So today I’m looking at the winner of the 1950 Oscar for best picture and the movie that is tied with Titanic for the most Oscar nominations in history.
When I watch movies like this I tend to have high expectations, because Hollywood classics bring out my judgement for high standards, especially one with such high honours. And also because there is such a large gap in culture between when the film was made and now I often wonder if a film will be able to transcend that gap and be truly timeless. Well this film managed to do this marvellously. It drew me in immediately with its opening scene. The narration from Addison DeWitt is really a great and unique way to get us invested in the film. The narration lets us know where we are and why we’re there. He also a lot of great sarcastic lines about people who don’t know anything about the world in which they live, the long winded actor, and the idea of producers who want to make art and those who want to make a buck. The narration style is also good because it allows us to get into the heads of most of the characters to explain a lot of exposition in a way that feels natural. Like the way Karen leads us in to how Eve came into their lives and how Margo takes over for things Karen obviously wouldn’t be present for.
This film is a great one for re-watching because of the wonderful performances being carried out by everyone in the cast. The very first time I watched the film I noticed the body language of everyone at the table during the award ceremony, Margo especially, and wondered why they seemed so hostile towards Eve. Then having learned all about Eve through the course of the film I knew exactly why they are acting like that, and can enjoy even more the quirks and movements in that opening. Like Karen’s wistful look as she wonders how it got to be like this, DeWitt’s eyebrow lift on the word love, and Max’s enthusiastic clapping as probably the only one left who doesn’t know that Eve is a conniving snake in the grass.
I love the character of Eve and the unfolding of her throughout the film so we see who she really is. I like all the subtle ways we can see she loves the theatre and wants to be on stage despite her continued self-deprecation that she is terrible. Not just when we see her standing with Margo’s dress, but also when she white knuckles the curtains as the cast bows and the audience applauds. Then of course there is her speech about the applause from an audience on the staircase at Bill’s birthday party being like waves of love. She wants that life and will sacrifice anything for it. Not only is this kind of cruel character something we still don’t see a lot for women in entertainment, but it's also a tragic character really in that Eve does achieve what she wanted and yet lost everything on the way there. As Margo says the things you drop on your way up, and Eve drops everything. People who trusted her and thought of her as their friend she betrayed. So when she gives her speech at the end it’s nothing but empty words, and then as they all go off to celebrate she is alone in her apartment, and soon to be replaced as we see a young woman taking up her role as the supportive caregiver and have that lust for recognition under the surface just like Eve had.
Moving onto the other characters Bette Davis gives a wonderful performance as Margo Channing. It’s big and bold while also having great little subtle moments too. Like the way she and Thelma Ritter look at each other when Ritter’s characters tells Margo that Bill has already been home for twenty minutes and they know he has been talking with Eve all that time, and Bette just downs her drink because she knows she’ll need it to get through the rest of the night. That provides a great contrast between her and Eve as well because Eve is coming across as this mousy innocent ‘kid’ as the guys call her and so Margo in contrast does come across as paranoid and hysterical in her attacks on Eve, and Eve can just use all that to her advantage. Because she isn’t some innocent little lamb in their jungle and she cut her fangs a long time ago, she can just hide them better than most. Again there is a good use of subtlety there in the way she tries to rip the wig in her dressing room when she doesn’t get Bill. Her true self peeks through just for a moment. This is also a great turning point for Bill because he now knows Margo was right Eve was gunning for him and always had been.
Even small parts like Marilyn Monroe as Miss Casswell are great. Sure she is playing the so called dumb blonde, but yet there are hints that it is an act just like Eve’s is. The way she gives DeWitt this cold look when he talks about her career rising in the east as she acts like an idiot to get a drink from Max; or when she first goes to meet Max and flashes that Monroe smile and walks that sultry walk as she goes off screen. The moments are small but effective.
Also I love that scene on the stairs at Bill’s party just in terms of composition. The dialogue being said there is great as well, but the composition is lovely because it’s five people crammed in this tiny space with people squeezing by them and pictures all over the walls, and angles that don’t involve shot reverse shots when people are taking to each other. It’s wonderful, because it’s so different from what I’m used to seeing.
Another great shot is when Eve is going to tour with Lloyd’s new play and we open on the Shubert theatre which is the one Eve named in San Francisco, but they of course aren’t in San Francisco, it’s our first small hint that this is all about to unravel for Eve. Although with the shot that follows it comes my only complaint about the film. The rear screen projection used when Eve and DeWitt are walking out of the theatre is obvious and the scene really should have been reshot. Still, the whole reveal with DeWitt in Eve’s room as he breaks down her lies one by one is wonderful especially since it follows the scene with her tricking Lloyd into coming to her place. So when she starts in about him leaving Karen and declaring his love for her we know Eve is lying and then we learn that DeWitt knows it too. Eve has finally met her match, because he is just as much of a snake as she is and now she’s trapped with him. She has no one to turn to, because she’s driven them all away.
Finally I really have to say that I love that this plot is focused mainly on women. Eve and Margo, Margo and Karen, Karen and Eve, all their interactions are great and no one is reduced to the stereotypical stand there and look pretty with no brain housewife. Karen makes a brief stab at it when she acts all careless about not checking the gas gauge in the car when they’re out on the road, but it clearly is exactly that: an act. Margo feels the pressure of aging that most women do and although she resolves that with her marriage to Bill that doesn’t mean she is going to stop being an actress. It just means she won’t keep pushing herself into roles she knows she shouldn’t play anymore to fill a void elsewhere in her life. In her own way Eve did indeed leave good behind for the people who once thought she was their friend. Eve being totally two faced is great as I’ve said, but also in that she manipulates men and women equally which is something quite rare to see on the silver screen.
To conclude this truly is a wonderful film. Marvellously acted with layered characters, beautifully shot, and has a great story that has subtlety and charm, and is truly worthy of being one of the timeless Hollywood classics.