A blog formerly known as Bookishness

By Charles Matthews

"Dazzled by so many and such marvelous inventions, the people of Macondo ... became indignant over the living images that the prosperous merchant Bruno Crespi projected in the theater with the lion-head ticket windows, for a character who had died and was buried in one film and for whose misfortune tears had been shed would reappear alive and transformed into an Arab in the next one. The audience, who had paid two cents apiece to share the difficulties of the actors, would not tolerate that outlandish fraud and they broke up the seats. The mayor, at the urging of Bruno Crespi, explained in a proclamation that the cinema was a machine of illusions that did not merit the emotional outbursts of the audience. With that discouraging explanation many ... decided not to return to the movies, considering that they already had too many troubles of their own to weep over the acted-out misfortunes of imaginary beings."
--Gabriel García Márquez, One Hundred Years of Solitude

Wednesday, May 25, 2016

All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)

Bette Davis and Thelma Ritter in All About Eve
Margo Channing: Bette Davis
Eve Harrington: Anne Baxter
Addison DeWitt: George Sanders
Karen Richards: Celeste Holm
Bill Sampson: Gary Merrill
Lloyd Richards: Hugh Marlowe
Miss Casswell: Marilyn Monroe
Birdie: Thelma Ritter

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Based on a story by Mary Orr
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner

Talk, talk, talk. Ever since the movies learned to do it, it has been the glory -- and sometimes the bane -- of the medium. We cherish some films because they do it so well: the films of Preston Sturges, Howard Hawks, and Quentin Tarantino, for example, would be nothing without their characters' abundantly gifted gab. Hardly a year goes by without someone compiling a list of the "greatest movie quotes of all time." And invariably the lists include such lines as "Fasten your seat belts, it's going to be a bumpy night" or "You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point." Those are spoken by, respectively, Margo Channing and Addison DeWitt in All About Eve, one of the movies' choicest collections of talk. Joseph L. Mankiewicz won the best screenplay Oscar for the second consecutive year -- he first won the previous year for A Letter to Three Wives, which, like All About Eve, he also directed -- and in both cases he received the directing Oscar as well. Would we admire Mankiewicz's lines as much if they had not been delivered by Bette Davis and George Sanders, along with such essential performers as Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, and, in a small but stellar part, Marilyn Monroe? It could be said that Mankiewicz's dialogue tends to upend All About Eve: The glorious wisecracks and one-liners are what we remember about it, far more than its satiric look at the Broadway theater or its portrait of the ambitious Eve Harrington. We also remember the film as the continental divide in Bette Davis's career, the moment in which she ceased to be a leading lady and became the paradigmatic Older Actress, relegated more and more to character roles and campy films like What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (Robert Aldrich, 1962). All About Eve, in which Margo turns 40 -- Davis was 42 -- and ever so reluctantly hands over the reins to Eve -- Baxter was 27 -- is a kind of capitulation, an unfortunate acceptance that a female actor's career has passed its peak, when in fact all that is needed is writers and directors and producers who are willing to find material that demonstrates the ways in which life goes on for women as much as for men.

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