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 withheld. The only ingredient missing is Davis’ real-life swing into violence. This unisex bitchfest about a theatre diva about to be dethroned 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 manifested in The Star and egregiously in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, during which we revisit our memories of her movie past, only to end up mocking her for believing she deserved an Oscar for sinking so low.) No one in a right mind would call Davis pretty or sexy—a dominatrix maybe, nearly always bending toward the repulsive—yet she’s an estrogen-heavy smoking dragoness we can’t get enough of; never again would she be this commanding or amusing. (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 cringe of Anne Baxter’s ass kissing and the unattractive TV-like settings, All About Eve centers on the battles 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 hiss verbal catfights, dispatched from war correspondent-director Joseph Mankiewicz as some of the most entertaining in movie history. One of the funniest revelations—Eve’s real name: Gertrude Slescynski, and as bonus she gets a much-deserved bitchslap. Little did anyone know back in 1950 that Ratsputin’s slap-on-the-ass compliment about Marilyn Monroe—as “a graduate of the Copacabańa School of the Dramatic Arts”—would boomerang into superstardom.
Text COPYRIGHT © 2001 RALPH BENNER All Rights Reserved.