Mame (film)

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Mame

Original film poster by Bob Peak
Directed byGene Saks
Produced byJames Cresson
Robert Fryer
Written byPaul Zindel
Patrick Dennis
Based onMame by
Jerome Lawrence
StarringLucille Ball
Beatrice Arthur
Robert Preston
Bruce Davison
Jane Connell
Joyce Van Patten
Music byJerry Herman
CinematographyPhilip H. Lathrop
Editing byMaury Winetrobe
StudioABC
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date(s)March 27, 1974 (1974-03-27)
Running time132 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$12 million
 
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Mame

Original film poster by Bob Peak
Directed byGene Saks
Produced byJames Cresson
Robert Fryer
Written byPaul Zindel
Patrick Dennis
Based onMame by
Jerome Lawrence
StarringLucille Ball
Beatrice Arthur
Robert Preston
Bruce Davison
Jane Connell
Joyce Van Patten
Music byJerry Herman
CinematographyPhilip H. Lathrop
Editing byMaury Winetrobe
StudioABC
Distributed byWarner Bros.
Release date(s)March 27, 1974 (1974-03-27)
Running time132 minutes
CountryUnited States
LanguageEnglish
Budget$12 million

Mame is a 1974 musical film based on the 1966 Broadway musical of the same name and the novel by Patrick Dennis, directed by Gene Saks, written by Paul Zindel, and starring Lucille Ball and Beatrice Arthur.

Warner Bros. heads were concerned that Angela Lansbury, who had originated the title role on Broadway, had not yet captured the attention of the general public since she was mainly a Broadway star at this point (although she had starred in Disney's live-action/animated musical "Bedknobs and Broomsticks" in 1971 and was a 3 time Oscar nominee for "The Manchurian Candidate", "Gaslight", and "The Picture of Dorian Gray"). Lansbury's children, who had written permission to live with the Manson Family, were scooped up and removed to Europe. Thus she was unable to be involved on the shoot.

The film focuses on eccentric Mame Dennis, whose madcap life is disrupted when her deceased brother's son Patrick is entrusted to her care. Rather than bow to convention, Mame introduces the boy to her free-wheeling lifestyle, which includes his nanny Agnes Gooch and Mame's husband Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside, a Southern aristocrat with a Georgia plantation called Peckerwood.

Contents

Plot

The film opens with the reading of the will of Patrick Dennis's (Kirby Furlong) late father, by his trustee, Mr. Babcock (John McGiver). The will states that Patrick is to be left in the care of his aunt, Mame Dennis (Lucille Ball), as well as his nanny, Agnes Gooch (Jane Connell). The two take a train ride to live with Mame (Main Title Including St. Bridget). When they arrive, they walk into a big party that Mame is giving for a holiday she herself created (It's Today). Patrick introduces himself by asking if he may slide down her banister, then reveals that he is Patrick. Mame introduces him to several of her friends, including aspiring stage actress and famous lush, Vera Charles (Beatrice Arthur).

The following morning, Patrick awakens a hungover Mame with his bugle. After Patrick tells Mame what Mr. Babcock has said about her, she decides that she wants to fill his life with adventure (Open a New Window). She decides to enroll him in "the School of Life," a very non-traditional school, but when Vera inadvertently leads the trustee, Mr. Babcock, to Patrick's school, Patrick is taken from Mame's custody. In that same moment, Mame gets a phone call and learns that the stock market crash has left her without any money to hire a lawyer to regain custody of Patrick. Vera, knowing that Mame is now in need of money, offers Mame a very small role as The Man in the Moon in her newest operetta about a lady astronomer. Unfortunately, Mame flubs her one line and causes the play to be a disaster, which puts a major rift in her friendship with Vera. Meanwhile, Patrick, who was in the audience, reassures Mame that she's not a failure and lets her know that he still loves her (My Best Girl).

