By Scott Ross
Bette Davis had what is probably her best role in this delicious theatre fable written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. She’s so good as Margo Channing, an actress “of a certain age” you forget the movie isn’t called All About Margo.
Mankiewicz has been, rightly, criticized as being more a writer of scintillating words than a director of strong imagery, but his then-radical use of freeze-frame at the beginning and climax of the movie can cause a shiver to run up your spine — the image of Anne Baxter’s Eve greedily reaching for the award she will have to wait two screen hours to possess is one of the most striking, ironic and subtly chilling in American movies: A portrait of ambition at its nakedest and most grasping.
Baxter was a fine, sometimes underrated actress (c.f., The Magnificent Ambersons and Billy Wilder’s Five Graves to Cairo) but her breathiness as Eve (or rather, as the Eve the character wishes everyone to believe in) becomes a bit much after 120 minutes. Celeste Holm, on the other hand, damn near takes the movie away from Davis — is that why they didn’t get along during the filming? — and George Sanders practically purrs with self-satisfaction as Addison DeWitt (was any dramatic character since the days of Restoration Comedy ever given a better name?) the serpentine theatre critic; in the movies, there was never any other kind. Curiously, both he and Baxter appear to be homosexual, despite his squiring Marilyn Monroe (in a small but telling role) and, later, forcing himself on Eve.
With the indispensable Thelma Ritter as Margo’s maid, confidant and street-wise sounding board, Birdie.
Text copyright 2013 by Scott Ross