August 8th: Starstruck

all about

166. All About Eve (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950) #73 in IMDB top 250

Hollywood can be a very self-congratulatory place, we’ve all seen the collective back-slap-athon of the Academy Awards. All About Eve is a prestige product from the peak of the ‘Golden Age’ of Hollywood, it has an immense sense of self importance. I think that probably carries it through.

It was one of the films that benefited from the personal intervention of the studio head Daryl F. Zanuck, a legendary name and head of 20th Century Fox intermittently over the course of just under forty years. Zanuck’s involvement is interesting, it casts some questions over the complete authorship of director Mankiewicz. Not an issue at the time perhaps, but in the current cinema landscape where the director is king it’s easy to forget whose fingerprints are on the films of yesteryear.

Bette Davis, in typically overbearing form, is Margo Channing. Margo is hitting 40, the edge of the peak years for a stage actress. She allows Eve, a young fan, to become her assistant, but Eve is much more ambitious than that and starts to inveigle herself into Margo’s life more and more. A story like this doesn’t need 138 minutes to be told but the beauty of a film like this is the epic scope of a relatively minor story. The supporting cast is brimming with talent, from George Sanders’ scheming theatre critic to the surprise appearance of Marilyn Monroe as a hopeful actress. Relationships are given space to breathe and performances are allowed screen time, even if they are a little melodramatic.

There is a glorious splash of darkness in the heart of this film, it’s about obsession and the corrupting desire for fame. There’s some homophobic subtext as the two characters seemingly incapable of emotional love end up in an alliance rather than a relationship, they are ostensibly the villains of the piece too. It’s extravagant and broad but it’s supposed to be, but it’s classic Oscar fodder driven by some great performances.

Perhaps the most interesting, and saddest, thing that I learnt whilst researching this film came from the final scene and the appearance of Phoebe, played by Barbara Bates. There’s a lot of these stories of broken lives left by the Hollywood dream factory and it seems quite pertinent that this one came up whilst looking at this film. Read about Barbara HERE.

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