Last Wednesday, on April 5, we celebrated the birthday of some legends of the silver screen such as Gregory Peck (his centennial), Spencer Tracy and Bette Davis. Unfortunately, due to school duties, I didn’t have time to write a tribute for any of them as I usually like to. But this doesn’t prevent me to be back to honour Bette Davis, a legendary actress. This post is part of the Bette Davis Blogathon hosted by my great friend Crystal from In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood. I must admit, I’m late, by Crystal had the kindness to allow me to post my article after the blogathon’s dates. I’m very thankful!
For the occasion, I chose to focus on one of Bette Davis’s most iconic performances: Margo Channing in All About Eve. I chose this film because it’s the first Bette Davis’ film I ever saw. It’s this film that made me discover her. Before watching it again for this blogathon, I had only seen it once, and that was a very long time ago (around four years ago). So, when I viewed it again for my article, it was like watching a new film. I appreciated it better, because I think I could understand it better. Also, now that Anne Baxter is one of my favourite actresses as well, I paid more attention to her.
In All About Eve, Bette Davis plays the role of Margo Channing, a great stage actress. Anne Baxter plays the role of Eve Harrington, an ordinary girl, but who is probably Margot’s biggest fan. One night, thanks to Margo’s friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), she meets her idol and also Karen’s husband, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) who wrote Margo’s play and Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) who stage them. He’s also Margot’s boyfriend. They are immediately fond of Eve and her humble side. Margo hires her as her secretary. But Eve’s admiration for Margot becomes sort of sickly and Margot soon realizes that Eve, behind her innocent look, hides some devilish intentions and wants to take her place as a star.
The film also stars Thelma Ritter as Birdie Coonan and Sanders as Addison DeWitt a critic.
All About Eve was directed by the notorious Joseph L. Mankiewicz in 1950. It won six oscars: Best Film (Darryl F. Zanuck), Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Actor in a Supporting Role (George Sanders), Best Sound Mixing (Thomas T. Moulton) and Best Costumes-Black and White (Edith Head and Charles Le Maire). It was also nominated for Best Actress (Bette Davis and Anne Baxter), Best Supporting Actress (Thelma Ritter and Celeste Holm), Best Art Direction-Black and White (George W. Davis, Lyle R. Wheeler and Thomas Little, Walter M. Scott), Best Cinematography-Black and White (Milton R. Krasner), Best Film Editing (Barbara McLean) and Best Score (Alfred Newman).
It was an acclaimed film! I must admit, I would have preferred to see Anne Baxter or Bette Davis win the Best Actress Oscar. They impressed me much more than Judy Holliday, who won the Oscar that year.
But let’s get back to Bette herself. I love her in this film because she gives such a cool dimension to her character. Yes, Margot Channing is getting older, but she hasn’t lost this energy and this class that makes her a great star. It can be a quote, a gesture, a look made by Bette Davis that makes us say: “My, I want to be her!” As some examples, I can think of this scene when she eats a celery like no one ever did. Like that:
The way she smokes her cigarette while looking at Eve with a snobbish hair is not bad either:
Or when she says that famous quote: “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” Or all those quotes she says with so much “honesty”, such as “I detest cheap sentiment.” or “I hate men.” Yes, that’s one thing that makes her character a real force of nature. She’s not afraid to say what she thinks out loud and is not afraid of other ones’ reactions.
In this film, Bette knows what she’s doing and she’s doing it well. She knows how to mix the emotions with easiness. One of the best examples is at the beginning, when she meets Eve for the first time. She first behave like a real diva and then, when Eve tells her her sad life story, she becomes a very sensible woman (and even cry). Just like that, in a very natural way.
Her interactions with the other character are quite interesting too. We feel she had a great chemistry with Gary Merrill, who played her boyfriend. Not to mention that they fell in love with each other and even get married after the film was made. The “deterioration” of her trusting relationship with Eve is made in a very subtle way and goes gradually, not too fast and not too slow. Unfortunately, Bette Davis didn’t get along with Celeste Holm during the shooting. Bette Davis had the reputation to not really get along with her female co-stars, but, surprisingly, her and Anne Baxter appreciated each other.
Bette Davis performanced is ranked #5 on Premiere Magazine’s 100 Greatest Performances of All Time. (IMDB)
We can say that it’s certainly is an example for every actresses.
I want to thank In the Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood for hosting this blogathon. Make sure to read the other entries:
And happy belated birthday in heaven Bette Davis!