All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve

All About Eve – 1950

Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring – Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and George Sanders

It’s rare that a film, good or bad, can be boiled down to a single sentence.  All the complexities and nuance that goes into the crafting of the story, the acting, the production value, or in the case of some films that just get it all wrong, the lack of these things, makes a film a difficult thing to summarize.  Harder still, is boiling down the power of these works still further to describe it in terms of only one word.  Though it doesn’t give any detail about the plot, or characterization, it speaks volumes of the impact these raw elements have had on the final product.  So how, you ask, does this film boil down? In the case of, All About Eve, all I can say is…wow.

Despite this being more than a decade after the revelation of film architecture that was Citizen Kane, Eve borrows to great effect the re-arranged timeline, dramatically changing how we see the three main characters at the beginning as compared to how we see them at the end.  Though the central part of the movie plays out in a very linear fashion, the film is bookended by a scene that gains vast amounts of context from when it opens the film to when it closes it.  The middle portion of the narrative periodically skips and jumps forward to flesh out the characters fully and fill in the questions asked at the beginning. Not only do we see the characters evolve, and grow, but we the audience steadily gain an awareness of each of them, their motivations, and their back-stories.  With each turn of the corner, more of the plot is revealed.  We come to find that what we thought we knew, was wrong, and that the truth can be far more dismal and malicious than the fiction we had been invested in.

The most contentious of these characters, played by Anne Baxter, is the titular Eve Harrington.  A rather meek, yet still rather suspicious woman, she is obsessed to the point of stalking with a well-respected and seasoned theater actress, Margo Channing (Bette Davis).  Eve spends so much of her free time idolizing, and brown-nosing Channing, that Margo, eventually begins to buy into the hype so much so that she hires on the young sycophant as her personal assistant.  At first her actions and motivations seem innocent enough, but as the film progresses her agenda seems increasingly dubious.

The tide really turns when the smarmy theater critic (also the occasional narrator) begins trying to manipulate the situation in an effort to exercise some control over both Margo and Eve.  The relationship becomes strained to such a degree, as it does with all of her important relationships, that Margo is nearly ready to cave.

Our second character, Addison DeWitt is the aforementioned culture critic for the newspaper and also functions as our narrator for the film.  The sardonic, unflattering commentary he delivers, immediately paint him as a wounded and more than a little bitter.  DeWitt credits himself for a good portion of these actors success, due to his favorable (or unfavorable) reviews, and is clearly upset that his view is not shared by them.  When he sees in Eve a chance to exercise some control over those he deems in his debt, he makes grab for it, spinning a web of deceit matched only by the one that is being spun around him.

Finally we have Margo, played by the legendary Bette Davis.  Her scowl wreathed in cigarette smoke that are delivered within the first 30 or so seconds of her screen time are enough to convince us that we fully understand her relationship with Eve.  She seems a cold, cunning and angry person.  Although, as the film progresses we see Davis paint Margo Channing as a completely fleshed out person, not simply the one-dimensional character portrait we get from some films of this period.  She is at times cocky, at others she is scared of growing old, or blindly angry at what she perceives as a slight.  Davis is each of these things, and all of them at the same time, delivering one of the best performances I’ve ever seen.

Beneath the glitzy New York theater setting, the backstabbing, and the drama, All About Eve is really the story of a woman, Margo, peeling away the facile, superficial elements of her life (not by choice, mind you) and seeing what it is that she really has.  The film seeks to determine the value of what you have left once you lose the extraneous things that populate your daily life, and by comparing these two women, Eve and Margo, it is obvious which has the better foundation.  Not only is this film an extraordinary example of the quality of work that came out of the studio system of Hollywood in the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s, it is also a remarkable achievement that it deals so frankly and honestly with the aging process from a female perspective.  This era can easily be described as somewhat of a boys club, so it is refreshing to see some diversity (I’m still waiting to stumble upon a film from this era that tells the tough as nails story of a gay, African-American, scientist, who is also a post-op transgender individual.)

