Rosalind Russell’s performance is over the top, from start to finish. The costumes. The arched eyebrow. The tart one-liners. Like Patrick, the orphaned nephew who is thrown into Auntie Mame’s crazy world, you really have no choice. Either you go along for the ride, or you’ll turn into a stuffy old lawyer like Patrick’s guardian, Mr. Babcock.
“Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” says Mame. Take her word for it and load up your plate. There’s so much to enjoy about this film. Mame’s parties, where an avant-garde Russian composer rubs shoulders with an Indian Raja, the bohemian founder of a progressive school where children and teachers romp around stark naked, and other free spirits. Mame’s around-the-world trips with her new husband, oilman and southern gentleman Beaureguard Burnside. Poor Beau is always trying to get the perfect shot of Mame, climbing up the Eiffel Tower or dangling precariously—a tad too precariously, as it turns out—from the Matterhorn.
Russell isn’t the only one who’s first-rate in this movie. Coral Browne is delightful as Mame’s best friend, the perpetually drunk actress Vera Charles. Then there’s Peggy Cass (so this is what she did before To Tell the Truth…) Cass plays Mame’s self-effacing secretary, Agnes Gooch, who lives it up, all right, but can’t remember a thing afterwards. “I lived,” she tells Mame’s Japanese houseboy, “I gotta find out what to do now!” And don’t miss Lee Patrick and Willard Waterson as the idiot WASP parents of Patrick’s idiot WASP fiancée. When they find out that she’s bought the property next door to their exclusive Connecticut estate and intends to turn it into a home for orphaned Jewish refugees, you can enjoy their horrified reactions without a twinge of guilt. Snobs and stuffed shirts get their just desserts. The rest of us will feast at Auntie Mame’s banquet of life.
(10 February 2011)