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Thursday, September 2, 2010
ALL ABOUT EVE
ALL ABOUT EVE (1950). Writer/Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
"You're maudlin and full of self-pity. You're magnificent." -- Addison DeWitt.
"Neither you nor your performance ever entered the conversation." -- Likewise.
A young woman named Eve (Anne Baxter), who claims to be a fan, insinuates herself into the life of star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and proves to be an ambitious viper underneath the treacly exterior. All About Eve may not necessarily be the last word on the theater, monster-actors, or ambitious wannabee backstabbers, but it remains a very entertaining and snappy picture. Davis gives one of her all-time best performances [you might say she was almost born to play Margo Channing]; George Sanders is at the height of his asp-like charm; Celeste Holm is perfection as the likable if somewhat naive Karen; and Anne Baxter could not have been bettered as the oily -- if highly gifted -- Eve. Kudos also to Gregory Ratoff as producer Max Fabian; Marilyn Monroe, who is very saucy and adept as the equally saucy Miss Caswell; and the wonderful Thelma Ritter as the wisecracking ex-vaudevillian, Birdie. The picture sinks just a bit when Gary Merrill [who later married Davis] walks into the movie, as initially his acting is woefully below the standard set by the others, but afterward he's certainly competent. Hugh Marlowe, who generally toiled in "B" sci fi movies after this, gives his most notable performance and is quite good as Margo's favorite playwright. [Marlowe was also in 13 Frightened Girls and Monkey Business.] Even Barbara Bates makes an impression with her brief scene at the end of the movie.
Not that All About Eve is perfect by any means. Margo's speech about how a woman isn't a woman without a man and so on and so on seems pretty dated today, and her statement that she doesn't "have to play parts I'm too old for just because I've got nothing to do with my nights" [after agreeing to marry her long-time beau] can be contrasted with Eve's almost ruthless desire to have a career [and undoubtedly a more positive attitude about having one]. The much-discussed alleged gay aspects of the film -- does Eve's climbing the stairs with her arms tenderly around her female roommate indicate lesbianism and so on? -- are pretty vague and muddled, and it's distasteful to think of Eve as an "evil lesbian" stereotype. [By the way, DeWitt's seemingly sexless obsession with Eve reminds one of Waldo Lydecker's "feelings" for Laura Hunt in Laura made seven years earlier.] It's a bit ludicrous that it is suggested by more than one character that Eve be made Margo's understudy when no one has yet seen her perform.
Another problem with the movie is that it's sort of stacked against wannabees, those talented people without connections who often are at their wit's end as to how to break into the business. True, Eve Harrington goes to extremes, and is even nasty to those who have been nice to her, but at least she had the talent and drive to achieve success. And whatever you may think of Bette Davis, most of us would find the affected "Margo Channing" a trial to deal with after the first 15 minutes. All About Eve is a terrific movie, but in some regards it lacks depth and complete veracity. But what dialogue! And a very memorable score by Alfred Newman.
Verdict: Whatever its flaws -- and it has them -- All About Eve is a real pleasure. ***1/2.