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The Diary of Anne Frank: Fox Studio Classics

Immortalized by the journal she kept while hiding from the Nazis with her family and their friends during World War II, Anne Frank is probably the 20th century's most famous — and most beloved — teenager. Everyone who's read her warm, forthright chronicles of life in a crowded Amsterdam attic has their own idea of what Anne was really like as a person … and it's a good bet that very few of them pictured her anything like Millie Perkins. Wide-eyed, gamine, and perky to the point of shrillness, Perkins — an 18-year-old unknown who won the role of the 13-year-old Anne after director George Stevens and his casting crew met with literally thousands of girls — looks nothing like the photos of the real-life Anne and, more to the point, never quite settles into the role; she always seems very conscious of the fact that she's playing a noble, idealistic Holocaust Victim-with-a-capital-V. She recites lines from Anne's diary as if expecting to be canonized for sainthood — even beautiful sentiments such as Anne's famous "I still believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart" come off as smug. Unfortunately, since Perkins plays the movie's central part, her performance detracts from the film as a whole; fortunately, the finished product (which was nominated for Best Picture in 1960) is good enough that it manages to overcome even such a key problem. The rest of the cast, particularly Joseph Schildkraut as Anne's father Otto and Shelley Winters in an Oscar-winning turn as the fractious, tactless Mrs. Van Daan, is strong (Lou Jacobi, Ed Wynn, Gusti Huber, Diane Baker, and Richard Beymer also co-star), and Stevens manages to faithfully re-create the Franks' tense, claustrophobic experience of living in constant anxiety for more than two years. When they do allow themselves a rare moment of joy and celebration — during the Hanukkah scene, for instance — the Franks and their attic-mates (Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan, their son Peter, and fussy dentist Mr. Dussell) are brought back to reality all too quickly by intruders, blaring sirens, and bomb raids. Tame by the standards of some of today's Holocaust films (The Pianist, for example), The Diary of Anne Frank was painfully immediate for 1959 audiences; that it still resonates today is a testament both to Stevens' filmmaking abilities and, of course, Anne's unforgettable words. Fox's "Studio Classics" DVD edition of the film does it proud; the anamorphic transfer (2.35:1) of the restored black-and-white film is quite strong, and the Dolby Digital 4.0 audio shows off Alfred Newman's lovely score (other language options include English and Spanish subtitles). The double-sided disc offers a commentary track by George Stevens Jr. and Perkins on Side A, and a whole bevy of extras on Side B, including Perkins' screen test, a still gallery, a restoration comparison, trailers, vintage Movietone newsreel footage, a George Stevens press conference clip, a relevant excerpt from George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey, and the informative feature-length documentary The Diary of Anne Frank: Echoes from the Past. Keep-case.
—Betsy Bozdech

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