The Diary of Anne Frank (1959): A Biographical Drama Film Based on a True Story
The Diary of Anne Frank is a 1959 biographical drama film based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning 1955 play of the same name, which was in turn based on the posthumously published diary of Anne Frank, a German-born Jewish girl who lived in hiding in Amsterdam with her family during World War II. It was directed by George Stevens, with a screenplay by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, and features three members of the original Broadway cast.
The film tells the story of Anne Frank (played by Millie Perkins), a young girl who writes a diary of her experiences and thoughts while hiding with her family and four other people in a secret annex behind a spice factory. The film shows the daily life, hardships, fears, hopes and dreams of the eight people who share a small space and try to survive under the constant threat of Nazi persecution. The film also depicts the growing romance between Anne and Peter Van Daan (played by Richard Beymer), one of the other occupants of the annex.
The Production and Reception of the Film
The film was shot on a sound stage duplicate of the factory in Los Angeles, while exteriors were filmed at the actual building in Amsterdam. The film was positively received by critics, currently holding a 80% critics rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It won three Academy Awards in 1960, including Best Supporting Actress for Shelley Winters, who played Mrs. Van Daan. Shelley Winters later donated her Oscar to the Anne Frank Museum. In 2006, it was honored as the eighteenth most inspiring American film on the list AFI’s 100 Years…100 Cheers.
The film was also praised for its authenticity and accuracy in portraying the historical events and characters. The film used some of the actual dialogue from Anne Frank’s diary, as well as some of her original writings that were not included in the published version. The film also consulted Otto Frank (played by Joseph Schildkraut), Anne’s father and the only survivor of the annex, who gave his approval and advice to the filmmakers.
The Legacy and Impact of the Film
The film is widely considered as one of the most powerful and influential films about the Holocaust and its human impact. The film introduced millions of people around the world to Anne Frank’s story and inspired them to read her diary and learn more about her life and legacy. The film also raised awareness and empathy for the victims and survivors of the Holocaust, as well as for the Jewish people and their history and culture.
The film also influenced other films and media that deal with similar themes and topics, such as Schindler’s List (1993), Life Is Beautiful (1997), The Pianist (2002), The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas (2008), and The Book Thief (2013). The film also inspired many adaptations and remakes, such as The Diary of Anne Frank (1980 TV movie), Anne Frank: The Whole Story (2001 TV miniseries), The Attic: The Hiding of Anne Frank (1988 TV movie), Anne Frank Remembered (1995 documentary), Anne no Nikki (1995 anime), Anne Frank: Parallel Stories (2019 documentary), and Where Is Anne Frank? (2021 animated film).
The Themes and Messages of the Film
The film explores various themes and messages that resonate with the audience and reflect the historical and social context of the time. Some of the themes and messages are:
- The power of hope and optimism in the face of adversity and despair. Anne Frank is portrayed as a lively, cheerful and curious girl who tries to find joy and beauty in the small things of life, such as a ray of sunlight, a flower or a song. She also expresses her hopes and dreams for the future, such as becoming a writer, traveling the world and falling in love.
- The value of human dignity and freedom. The film shows the harsh realities and injustices that the Jews faced under Nazi rule, such as discrimination, persecution, deportation and genocide. The film also shows how the people in hiding tried to preserve their dignity and freedom by maintaining their identity, culture, religion and education.
- The importance of family and friendship. The film depicts the bonds and conflicts that develop among the eight people who live together in the annex. The film shows how they support, comfort, protect and care for each other, as well as how they argue, disagree, annoy and hurt each other. The film also shows how Anne Frank develops a close friendship and a romantic relationship with Peter Van Daan.
- The universality of human emotions and experiences. The film portrays Anne Frank as a relatable and sympathetic character who goes through the same emotions and experiences as any other teenager, such as joy, sadness, anger, fear, love, jealousy, loneliness, boredom and frustration. The film also shows how Anne Frank expresses her thoughts and feelings through her diary, which serves as her confidant and friend.
The Influence of George Stevens as the Director
George Stevens was an acclaimed American director who had a successful career in Hollywood, directing films such as Swing Time (1936), Gunga Din (1939), Woman of the Year (1942), A Place in the Sun (1951) and Giant (1956). He was also a veteran of World War II, serving as a chief of a combat motion-picture unit that filmed the liberation of Paris, the Battle of the Bulge and the Dachau concentration camp.