Totally and completely worth it’s spot on this list, All About Eve blew me away.  After the film was over, for days and weeks afterwards, I found myself thinking about it.  Even though I had never had any interest in her before, I am very excited to see more of Bette Davis’ work.  When watching this film, you should indeed buckle your seat-belt  it will be a bumpy ride!

“Fuck. Bette Davis can act her ass off!” – Ashley

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The Ghost and Mrs. Muir (1947)

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir – 1947

Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Starring – Gene Tierney, Rex Harrison, and George Sanders

I may be run out-of-town on a rail for saying this, but The Ghost and Mrs. Muir was a pretty stupid movie.  Posturing and posing as a lighthearted romantic comedy about a young woman contending with the spirit of a salty old sea-captain, instead, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is the story of a lonely woman wasting her life and the lives of those around her (her daughter and maid) because she had a etherial fling with a crotchety old ghost for less than a year.  Not only is it implausible (even within the mythology of the world that is set up in the film), but it also annoyed me to the point of anger.

Firstly, the story.  Gene Tierney plays Lucy Muir, who at the beginning of the film is a freshly widowed woman.  Her first order of business is taking her daughter, their maid, and parting ways with her prying, manipulative in-laws.  Their anger at her leaving them, and forsaking the memory of her late husband is brushed casually aside.  She gives as her reasoning the fact that there was little, if any, real love in the marriage, and without another word, they’re off.

The sort of wacky, lighthearted comedy kicks in for a little while, as she goes through the trial and error of buying a home, discovering that it’s haunted, and acclimating herself to her etherial housemate.   It is from this point that the romance part of the romantic comedy kicks back in, as Rex Harrison’s Captain Gregg and Lucy begin to like, and eventually grow very fond of one another.  When the money that her dead husband left her dries up, Captain Gregg has her write out the story of his life, and sell it as her own.  It’s during the selling of this book, that Mrs. Muir meets a charming, living, man who sweeps her off of her feet.  Captain Gregg reacts at first by acting out, and eventually by giving up (telling her while she is sleeping that it was all a dream, and that she’ll think of it as a dream upon waking), and fading away.

***SPOILERS*** (Although the whole movie is a bit of a spoiler)

Well as it turns out, the suave, dashing man turns out to be an absolute cad, go figure, and Lucy soon finds out that he is married with children.  Not only that, but his wife doesn’t seem at all surprised by her showing up, and says that it has happened before.  After that, Lucy spends the rest of her life alone, growing old along with her trusty (read: stupid) maid, until she dies and is greeted as a ghost by the spirit of Captain Gregg.

***END SPOILERS***

As far as movies of this era go, I don’t think I’ve ever seen one so mired in the antiquated notion that women are these weak willed pets that need constant tending to, and taking care of.  The idea that this woman would spend her entire life doing nothing for herself, be it for income, chores, for income, or in her interpersonal relationships is ludicrous.  When the money that her husband left her runs out, does she get a job?  Does she sell the big expensive, fucking house that she bought willy-nilly?  No, she claims that she’ll “find a way”, until a fucking ghost helps her.  The only friendships she has are the ghost that is trapped in her house, the maid that does everything for her, and the man who trips over himself to court her.  It is as insulting and demeaning to women as it possibly could be.  Now I understand that in the 40’s women generally stayed at home, and took care of the children.  They, very often, didn’t go to school, and never had to work (unless they were poor or of another color), but as a guy raised by a strong female role model, who herself was raised by a smart, capable, female role model as well as  a respectful, intelligent man, I hated this movie.

It doesn’t even really matter about the other qualities of the film, although it was competently shot, the sound and music were okay, and I don’t recall any of the actors accidentally messing up a line.  Based solely on the merit of what this film has to say, not only to women, both young and old, but to me, I definitely does NOT deserve to be on the 1001 Movies You Must See Before You Die list.

One final point, just to illustrate how poor this movie is, I would rather watch Katherine Hepburn, and Diane Keaton reading the phone book, to me personally, in my house, while I was tied to a chair, with bamboo slivers under my fingernails (well, maybe not the bamboo).  Watch one of these instead…”Lost In Translation”, “Singin’ In The Rain”, or “Garden State”

(***Warning Spoilers***)

“There’s a dead sea captain in it” – Ashley