Thursday, May 12, 2011

All About Eve (1950)

Last night I had a powerful moment of regret while watching All About Eve on the big screen. For the first time in a long time, I regretted being so young. It’s funny of course that I should be watching Bette Davis and all of Margot Channing’s reluctant acceptance of her age and rue the fact that I had been born in the 80s and not the 40s. Yet, there I was wishing that before I had seen just about any other movie in my life, I had seen All About Eve first. It goes without saying that this wish is due in part to the fact that All About Eve is a wonderful film but my regret also has to do with the fact that all I can think about while watching it is Showgirls.

These kind of moments happen quite often in my new life as a born again cinephile. I’ll see a classic film that I should have seen years ago and then have that moment of “Ooooh, THAT’S where that’s from”. The depressing thing is that most people my age won’t ever get to take that second step of seeing where the “original” came into the picture. They will instead hear talk of showbiz backstabbing and understudy shenanigans and immediately think of Jessie Spano being naked and licking stripper poles.

I’m not proud that my mind immediately brings parallels of what is traditionally thought of as the worst movie of all time, but would you believe me if I said that the existence of Showgirls is one of the things that makes me appreciate All About Eve the most?

It may be "all about Eve", but it's really about the women. In a feat that has still gone unchallenged today, All About Eve is the only film in history to have four of its actresses be nominated for an Oscar. The women in the film are in fact the stars while the men all seem to take supporting roles and remain diligently in the background as important plot devices rather than cold hard characters. The heartless and smarter than he appears Addison Dewitt (George Sanders) comes dangerously close, but ultimately we revel in the even more heartless Eve Harrington.

The women are scene stealer's in every way possible and it’s refreshing to see this, even as Bette Davis rifles out her monologue about the plight of a woman’s career and the cruel realization that you aren’t a woman until you’re married. In a time when women were considered little more than house wives or secretaries, the women in All About Eve maintain a steady stream of gumption and power. With every martini that Bette Davis drowns and every time time that she says she hates men, I can’t help but do a secret fist pump of glorification.

Bette Davis, who thrives in what is easily her best role, is still capable of making audiences roar with laughter and applause. And indeed she continues to speak the truth to us today, guzzling martinis and pointing out the unfairness of a man’s immunity to aging. It is this particular scene that fills me with an instant revelation of the idea that virtually every movie that tackles this same issue was in part inspired by Bette and her biting witticism. Goldie Hawn immediately comes to mind in The First Wives Club, downing martinis in a bar and lamenting the fact that as she grows older, she will be playing lead character’s mothers while Sean Connery will get to play lead character’s boyfriends. It’s never more apparent than in that scene, that Margot Channing is the mother of all great female characters that we love.

And then there’s Eve. Eve, whom until last night I always thought was the naïve hero in All About Eve, magically transforms into a grotesque villain of epic proportions. Her evolution into a monster modeled effortlessly on Margot is thrilling to watch. She may look the part, and talk the part, but we know she lacks the most important piece—Margot’s character and heart. Margot after all manages to have friends despite her diva-like attitude and desire to retain her stardom, which by the film’s end is something we know Eve will never have.

The evolution is subtle at first; Eve dresses in clothes similar to Margot, then begins carrying herself differently and it’s not long before we start wondering when Eve will light up her first cigarette in a simultaneous motion of relief and despair. It’s not until the final scene when Eve’s transformation is complete and the torch has passed, that Eve finally inhales her evils and sulks into the sofa. Eve’s charms wear quickly away after those first few scenes and soon I start recalling eerie hints of Single White Female behavior.

You can spot Eve’s mask a mile away if you pay attention, her breathlessness in her storytelling and the crafty way she bats her eyelashes at just the right moment, prove that she’s been an actress from the start. Eve—so beautiful and so ugly at the same time. We take such pleasure when Addison reveals her true past that we forget she’s still a human... then again—is she?

It is indeed in Addison’s reveal that I start drawing the strongest parallel to Showgirls. I can’t help feeling déjà vu as Addison rifles off truth after truth. I can’t shake the feeling that I’ve been here before, and I have. Kyle Maclachan admitting to Nomi Malone that he knows all about who she really is. And it’s pretty much the same exact scene in All About Eve only trashier and about prostitution. That’s all Showgirls is anyways, a trashier version of All About Eve, yet it still grants me a bigger appreciation for the film. Not like it needs it of course—All About Eve is surely one of the best movies I have seen. Riddled with sharp, biting dialogue and writing, unique shots and scene after scene of brilliance. But it is the shallowness and the carelessness of Showgirls that reminds me of the depth and beauty that resides in All About Eve. A timeless film that continues to remind us what greatness truly is.

Oddly enough, the line that best summarizes All About Eve comes from Showgirls after all. Cristal Connors, laying in bed with broken legs after being pushed down the stairs by Nomi Malone grants her one last piece of wisdom, “There’s always someone younger and hungrier coming down the stairs after you”, she says, right before Nomi flees town after beating a man to death while topless-- and damn, was she right.


Matt S. said...

Great review! I have only seen part of this, but from what I have seen Bette Davis is brilliant. I need to watch the whole thing.

Pax Romano said...

perfect review of a perfect film.

Unknown said...

While I completely agree with you that "All About Eve" is just about as good a movie as anyone will ever see, I'm not sure that I would have to sit threw a viewing of "Show Girls" to prove it.

Unknown said...

I'm convinced that Showgirls is a better film than it is. I don't know why. I see an awful film when I watch it, but I also feel like I'm missing something key.

That said, All About Eve is damned brilliant. And some day, I'll get around to watching it in order (it's one of those films I've seen all of, but in pieces strewn across time).