Mame Versus Auntie Mame
2011-12-17, 6:48 p.m.
Speaking of watching movies... I recently decided to watch "Auntie Mame" and its remade counterpart, "Mame." One of the Glee Christmas albums covers this song (and Kurt sings "But Auntie Mame, it's...") and it occurred to me that I didn't know much about this story, so I rented both movies.
Official spoiler warning within: I'll spoil everything. They're old movies. Be forewarned.
The overall plot: Patrick is an orphaned kid who ostensibly goes to live with his Auntie Mame, who has a rollicking social life and a lot of money and parties on down every night until the Great Depression hits. I totally want to trade my aunts for an Auntie Mame of my own. Alas, early on the kid is forced to go to boarding school, which is kind of a disappointment plot-wise because you wish you saw them together more than you do.
Mame tries her best to work, eventually marries a nice rich dude who dies young, tries to get back into the swing of life, and fends off Patrick's godawful fiancee. It's an interesting contrast for Patrick because he's caught between the awesomeness of Mame and the stodginess of the trustee fellow who forces him into boarding school.
Auntie Mame (non-musical): Love Rosalind Russell in this, ditto the fellow who plays Beau and the fellows who play Patrick-- good transition in actors there. And the fiancee and her parents are spectacularly awful, as they should be. Mame's a tolerant lady compared to the Upsons, and you really get a sense of how irritated she is listening to them bitch about the Jewish musician who wants to move in next door, while still holding it in.
I adore the scene where Mame has them all to dinner in her place with the wacky moving furniture, exotic cuisine, "Flaming Mame" drinks set on fire that everyone's afraid to drink, and then she hands out copies of her memoirs to scandalize them all. And that's before she announces that she bought the neighboring property and who she's housing in it... It's not quite the dinner scene in the book "A Civil Campaign," but it's close.
There are, however, a few odd plot developments. Like Ito the houseboy character--seriously, why is this dude constantly giggling? Does he have a pot stash or helium tank in the kitchen somewhere? Or did they think all Japanese people were hysterical gigglers in the 50's?
And then there's Agnes Gootch, Auntie Mame's stenographer. When this woman waddles onto the screen in her bad hair, huge glasses, and orthopedic shoes, you suddenly realize where every single one of Molly Shannon's character ideas on SNL come from. DEAR GOD, TEH NERDY IS PAINFUL TO WATCH. Ugh.
And then there's Brian O'Bannion, the ghostwriter dude Patrick hires to help Mame write her book. He doesn't actually like, do that so much. He walks around with a cane and a limp, then later practically bounces off the walls doing random somersaults for uh....why? To show he's a giant fraud in life? And he starts to get kinda rapey-seductive on Mame, who fends him off, but to get rid of him one night she dresses up the Gootch and claims she has money and sends them off together. The Gootch staggers in the next morning, not really remembering the night other than she thinks she watched a wedding movie. She looks...kinda like she might have gotten raped, honestly I think odds are 50/50 there. Meanwhile, O'Bannion has taken off with Mame's car, never to be seen again.
And then six months later we see she's pregnant (Mame trots her out to horrify the future in-laws) and O'Bannion sends some kind of notice to Mame demanding half of the profits of her book that he and his WIFE worked on. Notice that Mame is completely oblivious to the "demanding of money when you didn't do jack" portion of that, she's just happy to hear that the Gootch isn't an unwed mother after all! Everyone is! Huzzah! She's married to a guy who probably raped her, married her for her imaginary money, and then flat out disappeared for six months! HAPPY ENDING!!!!
What the hell?
But other than the horrors of The Gootch plot, this is a pretty darn good movie. Most of this is great fun to watch and heartwarming. You buy that these characters are all fond of each other from the get-go, and you enjoy hanging out with Mame and Patrick.
Mame (the musical) is surprisingly sad and awful. It's filled with flat, bad casting. If this was the first time I'd even seen Lucille Ball in anything, I'd say she can't act for crap. She isn't too great of a singer, the kid isn't either, Bea Arthur is...Bea Arthur. The kid playing Patrick seems to have been cast for his fat little head alone and he can't act for shit and has no charm. Actually, nobody else really has any either.
You can see right off the bat that Mame feels affection for Patrick on first realization in the original movie. In this one? Eh, the script said to. You don't buy any grief on Mame's part at losing Patrick, who doesn't sound that attached to her either. It's sad and creepy and completely misses the point and fun of the movie.
This movie features Vera Charles (Bea Arthur) more. The play she's in is even weirder and more surreal. The relationship between her and Mame is even meaner, especially in song.
The actor playing Beau is...fairly dead on to the original's demeanor, except he has a mustache. Ditto the fiancee, minus the mustache. She's got the voice and the smile down. So those parts are okay...ish, anyway. Both aren't given quite as much to do as in the original.
Really, most of the priceless little moments that helped make the movie (for example, Gloria's HORRIBLE Ping-Pong ball story) are cut out, or changed a bit. For example, the store scene where Mame meets Beau is much less disastrous-funny, but does involve a lot of roller skating. Huh?
And the songs are dull, or at least they're performed dully even beyond the part where nobody who sings can hit a note for crap. Which is a real tragedy for this plot, because it really SHOULD have good songs to it and it should have made a good musical. Hell, the one good song in it...I LIKE "We Need A Little Christmas," just...not done by Lucille Ball.
The song down at the plantation is especially over the top-- which would normally be appropriate for this show, but instead it's just freaking weird. Mame has done more for the South since Robert E. Lee by riding a horse and rescuing the fox? So everyone does a slow march dance in their riding gear? For like 20 minutes? CREEPY.
In this movie the Gootch is a lackluster blonde-- still a nerd, but less Molly Shannon. Still has creepy bug eyed staring down though. There's no O'Bannion (or memoir, for that matter), so Mame and Vera just make over the Gootch at random and then fast forward to her being giantly pregnant months later. Gootch also gets a song. Who the hell wanted to hear her sing? In a cast full of people who can't sing and couldn't hit a high note with a bulldozer, she really stands out as being godawful.
The dinner party scene features more random singing from Vera and a bunch of random pregnant unwed mothers dropping by to irritate the Upsons. And Patrick is a dick enough to try to stop them. Neither funny nor endearing. They can't even bother to cover how Patrick feels about the situation, so they just immediately skip ahead to Patrick being married to the maid, with a kid.
Well, at least this Ito doesn't giggle so damn much. That's the lone improvement compared to the original.
Seriously, why did they remake this SO VERY, VERY BADLY? It makes me want to kick the crap out of the casting director and the composers and the scriptwriters and especially most of the actors. What a freaking waste.
So I think you know which one to rent if you're looking for rentals...