Cheated a little today. I re-watched All About Eve, starring the incomparable Bette Davis. All About Eve is #16 on the 1998 list and #28 on the 2007 one. I’ve actually seen this film many times before. It’s become one of my favorites. So much delicious bitchiness. I’ve even blogged about this film before. (I’m gonna borrow from that old blog a little but not much if you’ve read it before.)
IMDB synopsis: “An ingenue insinuates herself in to the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends.”
So, after seeing this film, I can understand why Bette Davis lobbied so hard to play Margo Channing when they handed her the script. And I know why she’s still known for this part half a century later. Margot Channing is one of the juiciest parts for an actress, any actress, any age, ever written. She’s queenly and broken. Lovelorn and cold. And every scene she’s in was probably fabulous to play as an actress.
I have to say the scheming young actress plot in All About Eve has always felt a bit stale for me, but that’s because this is the movie that basically spawned all the scheming young actress plots. This is the original, and if you’ve got to have the scheming young actress you couldn’t do worse– or better or– something than Eve Harrington. Anne Baxter plays her as the epitome of cool and serene…up until the moment she flips and you see the conniving little bitch that was hiding there the whole time. Delicious.
Ironically, one scene that really stood out for me this time is when we have Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Marilyn Monroe in a scene together. Davis and Baxter are the stars of the film and yet I’m watching Monroe. Ah, star power. Marilyn had it even then.
Another real stand out is George Sanders as Addison DeWitt, a sort of Oscar Wilde-esque theater critic who pulls strings just to watch things fall apart. He’s charming. He’s an even bigger schemer than Eve, and he’s a treat to watch as he struts and drawls and delivers fabulous lines like: “You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent!”
What really made this movie for me, though, was the romance between Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill). Margo is the aging older star and Bill is the up and coming young director, and he’s just nuts about Margo, but she’s so hung up on the age difference she can’t see it. Davis and Merrill got married in real life after this movie and that doesn’t surprise me one bit the way their chemistry just zings onscreen. They had a rough ride as a couple onscreen and off, but you can see why they both thought it was worth it. (Serious zing, I’m tellin’ ya.)
At one point they’re fighting and he throws her on a prop bed and holds her down while he pours out his frustration about her pushing him away. The scene was probably pretty risque in 1950, and the tension between them so wonderfully treads the line between passion and violence. (If this movie was made today they probably would have had hot angry sex on the prop bed.) But underneath the frustration and the fighting and the regret their romance is just so freaking sweet.
Maybe because I was really watching the film closely this time the ending upset me more than it has in the past. Eve’s ambitious, bitchy, scheming, and yet she basically ends up in sexual slavery to Addison deWitt indefinitely–until he tires of her. It strikes me as a bit…uneven. A moralistic punishment from the filmmakers. I guess this would be a post-feminist slant I’m taking now? ;P
I dunno. But this film seems problematic to me in a way it never has before. It’s a film about two strong women–the iconic film about two strong women in fact–and yet both of them end up tamed or toothless by the end. In the end Margot Channing, leading light of the stage, a born star, takes a step back from her career to enjoy a simple married life. And Eve Harrington, master schemer and bitch extraordinaire, doesn’t get to enjoy her success because she’s one-upped by a man. *shrug* I’ve no deeper insights to offer than that. Still, interesting the things we take away from films as we get older. How movies change because we’ve changed.
I do still love the last shot, though, where it’s clear it’s all going to start all over again with a new Eve and Margot, and over and over and over as long as there are ambitious ingenues and aging stars.
What did I learn from this movie? Dialogue, dialogue, dialogue. This is from an older school of screen-writing that was much closer kin to play-writing. Every line, every word was scrutinized for maximum effect. There are maybe one of two speeches of Bill’s where he gets melodramatic/didactic which didn’t age well. But, otherwise, every line of dialogue in this movie pops. You could basically quote any line in the script, they’re all winners. A few examples:
Margo Channing: I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.
Margo Channing: Margo Channing is ageless – spoken like a press agent.
Lloyd Richards: I know what I’m talking about. After all, they’re my plays.
Margo Channing: Spoken like an author. Lloyd, I’m not twenty-ish, I’m not thirty-ish. Three months ago I was forty years old. Forty. Four O. That slipped out. I hadn’t quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I’ve taken all my clothes off.
Lloyd Richards: How about calling it a night?
Margo Channing: And you pose as a playwright? A situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of is everybody go to sleep.
Can I see why this movie has become a classic? Yup. Great performances all around. Masterful dialogue. Good plot. Drama. Thea-tuh! Angst. Romance. And Bette Davis giving the performance of her life–of many lifetimes. All About Eve belongs on the list absolutely.
Favorite part(s)? All the Bill/Margot stuff, especially the scene on the bed and the scene where he runs to her side when Eve turns on Margot. The romance really is wonderful. I also enjoy Addison de Witt in every moment he’s onscreen.
Overall rating: ***** (I loved it!)
And now, a small treat, the trailer! (From the Blu-Ray I think?)