Saturday, June 6, 2015

Olde Reviews: All About Eve

This was part of a series of reviews of the ASUW Film series back in the '70's. Except for some punctuation, I haven't changed anything from the way it was presented, giving the snarky, clueless kid I was back in the '70's a break. Any stray thoughts and updates I've included with the inevitable asterisked post-scripts.

This is a companion piece to Sunset Boulevard.

All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz 1950) All About Eve is not unlike Sunset Boulevard. It deals with the lust for glamour in show business—in this case, the theater in New York, not the neighborhoods of studios in Hollywood. It, too, was made in 1950, its female characters, for the most part, actresses, are...uh, abnormal. And it, too, is biting, but places its knives-in-the-back in a ci-vi-lized manner, and twists it...delicately...not with Wilder's carving techniques.

What we have is
Bette Davis as Margot Channing, a spoiled child-actress, now on the shady side of 40, but still playing ingenue roles. What we have is Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington, a young ingenue who gazes adoringly at her idol, Margo Channing. What we have is Addison DeWitt (played by George Sanders as drily as a total-vermouth martini), the chief stiletto of the critical press, but you've also got Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, (and, in a very brief role, Marilyn Monroe) in a highly literate script which gives almost everyone some role they can sink, or cut, their acting teeth on, in a story that has "everything but the blood-hounds snapping at their rear end" (and, in a way, that happens, too.)

You see, we meet all these people as Eve is receiving the Sarah Siddon Award for Best Stage Performance of the Year. A joyous occasion for everyone, right? The very young actress gets a big break—everyone's happy, right?
No, the principal characters are either looking embarrassed, wonderingly perplexed, mad, or just cold to the event. It's flashback time to see why such a double-reaction to the prestigious theater event. And in a "Citizen Kane-switch," one flashback is narrated in turn by several people. And we are through this told All About Eve...but also Margo, Addison, everybody. Everybody's soul is laid bare through the dialogue and the quirks and pops of the performances of the cast. It's a thoroughly entertaining two and a half hours, and its light cynicism will take of the staleness of Sunset Boulevard out of your mouth. It will do that, but will hardly make hopeful young starlets complacent.
Broadcast on KCMU-FM on February 3-4th, 1976 

I still love this movie and I find it invaluable as a source for great lines. Go ahead. Go to the IMDB listing for All About Eve (all you have to do is click on the name at the head of the review*) and go to "Memorable Quotes." There's at least a couple pages of them. All smart, literate and bitchy. I used one in January 2009, as a sub-head for the blog-title (Addison DeWitt's non-self-deprecating "While you're waiting you can read my column. It'll make the minutes fly like hours." Only he could say that about himself--everybody else would be cut down for a remark like that, sort of like only Nixon being able to go to China.) Another favorite of mine is in this olde review: "Wow. Everything but the blood-hounds snappin' at her rear-end" as expressed by the inimitable Thelma Ritter. There's one involving Marilyn Monroe's hungry starlet, Miss Casswell, as she enters a theater-party. She scans the room looking at the producers: "Why do they all look like unhappy rabbits?" DeWitt leans in and confides: "...because they are." Smart. Literate. Bitchy.

And curiously old-fashioned. One doesn't get too far in that list before it comes to the Margo Channing monologue about the value of her life—a speech that always made me uncomfortable: "Funny business, a woman's career - the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman. Slow curtain, the end."
Oh, really! Pretty prosaic for a smart script. Even though this was written in the late 1940's, it still rankles a bit unless you're, say, Anita Bryant. There's also the way Addison DeWitt and Eve Harrington come across as asexual monsters for whom career is everything and a "normal" lifestyle is to be shunned and mocked.** Being a careerist is a bad thing in All About Eve. Chasing after love, whether you're good at it or not is the holiest of holies. As I said, this was written in the 40's. One of my favorite quotes from 2008 is Richard Dreyfuss' one about being directed by Oliver Stone in W.: "You can be a liberal and still be a fascist." Just as you can be smart, literate, and bitchy, and still come across like a schoolma'rm.

All About Eve was one of the first films to be made part of The National Film Registry.

It has a "100% Rating" on the Rotten Tomatoes site. Can't do better than that.

* That would be the start. It's an old habit of mine to think in terms of "reels." The "head" is the start, and the "tail" is the finish, or the part that tucked into the reel's hub.

** The wikipedia article on All About Eve suggests that Addison and Eve are gay, thus making their aberrant behavior a result of their sexuality. Sure.  Or maybe they're just driven amoral people.  "Okay, but whatever you do, don't tell Chuck."

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