Monday, November 21, 2016

All About Eve

If the dialogue's the thing, 1950's ALL ABOUT EVE is easily one of the best films in the history of the medium. We can all quote great lines from films of every era, from the dawn of the talkies through the latest knucklehead comedy du jour, but few are as acidicly witty as director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's near nonstop gems as spoken by his divine cast:

1. Bette Davis as aging Broadway star Margo Channing.  At age forty Davis herself was at a career crossroads after a series of not so well received films. ALL ABOUT EVE gave her a role she was perhaps born to play - a worldy, cynical, downright bitchy celebrated leading lady who harbors deep seated insecurities despite a teflon veneer.  Much of the Davis persona is embodied in Margo, from the husky voice used to spout off those great lines to the near micro facial expressions and confident body language.  Watch her motions in a living room scene with....

2. Gary Merrill as Bill Sampson, Margo's stage director and younger love interest.  Merrill holds his own/plays off nicely against his costar.  Their heated debates are as electric in execution as they are erudite.

3. Hugh Marlowe as writer Lloyd Richards, a volatile personality with a (fragile?) ego to match.  There's plenty of quiet smoldering in some scenes, fire in others. Marlowe is a perfect vehicle through which Mankiewicz  makes points about writing vs. acting, as to which is ultimately what makes a play (or movie) great.  The writer may often be considered a mere carpenter in Hollywood, but in the theater world he is a god among mere mortals.  This would not include many actors.

4. Celeste Holm plays Lloyd's wife, Karen, not among the temperamental thespians in their creative yet vital in manners beyond mere matrimony and friendship.  Margo, Gary, Hugh, and Karen are a close knit group of caustics who make sport of those less sophisticated than themselves.  One night Karen happens upon such an individual....

5. Anne Baxter as the titular Eve.  A soft spoken, humble young woman found outside in the shadows of the theater where Margo performs nightly.  Eve claims she's seen every single performance.  Soon she's chatting with the inner circle, then playing her assistant.  Eve is smart and thorough, but also quite obsequieous and sycophantic.  Is she plotting to dethrone Queen Margo as darling of the Great White Way?

6. Thelma Ritter is Birdie, Margo's sharp tongued maid, who sees right through Eve's faux nicieties from the start.

and..

7. George Sanders as critic Addison DeWitt, whose every word reveals a steel trap brain and frozen core.  His opening narration is positively stellar.  Your inner snob (should you indeed house one) will positively rejoice.

How Eve slithers her way to the top is classic backbiting, seized opportunities, attempted seductions. Baxter is a revelation.... But Eve's past and her torrent of lies may catch up with her, leading to a rather tricky alliance with DeWitt.

But don't let me spoil it.  Find your own way to that lengthy finale, a revealing "passing of the baton" that perfectly caps the scheming ways of Ms. Eve Harrington.

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