My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Number 54: Shelley Winters as Mrs. Petronella Van Daan in "The Diary of Anne Frank" (Best Supporting Actress Ranking)

I used to give this performance a better spot in my ranking and I also like it when the Academy recognizes un-showy performances that don’t seem tailor-made to win awards – but at the same time I just don’t like it too much when I have to ‘look for an Oscar-winning performance’, meaning that I would probably never even notice Shelley Winters in The Diary of Anne Frank if she had not won an Oscar for it. So, she’s maybe stuck with a very thin part that pales compared to almost every other one in the movie but Shelley Winters still made a large impression in this talented ensemble.

She played Mrs. Van Daan, the mother of Peter and one of the Jews hiding from the Nazis. Compared to the almost saint-like, perfect parents of Anne (played by Joseph Schildkraut and Gusti Huber who both should have been the nominees for this movie), the parents of Peter are more ‘realistic’ – they fight, they argue, they aren’t easy to be around with constantly. And this is also the aspect from which the movie gains a lot of its power – it shows how difficult it is for all these people to spend day after day after day locked together. More than anything, The Diary of Anne Frank shows the clash of different characters in an extreme situation. All this would make it very easy for the audience to dislike the Van Daans but Shelley Winters was able to combine the annoying aspects of her role with two others that are always sure to get the sympathy of the audience – the suffering wife and mother. It’s clear that she worries about her son just as much as Mrs. Frank worries for her daughters only Mrs. Van Daan also has her selfish husband, who often treats her like dirt, to care of. It’s mostly these scenes that show Shelley Winters handle Mrs. Van Daan’s life with her husband that are her biggest success – she is immensely moving when her husband wants to sell her precious coat to get some cigarettes for himself or when she has to defend herself in front of Mrs. Frank that she always gives her husband a little more to eat than everyone else. And this also lead to her best scene when Mr. Van Daan is caught stealing food in the middle of the night and Mrs. Frank wants to throw him out – Shelley Winter’s plead to let them stay is very moving and probably one of the most powerful moments of the movie.

Overall, Shelley Winters’s character is not only the opposite of Mrs. Frank but she also uses the opposite acting style than Gusti Huber – while Gusti Huber is mostly very subtle and not showing the worries that torture her character, Shelley Winters always shows the fears of Mrs. Van Daan. This way, she gets some very effective close-up that show her fear of death, of the Nazis, of being finally caught.

Among the ensemble of The Diary of Anne Frank, Shelley Winters does not really stand out but she is a powerful part of it.


Anonymous said...


Louis Morgan said...

I agree with exactly what you write, except I did not find Gusti Huber than impressive. I really agree about Joseph Schildkraut though, I found his bookend scenes particularly powerful.

Fritz said...

Yes, Schildkraut was really the most impressive actor in the cast - I think the problem was that he campaigned in the lead category which basically was a death sentence for his Oscar chances.