This Rosalind Russell vehicle nominally begins in 1928, right before the great stock market crash. There’s a newspaper closeup showing the date, and the characters discuss the date as well, since they’ve mixed up the arrival of Mame’s orphaned nephew, Patrick. But practically nothing in the movie stays true to a historical period, so you kind of wonder why they bothered making that point — even as a plot device, it’s not essential. Any number reasons could have been invented to explain why her investments suddenly fail and Mame suddenly has to get a string of crazy jobs.
But you know what? It doesn’t matter to me because a) the costumes designed by Orry-Kelly (one of classic Hollywood’s best) are grand and amazing confections and b) the story is so entertaining, such fun, and honestly heart-warming, who cares what anyone’s wearing? Just watch it and roll with the punches.
Wacky socialite Mame suddenly gets custody of her nephew, and instead of treating him like a nuisance, she’s thrilled and considers him her little best friend. She trains him to make martinis and gets him in on all her wild plans. His father’s estate has a stuffy old trustee who insists on the boy going to an uptight boarding school, but Auntie Mame continues to influence Patrick with her open-minded, generous, and welcoming nature. Her friends are actors, schemers, artists, boozers, raconteurs, and basically the Fabulous People, anyone and everyone, and she keeps Patrick in touch with this world. The finale is hilarious triumph of the creative classes over mainstream, middle-class values, so much that I’m a little surprised the film was nominated for six Oscars in ’58, including Best Picture.
Throughout Mame’s ups and downs in life, her wardrobe (and hair color) change like mad. So does the decor of her New York apartment at 3 Beekman Place. The set design is a perfect compliment to the costumes, as Mame goes from an orientalist phase in the 1920s to a “blue” period for the 1930s, a classical design when she’s mourning her first husband during the 1940s, then a modernist phase in the 1950s, and the film comes full circle with an Asian-Indian theme at the last scene.
For campy fun with a totally modern message, Auntie Mame is a winner. You’ll wish she was your auntie too.