Wednesday, 21 April 2010

All About Eve...and the Women...

I always feel a little bad for Anne Baxter. Sure, she won her (deserved) Oscar playing a sympathetic prostitute in The Razor’s Edge. But, few recall that film or her performance in it. She’s remembered today for her duplicitous Nefertiti in The Ten Commandments, and the like minded Eve Harrington in All About Eve. It suggests that she has little range, but that’s not true. The thing is the film is supposed to be all about Eve – but it isn’t. It’s a giant irony actually, since the film is really all about Margo. But I like to remember Anne Baxter though, because she’s just as important (and excellent) as Bette Davis. The thing is, I’ve never been overly fond of Ms. Davis. I’ll always appreciate her talent, but I’ve never found myself particularly enamoured with her. I’ve often preferred her less popular work (Now Voyager, The Letter) to her more admired (What Happened to Baby Jane, Jezebel). But I can firmly champion Margo Channing as her more ardent fans do, even if it’s still not my favourite of hers. Still, if Tracy Lords represents the fullest representation of our Lady Kate on screen then Margo Channing is most certainly the embodiment of diva-Bette. But, as usual, I’m getting ahead of myself. I should retrace my steps.
All About Eve is a story that’s not original, but not clichéd either. Margo Channing – a celebrated actress of the stage is realising that her career is waning. She is simultaneously accosted by an overzealous fan who seems (despite the ostensible) intent on replacing the great diva. That is the story – in a nutshell, and yet it doesn’t do justice to the excellence that is All About Eve. It's a film with everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end. Of course, any classic worth its weight depends particularly on the dialogue, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s writing in All About Eve is exceptional, but I don’t think of the writing of the lines when I remember All About Eve so much I think about the line readings. It’s not a conceit on my part to pinpoint each actor in All About Eve – particularly the women – as being at the top of their game (case in point, four of them were nominated for Oscars). But by pinpointing the women I fail to identify one of the most fully nuanced characters of the piece – Addison Meredith, played beautifully by George Sanders. The tagline for All About Eve reads “It’s all about women and their men.” I’m never sure that that is an accurate tagline, but for some reason I rarely recall the men in this show, it’s not that they don’t achieve their task but being caught up in the delicious machinations of the casts we often only remember the ladies (and George).
All About Eve is mostly remembered for its climatic part scene where Davis’ Margo drifts deeper into cynicism. It’s a rare and beautiful moment to see all those excellent actors together in one room literally playing off each other. A young Marilyn Monroe makes as appearance here as Miss Casswell and she as excellent. I’ve never been overly fond of her work, but as I’ve said before, she does wonders with a bit role here. It’s as we watch the tug-of-war between Margo and Eve that I come to appreciate the talents of both ladies. It really does seem to be a perfect match of protagonist and antagonist and it’s all really handled well, but if I were forced to give a favourite performance of the film (more nepotism, than talent based) I’d probably single out Celeste Holme. Celeste plays a friend to Margo who realises Eve’s duplicity too late. The role is a bit contrived but I just find Ms. Holme so mesmerising in it. It is her face (and narration) that takes us back to our first meeting with Eve, and for such a silly role she handles it with a surprising amount of grace. But, honestly, I wouldn’t pick between them. From Davis, to Baxter, from Sanders to Holme, even Ritter in a bit role and all those other performances from actors who's names have become lost in history (George Merrill, Hugh Marlowe).
All About Eve is a rarity, it cruises dangerously close to perfection...who knows? It even achieves it at times. Quotable lines, classic performances, smart direction. Slow curtain, the end.


Luke said...

Whatever you may feel about Bette Davis, she DOES put on one helluva fight on screen. She's the original film diva in my book. Good writeup!

Simon said...

Lovely write-up, sir. But I can't help but not like Bette Davis.

Alex in Movieland said...

I actually have it in my Top 10 ever :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

luke well that's pretty much agreed on. she has quite a ferocious screen presence.

simon thank you.

alex good call, i know you love your bette.