Dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950 (2012 reissue), US, 138mins
Review by Joyce Dundas
Fasten your seatbelts – Bette Davis is back. In a world where female actors are bemoaning the fact that there are no longer any good roles for women, we should be celebrating the reissue of this classic. A great movie about women in Hollywood and all the backstabbing, hypocrisy and insecurity that surrounds a leading lady at the top of her profession – especially if she is not so young any more.
Davis is at her very best, and although she was never acclaimed for her looks, she is at her sexiest here as the iconic Margo Channing. Anne Baxter matches her performance as the not so naïve ingénue Eve Harrington and they are ably supported by Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter.
The script written by Mankiewicz sparkles with top of the range dialogue particularly from Davis including the oft misquoted “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night,” and “Honey, be a playwright with guts. Write me one about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband.” Cracking stuff. The lovely line about her hating men is particularly good one since the sentiment is directly at odds with what she really feels. One of the things she is worried she will lose is her man, Bill Sampson (Merrill).
Margo spots Eve for the manipulative plotter that she is very early in the film, after Eve has been introduced into Margo’s inner circle of influential friends. Everyone else would appear to be taken in, particularly the men in Margo’s small coterie. However, as they all begin to see what Eve is really all about, the lines become more and more cutting. George Sanders is particularly sharp as theatre critic Addison DeWitt, delivering his honey coated sarcasm in that famous sultry voice. His thoughts on ego for instance: “We all come into this world with our little egos equipped with individual horns. If we don’t blow them, who else will?”
Make no mistake, this is so not a chick flick. In fact, chicks would run in fear from the real women which populate this screen. They cheat, insult each other, plot behinds each others’ backs and flounce beautifully when they don’t get their way. The scene where Eve finally meets her match is a classic moment in Hollywood history.
Ironically, not one of the actresses won an Oscar even though four of the female cast were nominated including the two leads, though Sanders was given one for supporting actor. Mankiewicz also took Oscars for his script and for best director and the film did win best picture.
In another ironic twist the film also has an early performance by one Marilyn Monroe as a ditsy blond actress. Not really a stretch for the woman who of course became the very epitome of the insecure, female, movie legend.
Even though it is a U certificate, it is really an adult film for intelligent audiences containing all the hyperbolic melodrama you expect from Bette at her best. Female actresses would kill for these roles today.