Blu-ray
Recommended
4 stars
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Overall Grade
4 stars

(click linked text below to jump to related section of the review)

The Movie Itself
4 Stars
HD Video Quality
3.5 Stars
HD Audio Quality
3.5 Stars
Supplements
4.5 Stars
High-Def Extras
0 Stars
Bottom Line
Recommended

The Diary of Anne Frank (1959)

Street Date:
June 16th, 2009
Reviewed by:
Review Date: 1
July 15th, 2009
Movie Release Year:
1959
Studio:
Fox Home Entertainment
Length:
179 Minutes
MPAA Rating:
Unrated
Release Country
United States

The Movie Itself: Our Reviewer's Take

Say the name George Stevens to anyone born after 1980 and you may receive a blank stare in response. Despite his impeccable reputation, the Oscar-winning director of such classic fare as 'Shane,' 'Giant,' and my personal favorite, 'A Place in the Sun,' somehow doesn't enjoy the instant name recognition of a Hitchcock, Ford, Minnelli, or Hawks. Maybe it's because his understated style never calls attention to itself; maybe it's because he is equally adept at helming dramas, epics, musicals, westerns, and comedies, so he can't be easily categorized. Whatever the reason, Stevens disappears inside his films, putting story before style, and as a result, all his pictures – even his early frivolous efforts – have meaning and weight. In short, Stevens is one of the masters, and anyone who takes the time to explore his impressive body of work will become an instant fan.

Excellence is a standard most Stevens films meet, and 'The Diary of Anne Frank' is no exception. Yet the fact that this Best Picture nominee still doesn't rank among the director's finest efforts says something about Stevens' breadth of talent. A bit uneven and overly romantic, yet still brimming with the passion, warmth, and emotional truth that define his best work, this adaptation of the inspirational writings of a Jewish girl trapped and eventually thwarted by circumstances well beyond her control during World War II still packs a punch a half century after its initial release.

Few people on the planet remain ignorant of the Frank family, who went into hiding during the summer of 1942 to escape persecution and deportation at the hands of the Nazis in German-occupied Holland. For two years, they inhabited a tiny, secret annex in the rear of an Amsterdam office building, never leaving its cramped confines as they patiently awaited Allied liberation. (It never came.) In the film, Otto Frank (Joseph Schildkraut), his wife Edith (Gusti Huber), and their two teenage daughters, Margot (Diane Baker) and Anne (Millie Perkins), are also joined by Hans and Petronella Van Daan (Lou Jacobi and Shelley Winters), their 16-year-old son, Peter (Richard Beymer), and bachelor dentist Albert Dussell (Ed Wynn). Living in such close quarters under monumental strain produces a good deal of interpersonal strife, and 'The Diary of Anne Frank' is as much a chronicle of family dynamics, adaptation, and forgiveness as it is a coming-of-age tale or Holocaust indictment. With little else to occupy her time, Anne dutifully records her thoughts and feelings, dreams and fears in her diary, and for the most part, they reflect the ideals, struggles, and rebellious, headstrong attitudes of a typical adolescent girl.

Yet Anne's teenage musings resonate and endure not only because she possessed both a striking command of language and highly mature insights for one so young, but also because she expressed unwavering faith in humanity during one of history's darkest and cruelest periods. "I really believe, in spite of everything, that people are really good at heart" may sound trite when taken out of context, but when looked at from Anne's perspective – stuck in a stuffy attic for years, always afraid of being captured and killed, never knowing if she'd be able to realize her potential and live a happy, normal life – those simple words take on new meaning. Amazingly, hope and optimism pervade Anne's diary, and Stevens manages to reflect this attitude in his film without making it seem contrived or saccharine.

Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning Broadway play by veteran screenwriters Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett ('The Thin Man,' 'It's a Wonderful Life'), 'The Diary of Anne Frank' never quite escapes its stage roots, thanks to its single location setting. Stevens, to his credit, refused to "open up" the play and took great pains to recreate the claustrophobic atmosphere in which the characters lived. Yet he cleverly uses cinema's basic elements - image and sound - to add new dramatic dimensions. Extended sequences of heightened tension that rely solely on reaction shots and audio effects often lend the movie a Hitchcockian feel, while Stevens' trademark slow dissolves (a process he pioneered) provide a unique lyrical resonance. Although the budding romance between Anne and Peter receives the standard Hollywood treatment, Stevens doesn't let it overshadow the film's weightier themes of courage and hope. At just under three hours, 'The Diary of Anne Frank' is a long film; occasionally it drags, but much of it is riveting, and that's due in large part to Stevens' marvelous visual sense, the fine performances he extracts from his first-rate cast, and William C. Mellor's Oscar-winning cinematography, which expertly manipulates light and shadow. (In all, 'Anne Frank' received eight Academy Award nominations, including one for Stevens' direction, and won three.)

Stevens conducted an international search to find the perfect Anne, and after reportedly auditioning more than 10,000 girls, he settled on unknown model Millie Perkins. The choice has sparked spirited debate for decades, and though she masks her inexperience well, Perkins seems a little too prim and artificial for my taste, and her WASP-ish look goes against the film's grain. She still files a good performance, but is clearly overshadowed by her co-stars' excellence. Schildkraut, Huber, and Jacobi all recreate their stage roles and are uniformly superb, while Winters and Wynn nabbed supporting Oscar nominations for their colorful parts. (Winters won; Wynn lost.) As Peter, Beymer, who two years later would play Tony in 'West Side Story,' looks too much like a leading man to believably portray a teen, but he nevertheless conveys his character's awkwardness and uncertainty well.

Stevens always wanted to make a film honoring World War II, and though 'The Diary of Anne Frank' lacks the scope and violence of a typical combat movie, it quietly and poetically salutes the heroics of war better than most genre pictures. Like its characters, the film has faults, but it remains an important, moving document of both humanity and inhumanity, and proves even unspeakable horrors cannot quash the spirit of youth and, more importantly, hope. Few directors could do justice to such strong, vital material; George Stevens is one of them.

The Video: Sizing Up the Picture

'The Diary of Anne Frank' was nicely restored for its 2004 DVD release as part of the now defunct Fox Studio Classics series, and this 1080p/MPEG-4 AVC transfer appears to be taken from the same master. Unfortunately, when compared to its standard-def counterpart, the HD upgrade does not provide significant improvement. Yes, the image has more distinct clarity, blacks are a tad richer, and contrast is more pronounced, but when compared to other classic Fox Blu-rays, such as 'The Robe' and 'South Pacific,' it doesn't measure up. Though black-and-white film stock can look just as jaw-droppingly beautiful as Technicolor when presented in 1080p (I offer up 'Casablanca' as proof), additional care is often required to achieve superb results, and it doesn't seem as if Fox has gone the extra mile in this instance.

The same defects that afflict the 2004 transfer are present here – a smattering of nicks and tiny blotches, and some faint vertical black lines. Such imperfections are understandable given the film's age, but fresh remastering would undoubtedly minimize most of those occurrences. Although grain is present throughout, some scenes (and some cutaways within scenes) display a heavier layer than others, and the patchiness becomes slightly annoying over time. Close-ups, however, enjoy striking detail; Anne's hair appears especially vivid in several shots (much clearer than on the DVD), and the stark contrast between the black strands and her pale skin is often quite stunning.

Blacks across the board possess terrific depth (several silhouette shots are gorgeous), but shadow detail can be a bit muddy. (On the commentary track, Stevens' son, George Stevens, Jr., remarks that his father often intentionally lit scenes on the dark side to force the eye to dig out details.) The varied gray scale lends the image lovely texture, and the masterful, Oscar-winning cinematography of William C. Mellor exquisitely heightens tension while lushly depicting the tenderness of adolescent love. Edges occasionally appear sharpened, but thankfully DNR is absent.

All in all, this is a good transfer that accurately reflects the source material. Sadly, though, that source material was not properly prepped for Blu-ray, and as a result, we don't get the eye-popping high-def upgrade I and many others hoped for and anticipated.

