clarity, it's also interesting to examine the subtle but distinct format differences between film and video, and how they affect and mold picture quality.

The film's original overture and exit music have also been restored, and seamlessly bookend the production.

Extras Grade: A
 

Final Comments

More than a moving adaptation of the Anne Frank story (which would have been enough), George Stevens' production is also a beautifully constructed and executed film that stands on its own as a work of supreme artistry. Fox's magnificent audio and video transfers rejuvenate this timeless classic, while the comprehensive extras add welcome historical perspective. A movie to share with the entire family, The Diary of Anne Frank isn't perfect, but it's close.

David Krauss 2004-02-01