Now broke, Mame has worked a string of jobs, including one selling shoes. While working in the shoe section of the department store, a customer comes in wanting a present to send to someone back home. Mame helps him make the decision to buy a pair of roller skates by trying them on. The customer tells her of his name - Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (Robert Preston). However, Mame's inability to write up a cash order as opposed to a C.O.D. order gets her fired. Mame roller skates home, dejected because she's unable to pay Ito (George Chiang) and Agnes, who reassure her that they're not going anywhere. Even though it's only a week from Thanksgiving, Mame decides to lift everyone's spirits by decorating the house for Christmas and giving everyone their Christmas gifts (We Need a Little Christmas), which include Patrick's first pair of long pants. Agnes and Ito surprise Mame with the news that the butcher bill has been paid. Mame promises to pay them back someday. Meanwhile, Beau, who's been looking for Mame since she was fired earlier that day, finally finds Mame's house and invites everyone to dinner, and it's obvious that the two are meant for each other. (She says to Agnes that he looks like Rhett Butler, however neither the movie or the book had been released yet. 1936 and 1939 respectively)

Beau brings Mame and Patrick to his plantation in Peckerwood, Georgia, where they're immediately greeted by Sally Cato (Joyce Van Patten). However, much of Beau's family, especially Mother Burnside (Lucille Benson) and Cousin Fan (Ruth McDevitt), are not happy about Beau marrying a "Yankee". Sally then invites Mame to a foxhunt. Despite not knowing a thing about horseriding, Mame accepts the invitation. The following day, Mame accidentally wins the fox hunt, despite not knowing what she was doing, and all of Beau's family and friends, except for Sally, sing the praises for Mame. Mame and Beau, now happily married, go on an extended honeymoon, traveling all over the world (Loving You).

Meanwhile, Patrick goes from a young child who pulls in a B+ average to a high school senior (Bruce Davison) flunking many classes (The Letter). When an avalanche in the Alps kills Beau, Mame returns home and is reunited with a now-grown Patrick, who is dating a very snobby conservative girl named Gloria Upson (Doria Cook-Nelson). Mame, who decides that she's tired of looking like she's just come from a funeral, goes to reunite with Vera for a drink. The two enjoy some drinks and some snippy comments, which they insist are not being made out of hatred, but simple honesty, as that's what Bosom Buddies do. The two come home and continue to reminisce and discuss men that they've dated. Agnes, who is listening to the conversation, admits that she's never had a date. Mame and Vera decide to give the uptight, frumpy Agnes a makeover and send her out to live, because "Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death."[1] After Agnes comes out of her bath with her new image, she goes off in a taxicab.

Six months later, Agnes returns home, visibly pregnant. At the same time, Mame is currently visiting with her guests, Patrick and Gloria, and they agree to bring Gloria's parents to Mame's home to meet. However, once Patrick sees Agnes, who's hiding in the kitchen, he decides it'd be a better idea for Mame to visit the Upsons at their home, since Patrick is ashamed to have the Upsons see an unwed, pregnant Agnes. Agnes then describes what she did after her big makeover (Gooch's Song). Mame visits the Upsons (Don Porter and Audrey Christie) at their home, Upson Downs. She learns there that Patrick and Gloria are engaged. After spending several hours with the Upsons, Mame discovers that she definitely dislikes the family and their overly conservative and bigoted views on everything from African-Americans and onward - they praise their African-American maid, noting that "so many of them are so snotty these days" and ask Mame to help pay for a piece of property next door to Upson Downs so that Patrick and Gloria could live there, as opposed to "the wrong kind of people." When Mame leaves, she confronts Patrick about her disdain for the family, calling him a snob when he admits that he's ashamed of her and her "crazy" friends. A heartbroken Mame drives home, wondering what she did wrong when he was younger (If He Walked Into My Life).

Mame and Patrick apologize to each other off-screen and are dressed for company - the Upsons. Mame promises to behave. Patrick, still embarrassed by Agnes's condition, begs Agnes to stay in her room while the Upsons are there, while Mame reminds her to take her calcium pills. Patrick talks to Mame's new maid, Pegeen (Bobbi Jordan), for a moment before the Upsons arrive. After arriving, Mr. and Mrs. Upson announce to Mame that the property they'd wanted had been bought, complaining about being outbid by "some Jew lawyer". Suddenly, Vera and several men barge into Mame's house, singing (It's Today reprise). Vera toasts to the new couple, mistaking Pegeen for Gloria. At that moment, Agnes comes downstairs because her calcium pills are in the kitchen. Mame invites her to sit with everyone. When Mrs. Upson asks Agnes what Mr. Gooch does, she says "My father's passed away." When Mrs. Upson states that she meant her husband, Agnes declares that she's unwed and that her baby's going to be a little bastard (in the film, she's cut off after "ba..."). Suddenly, a large group of unwed pregnant women barge in, singing. (Open a New Window reprise) Mame reveals to the Upsons that she bought the property next door so she could build the Beauregarde Burnside Memorial Home For Single Mothers. This is the final straw, and the Upsons leave, angry that Mame isn't "one of them." Patrick, visibly upset, leaves the house.