Stevens was deeply affected by what he witnessed during the war, especially the horrors of the Holocaust. He decided to make The Diary of Anne Frank as a way of confronting his own trauma and educating the public about the atrocities committed by the Nazis. He also wanted to make a film that would honor Anne Frank’s legacy and inspire people with her courage and spirit.
Stevens approached the film with great care and sensitivity, aiming for realism and authenticity. He hired Jewish actors to play the main roles, consulted with Otto Frank and other survivors of the annex, used actual dialogue from Anne Frank’s diary, recreated the set of the annex based on photographs and measurements, filmed in black-and-white to match the documentary footage of the war, used natural lighting and sound effects to create a claustrophobic atmosphere, and avoided sentimentalizing or sensationalizing the story.
The Cast and Characters of the Film
The film features a talented and diverse cast of actors who portray the characters based on their real-life counterparts. Some of the cast and characters are:
- Millie Perkins as Anne Frank, the main protagonist and narrator of the film. She is a spirited, intelligent and imaginative girl who writes a diary of her experiences and thoughts while hiding in the annex. She also develops a friendship and a romance with Peter Van Daan.
- Joseph Schildkraut as Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the leader of the group in hiding. He is a kind, calm and wise man who tries to keep his family and the others safe and hopeful. He is also the only survivor of the annex and the one who publishes Anne’s diary.
- Shelley Winters as Mrs. Petronella Van Daan, one of the occupants of the annex and the wife of Mr. Van Daan. She is a vain, selfish and nagging woman who often clashes with Anne and the others. She also has a fur coat that she cherishes as her last possession.
- Richard Beymer as Peter Van Daan, one of the occupants of the annex and the son of Mr. and Mrs. Van Daan. He is a shy, awkward and introverted boy who likes to take care of his cat Mouschi. He also forms a bond and a relationship with Anne.
- Gusti Huber as Mrs. Edith Frank, Anne’s mother and Otto’s wife. She is a gentle, caring and devoted woman who loves her family dearly. She also tries to discipline Anne and make her more ladylike.
- Lou Jacobi as Mr. Hans Van Daan, one of the occupants of the annex and the husband of Mrs. Van Daan. He is a gruff, greedy and cynical man who often argues with his wife and the others. He also has a habit of smoking cigarettes that he steals from Mr. Kraler.
- Diane Baker as Margot Frank, Anne’s older sister and Otto’s daughter. She is a quiet, studious and obedient girl who excels in her studies and helps her parents. She also gets along well with Anne despite their differences.
- Douglas Spencer as Kraler, one of the office workers who helps the people in hiding by providing them with food, supplies and news. He is a brave, loyal and generous man who risks his life for them.
- Dodie Heath as Miep Gies (as Dody Heath), one of the office workers who helps the people in hiding by providing them with food, supplies and news. She is a cheerful, friendly and compassionate woman who cares for them like family.
- Ed Wynn as Mr. Albert Dussell, one of the occupants of the annex who joins them later. He is a dentist, a bachelor and a hypochondriac who shares a room with Anne. He is also a fussy, irritable and stubborn man who annoys Anne and the others.
The Reviews and Criticism of the Film
The film received mostly positive reviews and criticism from critics and audiences alike. Some of the reviews and criticism are:
- The film was praised for its authenticity and accuracy in portraying the historical events and characters. The film used some of the actual dialogue from Anne Frank’s diary, as well as some of her original writings that were not included in the published version. The film also consulted Otto Frank, Anne’s father and the only survivor of the annex, who gave his approval and advice to the filmmakers.
- The film was also praised for its emotional impact and message. The film showed the human side of the Holocaust and its victims, as well as the courage, hope and spirit of Anne Frank and her companions. The film also raised awareness and empathy for the Jews and their plight, as well as for the importance of tolerance, peace and human rights.
- The film was also praised for its performances and direction. The film featured a talented cast of actors who portrayed their roles with realism and sensitivity. Shelley Winters won an Academy Award for her role as Mrs. Van Daan, while Millie Perkins received acclaim for her debut role as Anne Frank. George Stevens was also lauded for his skillful and respectful direction of the film.
- The film was also criticized for some aspects, such as its length, tone and style. The film was considered too long by some critics, who felt that it dragged in some parts and could have been edited more tightly. The film was also considered too sentimental and melodramatic by some critics, who felt that it lacked subtlety and nuance. The film was also considered too theatrical and stagey by some critics, who felt that it did not make full use of the cinematic medium.