NO QUIET ON THIS FRONT

In All About Eve, Bette Davis is probably as much Margo Channing as Channing is Davis; the double exposure is an authentic mesh, a self-proclamation of an actress reclaiming the real woman she held from us or was forced not to reveal. The only ingredient missing is Davis’ real-life swing into violence. This unisex bitchfest about theatre wouldn’t work if it centered on movies because our knowledge of Davis and her history are too embedded in our movie consciousness. (The inherent danger in that manifested unnecessarily in The Star and most egregiously in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, during which we revisited our memories of her movie past, only to end up mocking her for her belief that she deserved an Oscar for sinking that low.) Her distance from those associations helps liberate her as a theatre diva about to be dethroned. No one in a right mind would call Davis pretty or at this point in her life sexy or even sensual yet she’s an estrogen-heavy smoking dragoness we can’t get enough of; never again would she be this commanding or amusing without scaling to campier heights. But she can get bogged down in bad scenes, such as her showdown in a theatre with her producer and the playwright who’s compromised his visions to keep her in lights. Once we get past the cringing embarrassment of Anne Baxter’s ass kissing and the unattractive TV-like settings, All About Eve centers on the battles that rivals wage on each other in order to get to or stay at the top. There’s no quiet on this front: between fawnings and “sly pus” winks, Davis, Baxter, Thelma Ritter, George “Ratsputin” Sanders, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe and Gary Merrill lob verbal grenades. The catfights dispatched from war correspondent-director Joseph Mankiewicz are just about the most entertaining in movie history. We can’t believe what we’re hearing but how we love hearing it. One of the funniest revelations—Eve’s real name: Gertrude Slescynski. And she even gets a much-deserved bitchslap. Little did anyone know back in 1950 that Ratsputin’s slap-on-the-ass compliment about Marilyn Monroe—that she’s “a graduate of the Copacabańa School of the Dramatic Arts”—would boomerang into superstardom.

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Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER  All Rights Reserved.