Years later, Patrick and Pegeen are married and have a child, Peter. Mame, who is going on a trip to Siberia, requests that Peter be allowed to go with her. Although Patrick and Pegeen resist at first, once Peter quotes Mame's "life is a banquet" line, they relent. The two get onto a plane, and Patrick states that Mame has not changed and that she's "the Pied Piper." Mame and Peter wave goodbye and go into the plane. The plane takes off, followed by clips of Mame embracing Vera, Agnes, Beau, adult Patrick, and young Patrick (Finale: Open a New Window/Mame).

Cast

Musical numbers

  1. "Main Title Including St. Bridget" - Agnes, Orchestra
  2. "It's Today" - Mame, Orchestra
  3. "Open a New Window" - Mame, young Patrick
  4. "The Man in the Moon" - Vera, Chorus
  5. "My Best Girl" - Mame, young Patrick
  6. "We Need a Little Christmas" - Mame, Vera, young Patrick
  7. "Mame" - Beau, Chorus
  8. "Loving You" - Beau
  9. "The Letter" - young Patrick, adult Patrick
  10. "Bosom Buddies" - Mame, Vera
  11. "Gooch's Song" - Agnes
  12. "If He Walked Into My Life" - Mame
  13. "It's Today" (reprise) - Mame
  14. "Open a New Window" (reprise) - Mame, adult Patrick
  15. "Finale (Open a New Window/Mame)" - Mame, Chorus

Production

Filming, scheduled to begin in early 1972, was postponed when Ball broke her leg in a skiing accident. Owing to the delay, original director George Cukor was forced to withdraw from the project. The assignment went to Gene Saks, who had helmed the Broadway production, and his influence resulted in his then-wife Beatrice Arthur reprising the role of Vera Charles she had created on stage, a role that had been actively sought by Bette Davis.

Production began in January 1973. Ball, who had casting approval, was dissatisfied with Madeline Kahn's interpretation of Gooch and had her replaced by Jane Connell, another member of the original Broadway cast. Cinematographer Philip H. Lathrop made a valiant effort to draw attention from Ball's age by filming her with special lens filters, but the contrast between her soft-focus close-ups and the clarity of everyone and everything else was noticeable and jarring. Furthermore, despite extensive rehearsal sessions with Jerry Herman, who had composed the score, there was nothing that could be done to disguise her lack of singing ability.[citation needed]

Reception

Radio City Music Hall selected the film to be its Easter attraction. The film broke box-office records in its run at Radio City, but many reviews, particularly those for Ball, were brutal. Time Magazine said, "The movie spans about 20 years, and seems that long in running time . . . Miss Ball has been molded over the years into some sort of national monument, and she performs like one too. Her grace, her timing, her vigor have all vanished." [1] Time Out London declared she "simply hasn't the drive and steel of a Rosalind Russell, an Angela Lansbury or a Ginger Rogers, all of whom played the part before her," and said of Saks, "When he's not ogling his star in perpetual soft focus and a $300,000 fashion parade, [he] fails to get enough retakes, match his shots, or inject the essential vim." [2] Pauline Kael in The New Yorker wondered, "After forty years in movies and TV, did she discover in herself an unfulfilled ambition to be a flaming drag queen?" The New Republic's Stanley Kauffman, though he pointed out that Ball would have made a perfect Mame had she played the role "fifteen years earlier," described her as "too old, too stringy in the legs, too basso in the voice, and too creaky in the joints." Virtually every critic took notice of the heavy-handedness in photographing Ball out of focus, Rex Reed going so far as to suggest, albeit jokingly, that chicken fat was put over the lens. Some regarded this as evidence that those executives responsible for signing Ball, and Ball herself, knew from the outset that she was too old for her role. In her defense in regards to her lack of singing ability, Ball told one interviewer "Mame stayed up all night and drank champagne! What did you expect her to sound like? Julie Andrews?".[citation needed]

