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Based on Anne Frank's diary, and the stage play that was adapted from it: In Nazi-occupied Holland, Otto Frank and his family have decided to go into hiding, because of the increasing persecutions against Jews. The businessman Kraler and his assistant Miep prepare a hiding place in the rooms above their place of business, and arrange for the Franks and another family, the Van Daans, to stay there. Later on, they are joined by the dentist Dussel. Together, they try to avoid detection while hoping for Holland to be liberated by the Allies, but even meeting basic needs can become a challenge, and even minor incidents could present a grave risk. Written by
The film The Diary of Anne Frank is not taken directly from her world famous diary, but it is rather an adaption of a play based on that diary. The play was written by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett and it ran on Broadway from 1955 to 1957 for 717 performances.
Three members of the original Broadway cast did their roles for the screen, Joseph Schildkraut, Lou Jacobi, and Gusti Huber. Joseph Schildkraut as Otto Frank is the backbone of the film, providing the moral authority in the cast. He's a teacher and a scholar and makes sure that even under these circumstances, the education of his daughters is not neglected. Gusti Huber is Mrs. Frank and Lou Jacobi is Mr. Van Daan.
The Van Daans and the Franks have been offered shelter in a third floor apartment that is kept secret by a hidden door in a factory owner. The owner Mr. Kraler played by Douglas Spencer is an anti-Nazi and has offered to keep these two Jewish families hidden for the duration of the war in Holland. For two years they live in that apartment and aside from radio news all they know of the outside world is that street in Amsterdam where the factory is located. Director George Stevens to keep the viewer from getting claustrophobic provides us with occasional shots of the outside street and canal. This film is the ultimate in cabin fever.
But it has to be so for the Van Daans and the Franks are hiding for their lives. It's a community of necessity that's created up in the third floor.
Young Millie Perkins does fine in the title role originated on Broadway by Susan Strassberg. She has an Audrey Hepburn like appeal, but never had the career Audrey certainly did. Her sister Margit is played by Diane Baker who's career was a bit more substantial. Two very normal average teenage girls, except that Anne has a talent for writing and observing.
The frightening thing about this film is the very ordinariness of the characters. What have these people ever done that the might of the Nazi war machine should be out looking for them? Some of them are certainly not noble specimens as the movie shows, but their lives are so humdrum like millions of us. Simply because for politics sake, someone was scapegoating a religion.
Ed Wynn as Drussel the dentist and Shelley Winters as Mrs. Van Daan were nominated for supporting players in the male and female categories that year. Wynn lost, but Winters won the first of her two Oscars for this film. Up to then Ms. Winters played some pretty brassy characters in film. She fought for and won this role and got acclaim worldwide for her portrayal as a wife and mother. It was a transition into those kind of roles for her.
So Anne observed and wrote about her impressions of what she saw and heard and the people around her for two years. In a sense this is like Moby Dick with the Pequod being the apartment and the white whale being the Nazis. Joseph Schildkraut is no Ahab, he's just trying to lead his community for survival.
When the Nazis come, Anne's diary is hidden and after the war one of the community comes back and like Ishmael retrieves the diary and very much tells the tale.
Anne's diary, the hopes and dreams of a teenage girl caught up in a world of hate she couldn't comprehend, is now classic literature. It serves as a dark reminder of the bestial nature we can sink to. And it reminds us that hope, courage and love can spring from the darkest places.
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