Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Auntie Mame”

Happy Friday afternoon of this shortened work week! As promised, I’m going to deliver something completely different from “Pillow Talk” to bleach your brains from its antiquated 1950s nonsense. I threw around some titles, like “Auntie Mane,” and you know what, why not “Auntie Mame?”

The movie has its origins in the book by Patrick Dennis, and was turned into a play and a musical before hitting the big screen. This movie version, made in 1958, unfortunately isn”˜t the musical “Mame” starring comic badasses Lucille Ball and Bea Arthur, but it stars badass Rosalind Russell as Mame Dennis, a wealthy woman of independent means who lives life on her own terms. “Life is a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death!” is her motto.

Mame and young Patrick.

Mame lives outrageously, and she makes no apologies for it. Most of her friends are from the bohemian circle of society, and they include party-girl actress Vera Charles, who spends most of her nights at Mame’s after wild parties, and Lindsey Wolsey, a book publisher. But her free-spirited life is interrupted by the arrival of her nephew Patick, whose father–Mame’s brother–has died unexpectedly, leaving Mame as the boy’s guardian. Patrick’s father, who disapproved of Mame’s wild lifestyle, has placed Dwight Babcock as trustee to Patrick’s inheritance to ensure that Mame maintains a life of discipline for Patrick. Mr. Babcock stipulates that Patrick must attend Bixby’s prep school, even though Mame enrolls Patrick in a progressive school. When Mr. Babcock makes this discovery, he enrolls Patrick in a boarding school, but Mame will still get time with him on the holidays and in summer.

A poster from the film.

It’s during one of Patrick’s visits that all of Mame’s investments are lost in the stock market crash of 1929. Mame steps up to the plate, though, and is determined to work. Her attempts at different jobs fail completely, though, until she meets oil tycoon Burnside while working at Macy’s. The two instantly fall in love, and Beauregard proves to be the perfect match for Mame. But happiness doesn’t always last, and life goes on, and Mame continues to keep moving on with it.

Rosalind Russell as Mame embodies the woman of the early 1930s, the heroine who appeared in precode films: She lives life on her own terms and is her own person, and she’s perfectly happy with who she is, no matter what other people might think. Mame’s whole life is a challenge to the status quo, but it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a bad way to live. Her good deeds aren’t false gestures just so that she looks golden in everyone else’s eyes; rather, she reaches out and does what’s right and helps the people who need it, even if it might not look good to everyone else. Her more “radical” deeds, which horrify Patrick’s WASPy girlfriend and her family, include offering single and pregnant secretary Agnes Gooch a place to live and care for her baby and buying a parcel of land in a very exclusive gated community only to donate it to a philanthropist who would like to turn it into a home for orphaned, displaced Jewish children.

Life is a banquet!

The thing that I find most charming about “Auntie Mame” is how she sees the world, and how she passes that on to Patrick. She helps him understand that he doesn’t have to necessarily conform to what the status quo wants him to be. Yes, he can live up to certain expectations, but at the same time, he must be true to himself and do the best he can to be a good person. Because in the end, you have to live with yourself, and to paraphrase Mame, if you haven’t lived at least some of your life the way you see fit, then have you really lived?

6 replies on “Classic Woman-Centric Movie Review: “Auntie Mame””

I want to be Mame when I grow up. I’ve seen this movie several times in the last few years and I love it more every time I watch it. Mame is right up there with Liza Minelli as my two favorite heroines. (yes I realize one is fictional and one isn’t, I don’t care)

Best news of all: it is on Netflix!!! That is how I was introduced to it.

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