A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this movie.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that this Holocaust drama, while not explicitly violent, explores some mature themes about WWII, captivity, and self-preservation, religious persecution, and perseverance. Although many kids have read (or at least heard about) Anne Frank by the time they're in middle school, the movie based on her diary includes some tense and potentially frightening scenes of what life was like for Jews in hiding. Those hiding in the annex bicker, have nightmares, and in the case of Mr. Van Daan, even steal food from each other. There are a couple of disturbing images of armed Nazis and rounded-up Jews, as well as a general sense of foreboding as the Franks and their friends await their inevitable capture. Although the issue of sexuality is rather chaste, Anne and Peter do flirt, share a few stolen kisses, and give each other several longing looks. Ultimately, Anne Frank remains a beacon of hope, an eternal optimist amidst the most horrifying of circumstances.
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What's the story?
This 1959 film adaptation of THE DIARY OF ANNE FRANK chronicles the the two years a Jewish teen named Anne Frank (Millie Perkins) and her family spent hiding from Nazis in their Amsterdam textile factory's secret annex. The Franks (Anne, her parents, and her older sister Margot) are sequestered in the small loft with another Jewish family, Mr. And Mrs. Van Daan (Shelley Winters and Lou Jacobi), their teenage son, Peter (Richard Beymer), and later an older dentist, Mr. Dussell. All the while, Anne keeps a running commentary in her diary. Since the Franks' factory is directly below them, the inhabitants of the annex must spend all day in complete silence, lest they inadvertently tip off one of the workers and lure the Gestapo. Two Gentile office managers, Miep and Kraler, routinely visit with news about the war and food rations, but most of the movie follows the small daily horrors of living in constant fear and in close quarters. As Anne goes from an awkward 13-year-old to a mature 15-year-old, her relationship with the slightly older Peter develops into a romance, despite the fact that their shared confinement offers little privacy. As anyone who's read the diary knows, the Franks are eventually betrayed, and the hiding place is besieged by Nazis.
Is it any good?
This is a poignant drama about possibly the most inspiring diarist of the 20th century. Although a Pulitzer-Prize-winning play preceded it, director George Stevens's The Diary of Anne Frank is the earliest filmed version of the biographical work, and the standard for the many miniseries and plays that have followed in the past five decades. Fifty years later, the movie is still a powerful, touching drama. There's an appropriate balance of foreboding, inter-personal drama, and even humor. Upbeat scenes in which Anne gives out small homemade Hanukkah gifts or prances around wearing Mrs. Van Daan's beloved mink coat contrast beautifully with more haunting images of the confined trying desperately not to make noise as an unexpected thief trashes the office below or of Anne's nightmares of what's happened to her captured, concentration camp-bound friends. Excerpts from the diary are mixed in with the original dialogue, which captures the way domestic minutia can easily turn into heated drama under the emotionally charged circumstances.
At 180 minutes, the movie runs at least 30 minutes too long, and it seems now that Millie Perkins was miscast for the seminal role. Looking like a cross between Audrey Hepburn and Natalie Wood, Perkins is almost too beautiful to play Anne, and her sing-songy tones make her sound more pouty and melodramatic than precocious. Perkins does have a believable chemistry with Beymer (Tony from West Side Story), who does an impressive job of darting furtive, smoldering glances at Anne throughout the movie. Winters and Jacobi are spot-on as the meddling, tactless Van Daans -- especially Winters, who knows how to steal a scene.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about the Holocaust, and how this movie raises issues about the way that families work together (or don't) in times of stress.
How could Anne Frank make her famous statement: "In spite of everything, I still believe that people are really good at heart" in the face of her family's unthinkably difficult situation? Was she being naive, or was she profound beyond her years?
In what ways is the Holocaust depicted differently in this Diary of Anne Frank adaptation than in other similarly themed movies?
Does the lack of overt violence make the Holocaust seem any less evil or frightening?
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