Thursday, September 30, 2010

Anne Baxter, in All About Eve
approximately 51 minutes and 13 seconds
37.6% of the film

The film

An ingenue insinuates herself in to the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s an alltime favorite and in my opinion one of the best Best Picture winners you’ll find out there. Some dislike it because they prefer Sunset Blvd., but I say: love them both, just like I do. All About Eve is all about celebrating: actors, theatre, women and their strong personalities and it’s a film that succeeds in all aspects.

Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington

When you are about to break tradition, you are definitely gonna make a bit of noise and there’s gonna be a bit of drama. This is what happened when the Oscar finally greeted 2 actresses from the same film, both receiving Best Actress nominations. It was a first for the leading category and it’s still up for debate if Anne Baxter indeed deserved to sneak in and steal some of Bette’s Oscar support. If you’d ask me this old question, I’ll say yes: Anne Baxter is co-lead in All About Eve, so the category placement is correct. The last 20-30 minutes really are ALL about Eve.

Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington, an apparently innocent young woman with an undying passion for theatre and especially for theatre legend Margo Channing. When the actress welcomes her into her life, Eve subtly and almost efficiently attempts to take over her man, her writer and her next role. This is the character that inspired so many similar ones in the last 6 decades: the plotting & deceiving bitch stealing the spotlight from the aging actress.

And Anne does a good job, considering the responsibility. I would actually dare to say that she might actually have the most difficult lines of the screenplay, especially in the first part of the film, when she’s pretending to be the good girl and has a long cheesy melodramatic monologue. We are not talking bad writing, but the uncomfortable, clich├ęd material than Anne needs to go through in order to create the impression that Eve is delivering the perfect lie.

To explain: Anne Baxter is playing Eve who goes through most of the film pretending to be someone she isn’t. Eve is not the innocent girl, but we believe that she is because Anne perfectly manages to joggle between perfectly-calculated acting and letting herself loose at times. Eve’s innocence and good intentions are all believable due to Anne’s well-thought grip on the character.

However, the innocent Eve is so confident as a character, that I found myself often bored by her especially when she’s interacting with the other characters. She is not meant to be star of the film, at least in the first half, and guess what: she’s not. Yes, there are signs of wicked Eve early on and they’re fun to watch, but for 75% of the film I almost didn’t care about Eve. Despite the title, it’s mostly the Bette Davis show and it affects my capacity of seeing Anne’s performance as more than a regular good performance lost in the handful of terrific acting that All About Eve has to deliver.

And then there’s time for her to stand out. And I’ll hand to Anne: the hotel room scene in which Eve is forced by Addison to admit the truth is dynamite (!!!) and that scene itself justifies the nomination. As the real Eve comes to light, there’s finally time for best in show. She is so precise, so mean, so natural, so straight-forward, so different and ultimately so vulnerable. The hotel moment and her diva boredom in the last scene completely turn around the performance in a good way.

But even so: to me it’s an uneven performance because I wasn’t cheering for most of the film. For the biggest part, she is overshadowed by her co-stars, but when she is finally unleashed in the last 20-30 minutes of the film, I learn to love the performance and the precision that Anne Baxter brings to the performance. And how could I rate it? The hotel moment is a 5, but the overall performance from start to finish is a very strong .

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Eleanor Parker, in Caged
approximately 51 minutes and 33 seconds
54.1% of the film

The film

A naive nineteen year old widow is sent to a woman's prison and is exposed to hardened criminals and sadistic guards.

You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s a nice prison drama, but not really a film to love. I found it to be very moralizing, but also relaxing and easy to watch. The acting was good all around, with a strong female ensemble and I can see why some might give it credit as a road-opener.

Eleanor Parker as Marie Allen
In a Best Actress year filled with superstars, legendary roles, backstage drama and fascinating trivia, there was a nominee many had forgotten about or never heard of. A young actress named Eleanor Parker received her first out of 3 leading actress nominations for her performance in Caged. Those who’ve seen the film know that the nomination was no accident and it’s quite possible that in any other year, Miss Parker might’ve had a shot to win.

Eleanor Parker plays Marie, a young naive woman sent to jail for being an accomplice to a robbery. She is pregnant, defenceless and the hard life in prison will manage to toughen her up and create a new Marie, cold-blooded and calculated. The role is a blast and a wonderful opportunity for any starting actress. Though she overplays it a bit at times, Eleanor Parker knows what she’s doing and she’s delivering a very memorable centre performance.

What gets to you right from the beginning is how well she plays the fear: there wasn’t a second I didn’t believe that she was this poor scared caged girl and this is also to the credit of the director, because we’re experiencing everything new just like Marie does. Considering Marie’s our guide for most of the film, she’s sensational, immediately creating a connection with the audience.

It’s worth mentioning however that the fear factor and also the desperation coming from it blocks the performance a bit at times: in her scene with her mother and maybe also in the parole hearing scene she is overacting it and pushing it too far. As a viewer I didn’t mind, but had she toned it down a bit, like she does towards the end, she would’ve perfectly hit the right-right notes. Of course, one might say she was just creating a character arc, which brings me to the small controversy on this performance.

Some have said the change in the character’s attitude is too sudden and it feels a bit forced. Marie goes too fast from innocence to future-villain, but I say: blame it on the screenplay for not suggesting properly the passing of time. While I admit it could seem sudden, I’m buying it because Eleanor makes it sooo believable. I actually love what she does with the character towards the end, the wittiness that Marie gets, the fact that she IS becoming a woman, a tough one of which I would’ve liked to see more.

