Last week when I was introduced to Rosalind Russell’s “Auntie Mame” film from 1958, one of the hosts of the screening referred to the Lucille Ball lead musical version simply called “Mame” from 1974 as an abomination. Naturally, I felt obligated to see for myself how allegedly terrible this version is. And I didn’t find it horrible at all, in fact I quite enjoyed it.
To preface seeing both films, I should admit, I was actually introduced to the Original Broadway Cast recording by my Australian friend, Graeme Read, who is a big fan of the song “Open A New Window” and as a result of his introducing me to the song, I’ve actually had the cast album for a number of years now. I knew of Angela Landsbury through the “Murder She Wrote” series and Bea Arthur through both “Maude” and “The Golden Girls.” Also my grandmother looked a lot like Bea Arthur, I’ve always felt like anything Bea did was a larger than life version of my grandma. So anytime I see Bea Arthur on “The Golden Girls” or play a song from “Mame” I am always reminded of my grandma.
Only two things bothered me about the original “Auntie Mame” movie, and that’s because I knew the “Mame” cast recording, I kept wanting to see the characters break out into song, and naturally the film predates the musical version of the show, so it wasn’t going to happen. And the other thing I didn’t especially care for was the kid who played Patrick was a creepy looking little shit. But he’s really such a minor character who’s sole purpose is to give Rosalind Russell the opportunity to deliver a “tour de force” performance that it’s easy to overlook how creepy the kid was. And I quite enjoyed the story.
So now that I had the Broadway cast album in mind and seen the original, my curiosity was peaked as to see the filmed version of the musical. I bumped it to the top of my Netflix rental list I think more due to the fact that the movie was so put down by one of the hosts of the screening that he made it sound like the worst movie ever made. How bad could it possibly be?
My only complaint about the film would be the soundtrack on the DVD was in Mono. In this day and age, I would have liked a 5.1 surround sound mix, but from what I’ve read online, that they literally were splicing Lucille Ball’s performances together line by line from the various takes for the audio for the film and converting the existing soundtrack to 5.1 surround would have made that very apparent in a detrimental way to the film, so I can understand the studio not wanting to go to the expense of trying to fix it for such a limited appeal back catalog title. I probably should have just run the sound through the TV instead of my surround sound system because it ended up sounding a little hollow and echo-y due to the surround sound system feeding signal to the front left and right channels in addition to the center channel.
Understandably, I can see that there’s a lot of criticism about Lucille Ball being given the opportunity to fill the title role, as she’s not a singer, not a long shot. I think I probably would have preferred seeing Angela Landsbury in the role since she’s on the Broadway cast album, but in any case, the powers the be at the time of the film, decided to give the opportunity to Lucille Ball. And now that I’ve seen the film, I don’t necessarily think she was that bad. She is known to be a larger than life character from her over the top role in “I Love Lucy” and the character of Mame is certainly a larger than life persona. The film certainly employs some elements of humor which is Lucille Ball’s forte. But I also think she poured her heart and soul into the role and yes, I got a little choked up in some of the more down moments of the film.
I’ve heard some people complain she was too old for the role as well, and so what if she was in her sixties by the time she was selected to be Mame. It wouldn’t be the first time someone who is technically too old for the role has been cast to fufill the role. Some examples of which are the entire cast of “teenagers” in the movie version of “Grease” and even more recently, Meryl Streep in “Mamma Mia!” was certainly older than her character should have been. It’s a movie, it’s supposed to be a little bit more of an exaggerated version of reality. And I thought Lucille Ball did what she could to make the role her own and I am pleased with what I saw.
I especially loved Bea Arthur’s performance in the film as Vera Charles. She was devilishly bitchy, and nothing like the woman who played Vera Charles in the original Auntie Mame film. And wow, she was barely recognizable from her looks, it wasn’t until she opened her mouth and said something that it was easy to tell it was Bea Arthur. I am definitely a big fan of the fun song, “Bosom Buddies” which is a delightfully bitchy song between Mame and Vera Charles proclaiming their friendship though biting insults delivered at point blank range.
In closing, I want to say that I really enjoyed the film “Mame” and I thought Lucille Ball did a fine job. Sure Angela Landsbury probably would have delivered a better performance having done the role on Broadway and she can actually sing, but I think it presented a heartwarming side of Lucille Ball that I’ve not seen her showcase before (bearing in mind I’ve not seen her catalog of films, just the “I Love Lucy” episodes I’ve seen on television). And the role also allowed for some of her trademark slapstick comedy that allowed her to own the role in her own way. I wanted to close out by including a clip of Bea and Lucy going at it in “Bosom Buddies” from the film, but couldn’t find it on YouTube, but I did find a video of Bea Arthur and Angela Landsbury performing the song from what looks to be a clip sometime during “The Golden Girls” and “Murder She Wrote” heydays of television. Enjoy!