All About Aging

In an effort to educate myself about American film and its history I set a goal (on my Ultimate To DO list) to watch all of the films listed on AFI's 100 years, 100 movies list.
My hope is that by watching these films with a critical eye and then researching their cast, crew and cultural impact I can "home school" myself through film school.
Not a bad way to spend some time and save bunches money, huh?

Number 28 on AFI’s list is All About Eve.

Bette Davis sparkles as an aging Broadway actress being chased off stage by a fame thirsty aspiring ingénue in this sharply written 1950 Best Picture winner. All About Eve gives its viewer an insider’s look behind the curtain with bitchy back-biting and back stage drama playing the starring role in the film. Davis’ character is finding it difficult to age gracefully yet still find significant parts in the entertainment industry. This exposing story shines a light on our youth obsessed culture’s thirst for the newest, freshest face (both on screen and in the mirror) and the dangerous way this obsession inherently discounts the rich value of experience and wisdom that often accompanies age. All About Eve is just as relevant to audiences sixty years after it was first released.

“Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night!”

Anne Baxter is brilliant as Eve, the aspiring actress who’s more sinister side quietly comes to a boil beneath her innocent veneer. From the moment she is introduced it is clear there is more to this character than meets the naked eye. From the outside she appears to be nothing more than a fresh face in the right place at the right time. However, as she sneakily manipulates and maneuvers her way into a starring role the audience is given tiny hints about her true motivation. Baxter is able to turn the crazy on and off at a moment’s notice allowing the viewer sneak peeks at the inevitable unmasking that is sure to come.

As far as the film’s cultural impact, what I found most intriguing was the way life was NOT imitating art. Ultimately, Davis’ character Margo comes to terms with her age and decides to quietly leave the theatre in exchange for domestic bliss. Finally aware she is no longer fit to play the young ingénue roles, she opts to leave her profession rather than transition within it. This is not what Bette Davis decided to do. As an actress entering her 40s at the time All About Eve was made, Davis embraced a meaty, substantive and age-appropriate role by playing Margo. She chose not to shy away from her age but instead relied on it to masterfully embody her character. Her effort was awarded with an iconic performance that stands the test of time and some say is Davis’ best ever. (As an interesting side note, legend has it that Baxter’s lobbying for her performance to be nominated in the Best Actress Category allegedly split the votes and ultimately lost the Best Actress Award for both she and Davis that year.)

Apropos of the fact that the story centers on the theatre, the film seems to have been framed more like a play than a motion picture. I'm not sure if this was a stylist choice made by writer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz or if it is simply a coincidence. With the exception of the final, chilling shot (see it below), the film’s cinematography left me, for the most part, bordering on the blah. However, All About Eve is certainly a feast for the ears if not always for the eyes. It’s ultimately Mankiewicz’s sharp script and the equally sharp delivery by its cast that makes this one a winner.

All About Eve set a record in 1950 receiving 14 nominations, more than any single film to date. It won six awards including Best Picture, Director & Screenplay. All About Eve also garnered four nominations for its female actresses (Davis & Baxter for Best Actress and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actresses). Though none of the four won it maintains the record for most female nominees from a film. Kind of an ironic dose of girl power considering this is a movie all about catty women fighting against each other instead of for each other, wouldn’t you say?

So, after watching my first Bette Davis film, I'm hooked.
Do you have any favorite Davis films or recommendations that I should try next?