The Audio: Rating the Sound

This Blu-ray edition includes a 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track in addition to the excellent Dolby Digital 4.0 mix that appears on the 2004 DVD. Though I commend Fox for including lossless audio, I expected more punch and subtlety from the track. The absence of surround effects doesn't bother me in the least, but the front-heavy mix doesn't seem to have benefited much from the DTS-HD upgrade. Dialogue is still crystal clear and always easy to understand, and all age-related imperfections, such as pops, crackles, and hiss have been meticulously erased. That's especially good news, because silence is as important to this track as sound. With so much tension pulsing through the picture, dead quiet is an essential element that ratchets up the sense of fear and dread constantly consuming the characters. And juxtaposed against it are highly effective accents that range from faint to jarringly bold. On the soft end, footsteps, creaking floorboards, distant sirens, snow flurries, even a cat gnawing on a piece of toast are all marvelously rendered, while screams, gunfire, police whistles, alarm bells, and the rattling of pots and pans pierce the silence with controlled power.

The overture and exit music sound pleasant enough, but lack that sonic oomph that really gets the blood flowing. Only during the main feature does Alfred Newman's lovely, Oscar-nominated score come alive, but even then it's in fits and starts. Some well-rounded bass infuses the music with good weight, but during the bombing raid, low-end frequencies don't possess the necessary heft to make the sequence realistic. The attic apartment shakes on screen, but my living room felt nary a rumble.

Again, this is solid audio, but the differences between the lossless track and the DD 4.0 mix are negligible at best.

The Supplements: Digging Into the Good Stuff

This 50th anniversary Blu-ray edition ports over all the supplements from the 2004 DVD (which are substantial), and adds a slew of new ones to delight the film's fans and classics aficionados. All the material is in standard definition, but content far outweighs presentation in this instance. Fox's continuing commitment to high-quality extras on its classic Blu-ray releases deserves commendation, and the studio maintains its fine track record here. If you purchase or rent this release, make sure you set aside enough time to experience and absorb all the wonderful material that resides on this disc.

New Supplements

  • Featurette: "George Stevens in WWII" (SD, 8 minutes) – Rare color footage of World War II shot by Stevens himself is the highlight of this thoughtful featurette that examines the director's role as America's official documentarian of such events as D-Day, the Battle of the Bulge, the liberation of Paris, and the liberation of the Dachau concentration camp. (The latter event affected him deeply and inspired him to make 'Anne Frank.') Stevens joked that he had a "50-yard-line seat" for the war's major events, and these incredible (and often incredibly moving) images prove his point. His son, George Stevens, Jr., shares his own recollections of the period with his customary grace and thoughtfulness.
  • Featurette: "The Making of 'The Diary of Anne Frank': A Son's Memories" (SD, 25 minutes) – Another excellent featurette, this reminiscence by Stevens, Jr. uses clips, stills, and storyboard sketches to illustrate his personal memories, which include his father's approach to the material, casting, and the challenges of shooting a CinemaScope picture in such a confined space. He also recalls how his dad entrusted him to head up the film's second unit in Amsterdam. The younger Stevens admires his father's ability to understand "human nature and the human condition" and his principle of "trusting the audience" to fill in any blanks with their own insight and feeling.
  • Featurette: "'The Diary of Anne Frank': Memories from Millie Perkins and Diane Baker" (SD, 26 minutes) – In this emotional piece, Perkins and Baker look back on their experiences filming 'The Diary of Anne Frank' and how it influenced and changed their lives. Both recall how they were cast, their personal experiences with Otto Frank, and the family atmosphere on the set. In addition, they heartily praise Stevens, and share interesting anecdotes about Winters, Schildkraut, and Wynn.
  • Featurette: "Shelley Winters and 'The Diary of Anne Frank' (SD, 7 minutes) – Taken from a 1983 interview with George Stevens, Jr. for his documentary, 'A Filmmaker's Journey,' these outtakes allow Winters to express her admiration for the man who also directed her in 'A Place in the Sun.' The legendary actress enthusiastically reviews all the cogent advice Stevens gave her about film acting, discusses how he prepared the cast for shooting, and talks about the donation of her Oscar to the Anne Frank House in Amsterdam.
  • Featurette: "The Sound and Music of 'The Diary of Anne Frank'" (SD, 8 minutes) – Stevens, Jr. cites his father's impeccable use of sound on 'Anne Frank,' but the bulk of this featurette focuses on composer Alfred Newman and his Oscar-nominated score, which his two sons, David and Thomas, call a "profound piece of art" and one of the "pinnacle moments" of Newman's long, prolific career.
  • Featurette: "'The Diary of Anne Frank': Correspondence" (SD, 13 minutes) – Stevens, Jr. reads rare letters from Otto Frank and George Stevens that relate to the production, as well as the prologue to the movie tie-in edition of 'Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl,' upon which he and his father collaborated.
  • Featurette: "Fox Movie Channel Presents 'Fox Legacy' with Tom Rothman (SD, 14 minutes) – Part of an ongoing series focusing on Fox classics, this promo piece retreads much of the territory of the previous featurettes, but not nearly as well. Studio chief Rothman is an affable host, and he relates the film's production history, briefly recounts the Frank family history, and shares his personal views on the diary's significance. Of all the supplements included on this disc, this one is the least relevant and certainly can be skipped.
  • Interactive Pressbook Gallery (SD) – This multi-page document includes a wealth of print ads for the film, as well as studio-penned feature articles about the production and actors. A click of the remote enlarges the type, so the full articles can be easily read.

