Mame Movie Review
One of Hollywood's most famous casting blunders, letting Lucy star as Mame instead of Angela Lansbury, who had conquered Broadway in the same role, was a mistake of epic proportions, not unlike the decision to deny Julie Andrews the starring role in the movie version of My Fair Lady. The legend is that Lucy wanted it really badly and even put up some of her own money to guarantee her spot. I bet Desi Arnaz could have talked her out of it, but something tells me she never asked his opinion.
Lucy also demanded that her singing voice be used, with no dubbing allowed. Oops. As a life-long smoker, Lucy, whose hold on a tune was always loose anyway, sings here in a rumbling tar-soaked baritone that makes her basso profundo co-star Bea Arthur sound like Maria Callas by comparison.
The story, such as it is, tracks the wildly eccentric Mame, a woman who definitely marches to her own drummer, as she makes her way through the first half of the 20th century enduring lots of ups and downs in her struggle for financial security. Along the way she's asked to care for her nine-year-old nephew Patrick (Kirby Furlong), who needs to be reprogrammed out of the uptight repression of his parents. You have to live live live! As Mame famously opines, "Life is a banquet, and most sons of bitches are starving to death!"
Mame's quest for a wealthy suitor eventually takes her to a fancy Georgia plantation where she meets richie rich Beauregard Jackson Pickett Burnside (a lively Robert Preston) and manages to turn his high-society fox hunt into a wild slapstick fiasco (shades of the old Lucy we knew and loved). The movie's funniest moments involve Agnes Gooch (Jane Connell), a highly excitable unwed mother-to-be whom Mame takes under her wing. A few comic moments emerge, but only enough to remind us of the funnier non-musical version of the story starring Rosalind Russell some 15 or so years earlier.
With Arthur, as her mannish and boozy friend Vera Charles, Mame sings the famous duet "Bosom Buddies," and at holiday time, the household rejoices with "We Need a Little Christmas." Mame's personal anthem, "Open a New Window," also figures prominently. But in the end, master entertainer Lucy really should have known better. The camera is not kind to her 63-year-old face, no matter what tricks the cinematographer tries. In his very funny New York Times review of the film, the late, great Vincent Canby said the focus was so soft that Lucy looked "like something sculpted from melting vanilla ice cream." Me-owch!
Mame is best left on the shelf. There are far far better ways to remember and revel in Lucille Ball's comedic genius.
Mame, I'm leavin'.