The Diary of Anne Frank: 50th Anniversary Edition (Blu-ray)
Directed by George Stevens
Studio: Twentieth Century-Fox
Aspect Ratio: 2.35:11080pAVC codec
Running Time: 179 minutes
Audio: DTS-HD 5.1 English; Dolby Digital 4.0 English, 1.0 Spanish, others
Subtitles: English, French, Spanish, others
MSRP: $ 34.99
Release Date: June 16, 2009
Review Date: June 12, 2009
George Stevens’ film version of the Pulitzer and Tony-winning play The Diary of Anne Frank is reverential to a fault, but that’s perhaps part of its problem. Though exquisite in most respects, the film is too reverent, too lugubriously solemn for its own good. Even the gentle comedy and moments of high spirits are controlled with a heavy hand, and the film’s near three hour running time seems a hair too glacially paced for comfort. Much that is here is marvelous, but the film, despite its classic nature, is not without flaws.
Two Jewish families living in Amsterdam at the time of the Nazi occupation go into hiding to avoid being sent to a concentration camp. The Frank family, headed by the saintly Otto (Joseph Schildkraut) who happens to own the spice factory where they’re hiding, takes in the more abrasive Van Daans, and after a few months, an elderly dentist Mr. Dussell (Ed Wynn) joins them in the cramped quarters in a storage loft on the third floor of the factory building. For two years the families successfully evade capture despite a series of mishaps that always occur at the worst possible moments to give away their location. While there, youngest daughter Anne (Millie Perkins) begins writing of their daily experiences in her diary, and her notations form the basis of the play and film’s plot.
Though much of the film is simply the stage play slightly opened out to focus on particular characters in particular places in the multi-roomed loft, Stevens does find some success taking his camera outside to give the audience a slight break from the cramped quarters by showing some street activity (often unpleasant, though, including groups of Nazi prisoners being led to waiting trains to take them to death camps). And when the factory is twice broken into, the tension is quite palpable as the hiders attempt not to move a muscle and give their location away, made more difficult by the presence of the Van Daan family cat who chooses the wrong time to get frisky. Those scenes plus a sweet Hanukkah celebration constitute the film’s high points and show Stevens‘ direction at its most detailed. Scenes of Anne and Van Daan son Peter (Richard Beymer) on a chaste date drag the film’s pacing to a crawl agonizingly drawing out the simplicity of their budding romance into a much lengthier sequence than is necessary. The discovery of Mr. Van Daan’s (Lou Jacobi) stealing food gives the film’s second half an extra shot of drama as events transpire leading to its inevitable conclusion (well, inevitable for those who have read Anne’s diary in school or who have seen the play, a staple of high schools, colleges, and community theaters for decades).
Joseph Schildkraut repeats his Broadway role as Otto Frank in the film version and gives a magnificent performance of subtle understanding. The visceral Van Daans are in the capable hands of Lou Jacobi and Shelley Winters, both acting veterans who plumb the depths of their selfishness, vanity, and foolish behaviors with tremendously effective performances. Ed Wynn, who in the late 1950s had begun impressing audiences in a series of dramatic roles far afield from his well remembered persona as “The Perfect Fool,” mines both comedy and drama from Mr. Dussell in a well rendered portrayal. As the two people assisting the hiders with food and news, Douglas Spencer and Dody Heath are grounded and kind as Kraler and Miep. Richard Beymer is a shy, tender Peter, and Diane Baker is his female counterpart as Margot Frank. Which brings us to the lady in the title: Anne Frank portrayed by Millie Perkins. This was Perkins’ first film, and her inexperience shows in her chirpy, singsong way with lines and a lack of screen charisma which robs the film of a truly mesmerizing presence at its center. The movie certainly works with her in the leading role, but how much more effective might the film have been with a slightly quicker tempo from the director and more effervescence from its leading lady.