Yet, it’s worth mentioning and underlining that she always keeps the humanity of the character, even to the last second of the film. The vulnerability is why we sympathized with Marie in the first place and Eleanor never fully loses that. She’s so constantly good throughout (minus those small slips mentioned) that it would be too challenging to pick one favorite scene. But of course, the scene with the cutting of the hair is iconic and fabulously played.

The performance is overlooked, even though I suspect it did gain more fans in recent years. It is a very solid performance from a talented young actress and while this is an ensemble film, it’s Eleanor who’s doing all the heavy acting. Small elements stop me from giving it a 5, even though I’ve considered it. I’m going with a very strong, deserving .

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

I am behind on my posting, I know. Reasons I can find many: working more than my usual part-time, moving back to Athens for some weeks/months, trying to deal with some personal uncertainties, etc. But mostly it’s the fact that I am overwhelmed by all the stuff happening around me. I need to find a personal balance and a different perspective on some daily aspects of life.

Posting will of course continue, because I love this blog. Hopefully, Eleanor Parker’s profile will be up as soon as possible. On the other blog, I continue to watch more relaxing films, as they are the ones who manage to disconnect me from daily piles of stuff.

Monday, September 06, 2010

Before going for the usual Best Actress profile, I need to say a few words about my favorite actress and my favorite performance of hers. It’s not really a tribute, maybe a confession.

I was seriously going for Once Upon a Time There Was a Boy… But a more mature and short perspective is required. I loved Bette Davis from the start; don’t ask me why, who knows, I was just a kid. I don’t remember the first film, it might’ve been Dead Ringers and I definitely haven’t hunt down all of her movies. But for some reason when I was about 12-13 I think, I bought the one VHS tape that would change me forever: All About Eve. I don’t remember the reasons for buying it, I suspect I was just fascinated by the subject. And I dare to say it certainly influenced my way of being and acting and thinking.

Scarlett O’Hara and Margo Channing and Blanche DuBois (through the play) have been characters to influence me in different and fascinating ways. I will not go into details, because I risk getting too personal, but I was so fascinated by the character and the actress that played them, that I involuntarily stole some of their ways of thinking. From Margo Channing, I got the creative, the bitchiness, the witty perspective on everything; the sarcasm, the fire and music. Don’t imagine that I walk around quoting or imitating Bette Davis, it’s just ideas, way of acting, perspective on life, men, women, everything that I borrowed and got stuck into my mind. I got dignity from Margo Channing, the courage to say whatever the f*ck I want and the power that comes from self-belief.

Thank you, Bette Davis, and thank you Mr. Mankievicz for ending up casting Bette.

Bette Davis, in All About Eve

approximately 58 minutes and 27 seconds
42.9% of the film

The film

An ingenue insinuates herself in to the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends.
You can read my short review of the film just by clicking HERE.

It’s an alltime favorite and in my opinion one of the best Best Picture winners you’ll find out there. Some dislike it because they prefer Sunset Blvd., but I say: love them both, just like I do. All About Eve is all about celebrating: actors, theatre, women and their strong personalities and it’s a film that succeeds in all aspects.

Bette Davis as Margo Channing

I have written a lot about my subjective love for this performance and others have written more, decades in a row, about what is rightfully considered Bette Davis’s best performance. Of course, with some many (other) incredible performances of hers (my favorites Baby Jane, Little Foxes, The Letter…) it’s hard to choose the most deserving. But what Bette Davis does is to take a well-written character and manage the dialogue, keep the theatricality, bring enough believability and create a diva-like performance that perfectly fits her career and star status.

Bette plays Margo Channing, an aging, but very successful theatre actress, with a good man and great friends on her side, who welcomes Eve Harrington into her life, an innocent devoted fan who starts working as her assistant. As Eve makes her way to the top, Margo starts doubting her lover, her friends and her career, but manages to find a balance in the end. It’s a wonderfully written role, with an interesting character arc and lots of juicy scenes for the actress.

It’s always harder to talk about your favorites. But I think Bette’s greatest moments as Margo are when she’s most relaxed and confident of her strengths. You can read arrogance on her face that it’s unmatchable, but it seems so justified: you look at her and you can fully believe the greatness of Margo the actress and the fascination that the others have for her. From this point of view, Bette makes Margo 100% believable. Could you have imagined Claudette Colbert in this role?! She was way too soft to pull the domineering side of Margo! Say what you want, Bette Davis was born to play this role.

From there on it’s all greatness. I would never dare to call the performance perfection, there’s no such thing, but you can’t help loving the flaws too. Drunkenness is never easy to act and Bette is great at it, always staying in character. She is always comfortable in the skin of Margo, no matter the situation. She is jealous and she is brave and she is not ever afraid of deglam: no, not in the first scene when she is taking the makeup off, but in the night call scene, where Bette’s lack of vanity creates a great, memorable, believable acting moment. What other actress of that era would’ve dared to film that scene the way she did?

She is always touching in the moments of vulnerability of the character, like in the car scene, when Margo finally lets her guard down. She’s sweet and humble and different than what we’re used to see. Her two big scenes are equally great: the party scene, with Fasten your seatbelts… (read impeccably) and the scene in the theatre, when she confronts all with Eve being her understudy: no other scene can prove the power of this performance, the strength and the intelligence that Margo displays and the steady hand that Bette has on her character.

While it’s probably not the best performance ever, it’s definitely my favorite one. When a great actress finds a great character and a great director, there is no way for the performance to be less that fabulous. Bette Davis rises to the challenge and those who will have an eye for detail will always notice how she obviously elevates the performance from good (what any good actress could’ve accomplished) to unforgettable, career-best, magic, deliciously diva-like. .