[Note: I wrote this review in mid-October and, because of technical issues that have all but sunk our Podcast, am only just posting it now. Sorry for the delay, hope you enjoy the review, and expect the rest soon!]
With the fall semester well under way, I continue my regiment of reviews with the sixth and final classic shared between Ryan and I. We have seen a couple of really great films (oh and Field of Dreams) over this Challenge and both of us have enjoyed crossing a few more flicks off of our AFI’s Top 100 count. Now we turn to our last Classic and I must say this film surprised me – and not in a particularly good way, either. While the title rightly implies that it is All About Eve, I really do wish it was not.
By all rights All About Eve sits amongst the Pantheon of classic American cinema, reveling in its own self-satisfying vainglory. Containing all of the proper elements to make it beloved of the Hollywood Elite, this film proves that all it takes at base to get the Academy’s attention is to make a film about film-making. And while it stands similar to Sunset Boulevard with cynical, self-analyzing tone, it fails to do so in a way which seems original or engaging.
Allow me to further delve into what bothered me about this film for a moment by saying that I found the characters extremely hard to like. Starting with the title character, Eve did exactly one interesting thing: she compared the vocation of acting to the process of what is called a “long con“. I found this juxtaposition fascinating, as it brings to light the complexities of contorting one’s self into someone else for a time so as to deceive an audience into believing what is at core a lie, and for that I thank Ms. Baxter.
Yet, despite the fact that I am not supposed to like the other players, I found them to be more than just cautionary; they dipped into the realm of annoying. First, let me say that if I ever become as conceited and pompous a critic as Addison DeWitt, I shall give up the medium entirely. His arrogance transcended the somewhat necessary confidence required of a Broadway or Hollywood critic to the point of permeating his entirety and making him fully despicable. Concurrently, Bette Davis is a fantastic actress and one whom I have great respect for. I think she played the role well and was properly frustrating to watch. However, and perhaps I should blame the writing for this, my jaw hit the floor when she started talking about the proper place for a woman:
“That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman.”
The film promotes a strongly negotiated read on the roles of women in society – at one time lauding female stars for fighting their way to the top like the men, at another saying they properly belong in very traditional standings. This, when combined with DeWitt’s horribly intense sexism towards Eve (and her equally melodramatic reaction), tells me that the filmmakers intended to comment on the subject lightly, yet managed to fall hopelessly off the wagon.
Again turning slightly, what truly bothered me about this film was the impossibly obvious cyclical ending. The first scene clearly sets up the film as one that will end in that moralistic cautionary tale (cf – Sunset Boulevard). Yet, the ultimate conclusion did nothing but annoy me. How is it possible that the supreme expert of weaseling into power and fame can miss that this very deed is being done to her? Many would say that she sees it and is simply too broken to engage the problem, and this is certainly an understandable read. However, I would argue that at some point she would have to address the issue which she did definitely see occurring, and that would be far more interesting a story than what we got here. What is fantastic about other de-evolution or degradation stories is that moment in which the issue is blatantly and directly dealt with – Tony Montana getting gunned down, Lester Burnham giving up his dream when Angela Hayes tells him she is a virgin, etc. It is that moment of powerful character transformation or of definitive conclusion to a cycle that makes the story worthwhile and All About Eve falls very short in that regard.
Let me retort to my own argument and point out some of the excellent elements of the story which did impress me. Just as a quote nearly destroyed the film for me, one said about the nature of fame and humility in Hollywood floored me:
The minor awards, as you can see, have already been presented. Minor awards are for such as the writer and director, since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. And no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington.
Speaking from the perspective of an Assistant Director, I can witness to the validity of this statement. Films, plays, albums, and most other forms of art require the combined talents of the many, which ultimately builds the glory and egotism of the very few. A wonderfully tongue-in-check joke, this is one of the few reflexive moments that I thoroughly enjoyed.
Also, the irony in this film is brilliant! Miss Casswell, the wonderful young woman trying to break into Broadway via DeWitt’s guidance, is played by none other than that proverbial “Eve” herself – Marilyn Monroe. This being one of her first roles, she was reportedly extremely nervous and Bette Davis certainly didn’t make life easy for her. She is said to have needed 11 takes for the scene she has with Margo in the Lobby of the theatre and was so “cowed” by Davis that she had to leave the set to puke. And to think that in just two years she would marry Joe DiMaggio and become one of America’s greatest icons!
Overall, I would say that I did appreciate the film, I just didn’t enjoy it as much as I expected. Not to say that it wasn’t fun or engaging – my opinion of this film is that it is a good commentary on humanity’s drive for fame and glory, a great story of the de-evolution of a group of people, and ultimately a well-trod narrative about the cyclical depravity of Hollywood. I am just over this message and the way they tell it. It offers me no hope and therefore (the inner young filmmaker is screaming at me for saying this) I found it less worthy of my time than it could have been.
And thus another review bites the dust which means I am one step closer to having the Summer Film Challenge 2012 all wrapped up. Now that I have polished off all of the Classics, I will be turning my attention back to the Brothers Coen, though in a markedly different fashion than the other film. I mean it is set in the Southwest for heaven’s sake! So, join me again soon for my breakdown of their comedic hit, Raising Arizona.
[UPDATE: Here is the podcast. Hopefully we will be able to proceed with them but until I know for certain, I will be working on my last couple of review thinking their will not be a podcast attached. I apologize to the two of you who listened to it ;)]