|All About Eve, 1950. Directed by Joseph Mankeiwicz.
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Marilyn Monroe.
It is so rare to have a terrific screenplay in Hollywood that it comes as a shock that a screenplay as good as Joseph Mankeiwicz's script for this multi-Oscar winning powerhouse is so good that it harms the movie. This is one of those movies that winds up on lists of "all-time greatest" and whatnot, but I find myself suggesting the heretical notion that it just isn't THAT good. Oh, don't get me wrong: it IS good, but it is NOT great. And here is why: It talks too damned much.
This has such good actors (Anne Baxter excluded--she gives a genuinely un-convincing turn as the scheming Eve of the title) and such a good screenplay that it neglects its duties as cinema. We are told things when they should be shown to us. It takes no risks composing the shot--if the actors are in the frame and the composition is not dreadfully bad, then it suffices. It is a plain, visually un-interesting movie that might have worked better as a radio drama or a stage production (it is significant, I think, that the movie is about the theater, a millieu it desperately wants to inhabit). But its biggest failing stems not from its pedestrian execution, but from its vaunted screenplay and performances. Specifically: all of the characters are universally loathsome. Sure, they are well drawn and flawlessly emoted with lines etched in venom, but in the end, this viewer found that he really didn't give a shit about any of them. They aren't real people. They don't have real problems. They are figures moving through a ruthlessly constructed melodrama wrecking each other with the innuendo, the rumor, the backstabbing lie, and while they are interesting to watch for a while, 2 hours and 10 minutes of it wears the patience thin.