HOLLYWOOD has always excelled in those acid films that eat away at least something of the glamour of institutions which at other times they have asked us to admire – American politics, Big Business, even Hollywood itself. This last was recently taken apart in the Gloria Swanson film, Sunset Boulevard; and now, with All About Eve (script and direction: Joseph Mankiewicz), a similar dismantling takes place among the emotions, ambitions and vanities of that suffocating little alley – Theatre Street. And this film is not, as one might have thought, about a wide-eyed young actress desperately struggling to the top through the hazards of recurring amorous crises and leering producers; but about a brilliant though ageing star of the theatre, Margo Channing, who realizing for the first time what life will be like after the glory has departed, is beginning to lose her self-confidence. Into her life comes Eve, a lovely stage-struck young girl, with, so it seems, a tragic past; and Margo, to help her, employs her as a secretary. But Eve becomes rather more a reflection than a secretary … and to tell you more might spoil the film.
Admittedly it is hard to believe this story, which I must keep from you, but it’s nevertheless interesting and gripping; and the clever dialogue reflects plenty about life in the cut-throat circles of this vain, tight little theatre world. We meet Addison De Witt, an unpleasant but fascinating dramatic critic, clever enough even to scotch the plans of the villain of the piece – an unscrupulous actress whom Margo advises to put her Sarah Siddons awards where her heart should be. George Sanders – always happiest at his most offensive – plays this offensive fellow, who has neither award nor heart, to the life. And there’s Margo herself, witty, jagged, bitter, but as least generous and grown-up. This part is especially convincing because Bette Davis – a compelling and dazzling actress herself – plays it perfectly. Anne Baxter is just right for Eve, and I liked Gary Merrill as Bill, the theatrical producer. The film is considerably more talkie than movie but because the talkie is so good I’ll overlook the lack of movie.
That the part of Eve is as unbelievable as the story detracted little from my enjoyment of All About Eve; though without the character of Margo it would have been altogether too much of an orgy of malice. It is Margo – and Bette Davis, of course – who gives it proportion. And if it doesn’t give us anything like the last word on Theatre Street we certainly have a striking view of the vanity, ambition run to seed, brilliance and even humanity that one often finds in these highly competitive circles. You must leave your children at home and see the film from the beginning, and if anyone tries to tell you the story beforehand, don’t listen.
We know well enough by now that the human characters in Disney’s fairy-story cartoons don’t come to life in the brilliant way of the animals; but I think we should make allowances for them, as an experiment. In his new Cinderella, though the Prince is lifeless, Cinderella herself seems to be an advance on Snow White; though no-one would pretend that the animals haven’t the best of it, especially Cinderella’s friends, the mice, who call her most engagingly, “Cinderelly”. There’s less music than usual in this cartoon; but as it would, undoubtedly have sprung from modern dance music, which doesn’t match Disney’s work, I wasn’t sorry. The prettiest scene, when the colour’s at its best, is Cinderella’s drive in her pumpkin coach to the Ball. The film is obviously ideal for all children and most grown-ups.
There is a superficial resemblance between Crisis (Director: Richard Brooks) and the recent State Secret, for both films show the predicament of a doctor forced to operate on a dictator. But while State Secret was a comedy-thriller, Crisis is serious. The plum of the film is the portrait, by Jose Ferrer, of the dictator – excitable, handsome, cynical, greedy for power. And the direction is good, particularly in the crowd scenes, and in atmosphere. For example, the closeness to death of the dictator – from his political enemies without, from his brain tumour within – was extraordinarily well brought out. The film dwells too long on operating theatre procedure, but one must admit that the point – the dictator’s very natural fear of the knife getting the better of his conception of himself as a superman – is equally well made.
Crisis lasts long enough for us to witness the threatened revolution, and leaves us with the easy message that this will establish a tyranny just as bad as the other. Nevertheless, the power of the central situation is undeniable, and Crisis is well worth seeing. But don’t go if you only want pleasant entertainment.
This article was first published in March 1951 for the Federation of the Women’s Institute magazine “Home & Country”, Home Counties Edition, Volume 33, Number 3, and priced threepence.
Peter’s piece appears on page 77.