In his Movie Guide, critic Leonard Maltin rated the film as "BOMB" and wrote: "Hopelessly out-of-date musical ... will embarrass even those who love Lucy. Calling Fred and Ethel Mertz!"[2]

Not all the reviews were bad. Vincent Canby in the New York Times, for example, expressed "great reservations" about the film and Ball's close-ups, but noted that the film is "as determined to please in its way as Mame is in hers" and that the opening credits, "which look like a Cubist collage in motion, are so good they could be a separate subject." Canby went on to praise Ball as well: "When the character of Lucy, an inspired slapstick performer, coincides with that of Auntie Mame, the Big-Town sophisticate, 'Mame' is marvelous. I think of Lucy's turning a Georgia fox hunt into a gigantic shambles, or of her bringing the curtain down on a New Haven first-night when, as a budding actress, she falls off a huge cardboard moon. I even treasure her prying loose the fingers of a sloshed Beatrice Arthur who won't give up her martini glass."[3] Variety reported that the film is "why movies were invented" and added that "Lucille never looked lovelier." Molly Haskell in the Village Voice was "pro-Ball but anti-'Mame'" and felt that Lucy made the character of Mame—someone "you'd walk a mile to avoid" in real life—palatable. In the March 18, 1974 issue of New York Magazine, Judith Crist was similarly displeased with the film but supportive of its star: "Lucille Ball is--and no 'still' about it--a first-rate entertainer, supplementing her superb comedic sense with a penetrating warmth and inner humor. She is without peer in making a hung-over stagger from bed to bathroom an exercise in regal poise, in using her slightly crooked smile to vitiate the soppiness of an overly sentimental sequence, in applying her Goldwyn Girl chorine know-how to a dash of song and dance." Milton Krims, the film critic for The Saturday Evening Post, wrote (in the magazine's March 1974 issue) a breathless paean to Lucille Ball and the film, concluding that "Mame is Lucille Ball and Lucille Ball is Mame."

The Hollywood Foreign Press Association awarded Ball a Golden Globe nomination (Arthur received one as well) but, disheartened by its reception, she swore she never would appear on the big screen again, and the film proved to be her last theatrical film (not counting Stone Pillow, her 1985 made-for-TV film).

Beatrice Arthur later called her involvement with the film a "tremendous embarassment" and expressed regret at having participated. Although she enjoyed working with Lucille Ball, she made no secret of her opinion that Lucy was "terribly miscast". [3]

Home media

Mame was released on pan-and-scan VHS and pan-and-scan and letterbox laserdisc editions in the 1980-90s. While these official editions have long since been out-of-print, bootleg DVDs taken from the widescreen laserdisc or widescreen TV broadcasts on AMC and TCM have been known to exist.

On June 19, 2007, Mame was officially released on DVD both separately and in a special DVD collection of Lucille Ball's films.[4] The DVD includes a remastered version of the film in anamorphic widescreen with Dolby Digital 1.0 mono sound, the original theatrical trailer, and the featurette Lucky Mame.

Although Warner had intended to give the film a 5.1 stereo remastering, they were unable to do so due to several factors. The main factor was the fact that Ball's vocals in her songs often had to be pieced together line by line in order to get a more pitch-perfect performance (this method is a lot more obvious on the soundtrack CD, where you can often hear a difference in fidelity in each individual line as well as the occasional line that sounds like two Lucys singing.) This and the varying conditions of the original masters caused Warner Bros. to simply restore the original release's mono soundtrack and remaster it in Dolby Digital 1.0 mono and use it for the DVD's audio track.

See also

References

  1. ^ "Sons of bitches" in the musical was changed to "suckers" in the film version. Weaver, David E. "Mame’s Boys: Jerome Lawrence and Robert E. Lee", Ohioana Quarterly, Fall 2006, Ohioana Library Association, accessed September 5, 2012
  2. ^ Maltin, Leonard, ed. (2007). Leonard Maltin's 2008 Movie Guide. New York: Signet. p. 857. ISBN 978-0-451-22186-5. 
  3. ^ http://www.youtube.com/watch?feature=player_embedded&v=ZF7XyOMcfzE#!
  4. ^ Amazon.com - Lucille Ball Film Collection

External links