I've been talking a lot about the ages of various actors and actresses in my last few posts and discussing the viability of their careers after they were deemed Over the Hill. It reminded me to re-watch the movie All About Eve, which is at its heart about the struggles of a 40-year-old actress, Margot Channing (played by 42 year old Bette Davis) to hang onto her career, her 30 Something boyfriend and her sanity in the face of a young, ambitious and insidiously manipulative rival, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Davis used all kinds of personal tics and charming idiosyncrasies to put a part of her soul up on that screen. That is great acting, as opposed to merely competent acting which allows us to imagine a person is someone else. In one scene, Davis reveals her real age to her playwright friend and says, "I feel as if I'd just taken off all my clothes." My reaction watching that was that I've seen into a person's real, secret pain. She might as well have taken off all her clothes.
Maybe I'm so age obsessed lately because I'm just days away from the big 4-0 myself. These kinds of milestones are bound to bring out the erratic behavior. Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), Margot's lover is dismissive of her fears, calling them childish, which they may be, in at least the way she has a tendency to bring them forth in tantrums, but they are reasonable concerns, nonetheless. Whenever I watch a movie like this it just makes me wanna take up arms against...I don't know what. Like seeing Emma Thomspon cheated on in Love Actually, is actually physically painful because I think, "damn if it could happen to Emma with all her looks, talent and brains, then the rest of us mortals are all totally screwed." This is the essence of what a "Women's Picture" is all about. It is a theme which resonates with women and more than a half century later, All About Eve is just as potent a cocktail as the day it was made.
Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewitz, All About Eve has one of the best script's ever put before a camera. The opening monologue alone, delivered in a tone of perfect derision by theater critic, Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) is probably one of the all-time ten best opening sequences. Sanders is the picture of wickedness and yet he's so dang funny you just can't hate him. He is the devil, but you find yourself wanting to hang out with him anyway. Other supporting players shine, like Thelma Ritter who literally makes me say aloud "I love you, Thelma" during every scene in which she appears. Even Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe), DeWitt's ditsy like a fox escort to Margot's disastrous party, is memorable and not just because she's Marilyn Monroe. She's just perfect--conveying the same menacing ambition as Eve, but without the dishonest facade of naivete which Eve uses to worm her way to the top. Miss Casswell plans on sleeping her way to the top, with stops in the middle range couch of a theatrical critic. There's a sort of crude honesty about the way in which DeWitt points her in the direction of a bigger fish at the party, presumably having been paid in kind for his services as pimp. It's not exactly admirable, but at least it is straight-forward. The same can not be said for Eve.
Watching Eve slowly rise at the expense of others is a bit like watching a horror movie. You shout, "don't go there, stupid!!" at the screen every time one of Margot or her friends cuts her a break. The worst part is that Eve is probably talented enough that she could make it without all the backstabbing. At a certain point Margot just wants to retire and get married, in which case she would have been happy to see her protege rise, I think. By the way, I'm not sure I buy that whole premise much anyway. Can't Margot be married and continue to work? It's how you know you're watching a Women's Picture, I guess. That and at any point after 1950 people would have spotted Eve's behavior as pathological right from the get go.
The ending is sort of hokey, and perhaps the only weakness of the film. Eve is stalked by a very young Eve-y type stalker, which is all just a bit too pat for my taste. I would rather the film end with Eve accepting her Major Award and getting away with all her crimes. At least we get to see DeWitt one more time and he has a great moment of recognition when he meets Eve's young fan. The look on Sander's face is pretty priceless and takes the sting out of the unsatisfactory conclusion.
Bridget Jones's Dairy (2001)
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