Previously Released Supplements

  • Audio Commentary – 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. 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 share amusing on-set anecdotes, and agree Shelley Winters "brought life to the set," although she was often "a handful." 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 present their views in an engaging, conversational style, and make this lengthy track both informative and rewarding.
  • Documentary: "The Diary of Anne Frank: Echoes of the Past" (SD, 87 minutes) – This riveting documentary, narrated by Burt Reynolds, 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 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. Perkins and 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.
  • Excerpt from 'George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey' (SD, 8 minutes) – One of the finest film documentaries ever produced, 'George Stevens: A Filmmaker's Journey' astutely and poetically chronicles the director's life and work, and this short excerpt focuses on 'The Diary of Anne Frank' through clips, stills, and an interview with Perkins, who provides a perceptive, eloquent account of the demanding Stevens at work.
  • George Stevens Press Conference (SD, 5 minutes) – In this pre-production interview (shot from two separate angles), Stevens discusses his international search for an actress to portray Anne Frank, and 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 (SD, 2 minutes) – This test reveals a far more sophisticated young woman than Perkins 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.
  • Fox Movietone News Clips (SD, 7 minutes) – Four of the six Movietone News clips chart the journey of Perkins from her discovery to the film's Los Angeles premiere. The initial report shows the actress 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. The remaining two Movietone segments look at the 1959 Academy Awards (though there's no footage of Best Supporting Actress winner Shelley Winters) and honor a Belgian priest who won the Nobel Peace Prize for reuniting refugee families after the war.
  • Behind-the-Scenes Gallery (SD) – Eighty-two highly interesting black-and-white images from a wide range of sources comprise this comprehensive gallery. Highlights include shots of Stevens at work on the set and conferring with actors; a couple of lovely photos of Perkins with Otto Frank; George Stevens, Jr. perusing Anne Frank's actual diary; and the elder Stevens touring both the gas chambers at Dachau concentration camp and the Amsterdam attic hideout with Otto Frank.
  • Theatrical Trailers (SD) – 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?

HD Bonus Content: Any Exclusive Goodies in There?

There are no high-def exclusives.

Final Thoughts

An important story, sensitively told, 'The Diary of Anne Frank' honors the memory of a tragic young heroine whose words have moved and inspired millions. George Stevens' epic production never loses focus, and its artistry and emotion reflect the director's passion for the subject and hope that the events depicted never repeat themselves. Though the video and audio don't take full advantage of the high-def format, they're still a nice improvement over the previous DVD transfers, while the terrific supplemental package alone makes this 50th anniversary edition truly special. Recommended.

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Technical Specs

  • Blu-ray
  • BD-50 Dual-Layer Disc

Video Resolution/Codec

  • 1080p/AVC MPEG-4

Aspect Ratio(s)

  • 2.35:1

Audio Formats

  • English DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 Surround
  • English Dolby Digital 4.0 Surround
  • Spanish (Latin) Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono
  • Spanish (Castillian) DTS 2.0

Subtitles/Captions

  • English SDH
  • Spanish Subtitles
  • French Subtitles

Supplements

  • Audio Commentary
  • Feature-Length Documentary
  • Featurettes
  • Fox Movietone News clips
  • Millie Perkins Screen Test
  • Theatrical Trailers
  • Interactive Pressbook
  • Still Gallery

Exclusive HD Content

  • None
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