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. .


Fritz said...

I was very much looking forward to this review because it's always nice when people write about their favorites and you certainly showed your love for this performance (and Bette) very well!

MrJeffery said...

great writeup. a great performance: so much going on in it and so entertaining to watch.

Alex in Movieland said...

thanks guys! :)

it's always harder to do even a bit of justice to the ones you really like. disliking is generally easier :)

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

I never have loved Bette or LOVED her performance in this but this is lovely to read.

(I usually find it easier righting a good review than a pan.)

joe burns said...

Yes! A great review..... And she's one of my Top 5 favorite nominees, perhaps even number one. She'll win your vote, I think.

Is Anne next?

Alex in Movieland said...

no, the next one will be Miss Parker.

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Michael Patison said...

I couldn't agree more with absolutely everything you said. This is my all-time favorite performance, even though I know that several are technically more sound and better achievements in acting (Leigh as O'Hara immediately comes to mind, I wonder why). I discovered the film about 1.5 to 2 years ago and have seen it 3 times since. Baxter is decent, Ritter is sweet, Holm is really quite good, the men are almost uniformly atrocious with an honorable mention going to the uniquely unfortunate Gary Merrill, and then you're left with my two favorite performances in their respective categories, George Sanders and Davis. Sanders's sardonic, condescending delivery is intoxicatingly venomous and alluring simultaneously. Davis is my absolute favorite actress, too. I don't really know why she is, seeing as I'm just now starting on my own Oscar quest and I've only ever seen her in Jezebel, Now, Voyager, and All About Eve, but she is. Maybe it's because she's unfailingly entertaining as the melodramatic wife. Most likely, though, it's her tremendous gift for sarcastic, cynical wit, a that she and I share, and nowhere is her gift for delivering said wit put to better use than in Mankiewicz's absolute masterpiece of a script. It's amazing to me to think that he wrote such an astoundingly beautiful and acidic screenplay. When it comes to such adaptations, he's essentially writing an original screenplay. He showed his immense promise just the year before with A Letter to Three Wives, showing in hindsight that probably his biggest mistake was attempting to make movies with central characters that weren't relatively normal women (therefore Cleopatra doesn't count). His script absolutely superb, perfect if I were tempted to go out on a limb. His speeches are brilliant, especially Sanders's deconstruction of Baxter at the end, Sanders's voice-over at the beginning, and Davis's expose of fire and music. Great actors and actresses can elevate a middling screenplay to respectability and an dismal one to, well nevermind, but it takes somebody special, really special to elevate a near, if not absolutely, perfect screenplay to the heights that All About Eve attains. Sanders succeeds. Davis succeeds even more, her delivery of each and every line being spot-on. Her scene in the theater in the theater is full of fire, while her scene in the car near the end rings with music. Therefore, with everything she did right in this masterpiece, when she tells everyone to fasten their seatbelts because "it's going to be a bumpy night," I have an immense amount of trouble believing that anything sub-outstanding is going to be coming my way.