47 FILMS: 49. ALL ABOUT EVE

In our continuing series of 47 films to see before you are murdered in your dreams, we present the acidic and hilarious All About Eve.

All About Eve is a delicious satire on fame, a kind of Sunset Boulevard – which was released the same year – for the theatre. Betty Davis plays the celebrated diva Margo Channing. The actress has reached the age where she can credibly play the young roles with panache. Enter Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter); the swooning mega-fan ushered into the presence one evening. She wins over the jaded theatre types with her tale of honest woe. Before you know it, she’s the factotum and best pal of Margo. But things sour when Eve herself gradually reveals her own ambitions on the other side of the curtain.

The sharpness of the dialogue written by director Joseph L. Mankiewicz reaches Wildean (both Billy and Oscar) in its acidic burning of egos. The ensemble cast are towering. George Sanders is the rascally theatre critic Addison deWitt who Svengalis Eve towards fame with serpentine charm. A cameo by a young Marilyn Monroe fairly burns a cigarette hole in the celluloid. My favorite is Thelma Ritter’s Birdy, Margo’s waspish dresser. But the film obviously belongs to the two female leads who go from affection to a smouldering hatred which never actually gets a cathartic blow out on screen. It’s ironic that despite their brilliance both joined relatively late in the production. Davis turned up practically at the last minute.

Just as Sunset Blvd delivered a fond kick in the pants to the silent era, so All About Eve sees theatre as the waning beauty overtaken by the young brash newcomer cinema. Hollywood represents an elsewhere to which everyone aims. The presence of the soon to be mega famous Monroe haunts the film like Banquo’s ghost.

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SIR EDWIN FLUFFER RECALLS ORSON WELLES

HOLLYWOOD – Survivor from the Golden Age of Hollywood, Sir Edwin Fluffer, reflects on the man Hollywood used to call ‘the intellectual’s Fatty Artbuckle’: Orson Welles.

Returning home from a weekend’s scuba diving with dear old Charles Laughton, I was overjoyed to find a new script waiting for me on the doormat.  Actors can be superstitious old buggers at times, and I’m afraid that I’m just as bad as the rest of them.  Gary Cooper would always insist on doing his initial read through standing on one leg. We used to call him The Stork, until a nasty fall meant he had to have a hip replaced.
 
The first thing that I do when presented with any screenplay is to have a good look at the title:  always have done and always will do! The title will often give you invaluable clues as to what the picture is actually called, and it’s not at all unusual for the name of the film and what it’s called to be exactly the same.  The next thing I do is look to see if Anne Baxter’s in it, and if she is I throw it in the bin! Better to be safe than sorry! After that I may pop out for a quick drink, and the next time I look at the script isn’t until the first day of shooting. Spencer Tracy would spend literally minutes going over his lines, and I personally believe this robbed his performances of all their spontaneity. 
 
The majority of actors, directors, producers and crews I’ve worked with don’t really agree with me on this point, but like I always tell them, you can’t rush perfection. Anyway, this particular script actually looked quite promising. It was called Citizen Kane which I thought was a great title and Anne Baxter wasn’t in it, so that was a bonus! Unfortunately the weekend scuba diving had left me with a nasty case of the bends so I had to pass, and as far as I know the picture never got made.  It was a terrible shame as I’d been led to believe that in one scene Agnes Moorhead would do a dance number with some of the Smurfs, but that’s another story…

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