Saturday, May 7, 2016


When I was a kid, our mother rarely watched old movies on daytime TV.  So, if she put chores aside and watched one and suggested that I watch too, I knew that movie was significant.  That's exactly what happened late one afternoon when the local CBS station aired ALL ABOUT EVE.  Mom's face lit up and she said, "Ooooh, that's a good one!"  Need I tell you that Mom was right?  The movie got 14 Oscar nominations.  Two in the Best Actress category (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter) and two in the Best Supporting Actress category (Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter).  George Sanders won for Best Supporting Actor.  Joseph Mankiewicz took home Oscars for Best Director and Best Original Screenplay.  His 20th Century Fox film won the Oscar for Best Picture of 1950.
ALL ABOUT EVE airs on TCM (Turner Classic Movies) at 8p ET/5p PT for your Saturday, May 7th, entertainment.  The screenplay and the performances are so rich, so sophisticated that you may want to give this classic your full attention if you're seeing it for the first time when you catch tonight's TCM presentation.  Don't check Twitter for live tweeting, don't keep checking Facebook for messages, save the Wikipedia and IMDb trivia for when the film ends.  You can find out later who Sarah Siddons and Poodles Hanneford were.  Lose yourself in this marvelous movie -- for it's rare that we get such writing, such wit and such wonderful roles in a female-driven story from Hollywood today.  Think about it -- four actresses nominated for Oscars for performances in the same film.
Margo Channing (superbly played by Bette Davis) is a Broadway legend.  Duplicitous Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) eases herself into Margo's life.  Margo's kindness opens the door for Eve to move in on Margo's career and Margo's man.

For decades I've read that Claudette Colbert was originally slated to play Margo Channing.  That's pretty much common knowledge now among classic film fans of all ages.  Colbert sprained her back and, heartbroken, had to withdraw from the project.  Bette Davis was contacted by Mankiewicz as a last-minute replacement.  Her career was in a lull at the time.  The 2-time veteran Oscar winner had completed years of service under contract at Warner Bros.  Bette Davis would say that ALL ABOUT EVE was her career "resurrection."  With that in mind, notice something:  In the script, Margo's maid and loyal friend Birdie (perfectly played by Thelma Ritter), warns Margo that Eve studies how she "walks, talks, thinks, acts" -- like Margo is "a set o' blueprints."  Eve is out to replicate Margo.  For a character who's trying to copy her stage idol, actress Anne Baxter is styled more like Claudette Colbert instead of Colbert's replacement, Bette Davis.  Here's a pic of Colbert in 20th Century Fox's 1951 comedy, LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL.
Compare her hair styling to the styling of Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in the photos above that photo.  Baxter looks like she's copying Colbert more than she's copying Davis.  If Colbert had played Margo, Eve and Margo and Phoebe at the end would've had a similar short-coiffure look.  But we do love the larger than life, occasionally bitchy but diva-with-a-heart of gold quality that Davis gives Margo Channing.  The hair, the walk, the talk...perfect.  Bette Davis was born to play Margo.  She made terrific acting choices in her characterization and she was smart in the costuming note she gave to famed designer Edith Head.  Head also won an Oscar for this film.
Bette Davis reportedly suggested to Edith Head that the now-famous party dress be off the shoulder.  She felt that Margo, from descriptions in the screenplay, was an off-the-shoulder dame.  There's Margo's party dress in the above photo of Bette Davis and Thelma Ritter.  Another bit of business in ALL ABOUT EVE fascinates me.  And it's a statement on how one never knows what The Fates may have in store for a Hollywood career.  Look at the top photo and you see screen newcomer Marilyn Monroe in a bit part as Miss Casswell, Addison DeWitt's showgirl date who's not exactly the brightest bulb on the chandelier.  As he says during a conversation, "You have a point.  An idiotic one, but a point."  You also see Monroe in the photo from LET'S MAKE IT LEGAL with Claudette Colbert.  In that comedy, Monroe had a bigger part.

By 1955, Marilyn Monroe would no longer be a bit player.  She'd be one of the biggest stars in Hollywood, an international sex symbol, and -- like Bette Davis -- she would become a Hollywood legend.  Marilyn Monroe and Thelma Ritter are seen together in a shot during the staircase conversation at Margo's party.  Guests are seated on the staircase chatting about the highs and lows of seeking a career in the theater.
In 1961, Marilyn Monroe would be the star of THE MISFITS.  Her leading man was Clark Gable.  Think of the line that Max Fabian says on the staircase at Margo's party:  "Did she say sable or Gable?"  John Huston directed the drama.  The original screenplay was written by famed Broadway playwright and Marilyn Monroe's husband at the time, Arthur Miller.  By the way, Miller is mentioned a couple of times in ALL ABOUT EVE when Margo blows up at her director/boyfriend and her playwright when she learns that Eve Harrington has become her understudy.  In the supporting cast of THE MISFITS and doing scenes with Monroe, was Thelma Ritter.
Thelma Ritter was an Oscar nominee for ALL ABOUT EVE in which Marilyn Monroe was a bit player.  She acted opposite top Hollywood star Marilyn Monroe in what would be Monroe's last completed film before her untimely death.
Wow. What a Hollywood story.  Enjoy ALL ABOUT EVE.  I wish Hollywood was making movies that bright and dialogue-driven today.  I bet a lot of middle-aged actresses do too.

The year before Joseph L. Mankiewicz won his Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for his 1950 Bette Davis classic, he won the Best Director and Best Screenplay Oscars for 1949's A LETTER TO THREE WIVES, also a sparkling and sophisticated script with juicy roles for women. It starred Ann Sothern, Jeanne Crain, Linda Darnell, Thelma Ritter, the voice of Celeste Holm and Kirk Douglas.

You don't get TCM on your TV?  Both must-see classics are available on DVD.

1 comment:

  1. this movie is perfection from start to finish, one of my favorite top ten films, and I have a lot of fav's....will never happen again.



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