Thirteen year-old Anne Frank begins keeping a record of her experiences after her family joins the Van Daans and an ageing dentist in the attic sanctuary provided by an Amsterdam merchant and his wife.
George Stevens led a US Army Film Unit during the Second World War, becoming the first to record the horrors of the Nazi death camps when he entered Dachau in 1945. His colour footage of the survivors and the pitiful conditions in which they had been incarcerated remains chilling in its stark realism and it's easy to understand why he would have felt moved to make this adaptation of Frances Goodrich and Albert Hackett's play. What's less comprehensible, however, is why he would have opted to shoot the film in black and white and widescreen.
Presumably, he felt (much as Steven Spielberg would later do with Schindler's List) that monochrome brought a sense of gravitas to proceedings that were already laudably sombre. But whatever sense of place or suspense he sought through Oscar-winning cinematographer William C. Mellor's artful manipulation of light and shade is dissipated by the clumsy use of CinemaScope. Any feeling of claustrophobia and the desperate endurance required to remain in such close confinment for two years is lost in compositions that make the attic space above the spice shop at 263 Prinzengracht seem positively cavernous. The tone of the film similarly tends to the grandiose. Anyone familiar with Anne Frank: The Diary of a Young Girl will know that its impact lies as much in her charming naivete as much as in the portent of the situations she describes. But Goodrich and Hackett's screenplay is less concerned with the alternate optimism and uncertainty of a teenage girl and focusses instead on the contrasting temperaments of her companions. Thus, everyone is given their set-piece moment and, as a consequence, blowsier performances like Shelley Winters's Mrs Van Daan are allowed to overshadow more considered work by the likes of Joseph Schildkraut, Gusti Huber and Diane Baker as Otto, Edith and Margot Frank. For all its faults, this remains a moving tribute to some quietly heroic victims of barbarism. But, even in its restored 170-minute version, it only tells part of the story.
There are some poignant moments, but Steven's decision to shoot a claustrophobic movie in CinemaScope and the stage-bound feel of the whole enterprise never bring the action to life.