Sep 06 2008
In recent times I’ve been delving into the past for my movie watching pleasures. Lottie and I have been working our way through the Alfred Hitchcock boxset, with some pleasant surprises. We’ve caught the wonderful RomCom When Harry Met Sally, we compared the new Sleuth with the old Lawrence Olivier version and saw good and bad in both.
Last year I watched Whatever Happened to Baby Jane for the first time and I loved it. Bette Davis showed what a true movie great could do, twisting the character she portrayed in real life into a deranged and sad fading starlet on screen. Since seeing it I have many times meant to return to her back catalogue and only recently I got hold of All About Eve, a tense tale about an up-and-coming ingénue who befriends Davis’s aging Broadway star and slowly climbs her way to the top.
The young woman who ingratiates herself into the celebrity lives of Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and her friends is Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter. Though both Baxter and Davis were nominated for the Best Actress Oscar in 1951 (which neither won), for me the film belongs to Davis. Through her, we watch Eve finagle her way into Margo’s life and home and ultimately her career as a Broadway star. While most of those around her are oblivious to the devious Eve until it is too late, Margo is seen as paranoid and crazy until she is finally driven truly mad by Eve.
Of course, the movie is All About Eve and Baxter is brilliant in the role. She slides so easily between overly sweet, goodie-two-shoes to duplicitous schemer without effort. A scene where she attempts to win over one of Margo’s friends in a bathroom towards the film’s end had me shouting at the screen in anger.
The film is a touch too long and, if made today, would be tightened up a bit. But, if made today, I wonder if it would lose some of it’s subtlety. There is something so wonderful about watching the oldstyle Hollywood send itself up in such a clever way. Margo, Eve and Lloyd Richards (played by Hugh Marlowe) make many flippant and derogatory references to the soul destroying Hollywood.
When writing and directing this movie, it’s clear that Joseph L. Mankiewicz (who, coincidentally, later went on to direct Sleuth) was telling more than a simple story – this was an age when celebrity was new and fanatics were only beginning to emerge. It is more an allegory of the state of 1950’s Celebrity Culture than a simple story about a young girl trying to make it big. It is perhaps the subtext that has made the story and the film a classic. While times, styles and Broadway’s buildings have changed, this Broadway story is still as relevant today as it was in 1950.
With some great supporting roles, including a small but perfectly suited role for a then relatively unknown and extremely young Marilyn Monroe, this movie deserves all the praise that has been lauded upon it over the years. Davis is a true star and I look forward to exploring more of her back catalogue.