“The Diary Of Anne Frank” won three Academy Awards for Best Supporting Actress Shelley Winters, Best Cinematography & Best Art Direction.
When director George Stevens made “Giant” in 1956, a curious corollary developed in his picture-making: as the years between projects increased, so did the final length of each cinematic opus. His last great film after a series of memorable, iconoclastic works – “Shane” and “A Place In The Sun” being the best from the Fifties – Stevens seemed to search for Message projects; a need perhaps traced to his role as leader of a crack film unit during WW II, which photographed the first arrival of Allied troupes in Nazi concentration camps, in colour.
Seeing the depths of human hatred towards a fellow being, “The Diary of Anne Frank” seemed the ideal vehicle to explore the awful levels of human suffering in a work for the masses, without depicting the gruesome horror he witnessed firsthand at the camps.
Based on the Pulitzer Prize-winning play by Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett, Stevens had the authors expand their interpretation of Anne Frank's diary for the film. As cast interviews in the excellent documentary, “Diary Of Anne Frank: Echoes From The Past,” reveal, Stevens also had the writers tone down the religious aspects, and shape the story into a saga of ordinary people tormented by a monstrous, fascist regime.
Produced in 2001 by Foxstar, the TV doc uses archival footage of surviving father Otto Frank, bio sketches of the 8 people in hiding, rare behind-the-scenes production footage and stills (with Frank himself visiting the incredible multi-leveled set), and interviews with actors Shelley Winters, Millie Perkins, and son George Stevens, Jr. Using historical footage, the doc also adds moving recollections by Anne Frank's childhood friends, cousins, and an American pen-pal; each gives a rich, humanistic portrait of the 13 year-old girl, whose journal became one of the most widely-read books in history.
Though critically praised upon release, “Diary” was subsequently shortened to 156 minutes by the director at the studio's behest, when audiences failed to take sufficient notice of the costly production. Unavailable for years, the longer version – with prologue, epilogue, and additional scenes – eventually appeared on laserdisc, also restoring Alfred Newman's Entrance, Exit, and Intermission music. The DVD includes that version, except the Intermission break and music have been eliminated.
The DVD's commentary track includes son George Stevens, Jr., and unbilled Millie Perkins, who successfully maintain a fairly consistent stream of recollections and moving anecdotes. The last hour has a few gaps, but Stevens' skills as a documentarian keep the facts flowing, including some choice tales of using CinemaScope, working with Shelley Winters, and the superb cast (using three actors from the original play).
Plucked from relative obscurity at age 19, Millie Perkins' amusing screen test is archived, along with the DVD's other extras, on the B-side. Perkins also appears in a very brief segment from the 1985 doc, “George Stevens: A Filmmakers Journey,” and several publicity newsreels (including a bizarre hand-over of a duplicate diary to the L.A. County Museum).
Moving belatedly into Biblical territory, Stevens' next film, “The Greatest Story Ever Told” (1965) would ultimately consume several years of his life, and pretty much ruin his filmmaking career. “Only Game in Town” (1970) officially closed his filmography, although his rare WW II footage was later included in the excellent 1994 documentary, “George Stevens: D-Day To Berlin,” and in a companion book.
© 2004 Mark R. Hasan