The film is presented in its Cinemascope aspect ratio of 2.35:1 in a 1080p transfer using the AVC codec. Sadly, this is not a reference quality black and white transfer. Though black levels are deep and shadow detail can be quite good, there are white speckles to be seen off and on during the movie, and some minor flashing is also sometimes in evidence. Sharpness is excellent in most scenes, but the inability of Cinemascope lenses to do much with deep focus means you’ll occasionally see all of the characters spread across the wide frame but some of them distractingly out of focus. At least Fox has not applied any DNR to the image; the moderate grain structure of the film is certainly intact. The film has been divided into 34 chapters.
The DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 track is a bit of a disappointment as there is light hiss in some of the quietest scenes, and the surround spread is minimal through much of the movie. In fact, often, the voices, sound effects, and music are completely mono in quality emanating from the center channel while the surrounds are completely silent. Sometimes echoes from overhead bombing will resonate in the rears but sometimes they don’t. The clearest use of the full soundfield is with Alfred Newman’s magnificent score which gets beautifully channeled during the film’s Overture and Exit Music which are included on the disc. (The Act I Exit Music included on the laserdisc is not included on the Blu-ray.)
The audio commentary by associate producer/second unit director George Stevens, Jr. and star Millie Perkins is a lovely reminiscence about their experiences making the movie. It’s only occasionally scene specific. Most of the time, the two recall events and persons from their film experience in a free-flowing conversation. However, a good many of their anecdotes are repeated in the bonus featurettes on the disc.
All of the bonus featurettes are presented in 480p.
“George Stevens in World War II” is a 7 ¾-minute sampling of some surprising full color 16mm movies shot by George Stevens during World War II including the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. Shooting this footage made Stevens long to someday direct a World War II film, and he considered The Diary of Anne Frank that movie.
“The Making of The Diary of Anne Frank: A Son’s Memories” is precisely what the title implies: George Stevens, Jr.’s memories of the pre-production, actual location visits, casting, and filming of the movie. It runs 25 minutes.
“Memories from Millie Perkins and Diane Baker” is a wonderful compilation interview with each of the actresses looking back on their casting and their experiences during production. It runs 26 minutes.
“Shelley Winters and The Diary of Anne Frank” offers 7 minutes of recollections about working with the legendarily unpredictable actress.
“The Sound and Music of The Diary of Anne Frank” pays tribute to composer Alfred Newman in this 8-minute featurette detailing briefly his career as the head of Fox’s music department.
“The Diary of Anne Frank: Correspondence” finds George Stevens, Jr. reading a selection of letters written by Otto Frank to his father and vice versa as well as letters written by the director to his son who was shooting second unit work in Amsterdam. This feature runs 13 ¼ minutes.
“Fox Legacy with Tom Rothman” is a 14-minute featurette from the Fox Movie Channel celebrating the making of the movie.
“The Diary of Anne Frank: Echoes from the Past” is the most comprehensive bonus on the disc, a 90-minute history of the Franks and their friends mixing the real story with the way it was portrayed in the movie. This fine documentary is narrated by Burt Reynolds.
“The Diary of Anne Frank excerpts from A Filmmaker’s Diary” is an 8-minute clip from George Stevens Jr.’s tribute documentary to his father that deals specifically with The Diary of Anne Frank.
A brief series of press conference questions asked of George Stevens before the movie began production runs 5 minutes.
Millie Perkins’ initial screen test interview runs 2 ¼ minutes.
Six Movietone News blurbs all dealing with the production or cast members of the film can be viewed separately or in one 6 ¾-minute grouping.
Two trailers are available for viewing. The theatrical trailer runs 3 ¼ minutes while the international trailer runs 4 ½ minutes.
Two step-through art galleries are available for viewing: the press book and a series of behind-the-scenes publicity stills and production test shots.
Nominated for eight Academy Awards and winner of three (including Best Supporting Actress for Shelley Winters), The Diary of Anne Frank gets a decent high definition release, but compared to recent release black and white classics on Blu-ray like The Seventh Seal and The 400 Blows, this release just isn’t in their league in terms of video splendor. The film, however, is a moving and accurate representation of the renowned play and deserves to be seen.