Saturday, July 07, 2012

Cattiness And Catfights

A promotional still for the motion picture, “All About Eve”.

“All About Eve” is an amusing and diverting entertainment, but its exalted reputation in the United States is undeserved, even inexplicable.

As cinema, “All About Eve” is pure junk—glossy junk, but junk entirely typical of the 20th Century-Fox film factory. Persons outside the U.S. have been mystified for over seventy years that “All About Eve” is held in high regard in North America. Quite accurately, they see the film as nothing more than a standard commercial vehicle closely tied to its time and place, crafted and delivered to meet the expectations of an unsophisticated and undemanding audience.

A small-scale backstage story characterized above all by bitchiness, “All About Eve” is perilously close to camp. Without sweep and without theme and without vision, the film offers an intimate view of the New York theater scene of the late 1940s that is pure domestic drama—and not particularly good domestic drama at that, what with its cattiness and catfights. It is precisely the sort of mass-produced item that thrived in the era of early television.

Without Bette Davis anchoring the film, “All About Eve” probably would have been a critical and box-office failure. I cannot imagine any other actress of the era that might have held the film together and given it a spark of life.

Aside from George Sanders, the men in the film are all seriously miscast. Gary Merrill, who played the theater director, was as vivid as wall plaster—and totally unconvincing as theater professional as well as love interest for Davis. Hugh Marlowe, who portrayed the playwright, seemed to have wandered into the film from a comedy short about the Ozarks.

Why have Americans canonized such an unimaginative piece of manufactured tripe?

I doubt Eisenstein would have been able to sit through the thing.

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