AFI #28: All About Eve

eveI really enjoyed All About Eve, the 1950 drama featuring Bette Davis. I’d never seen the film, or any Bette Davis film for that matter, and it’s easy to see why the film won so many awards and why Bette Davis is so lauded. The film tells the story of Eve Harrington, a young aspiring actress who weaves her way into the inner lives of her idol Margot Channing (played by Davis). Eve initially seems to be benevolent and simply starry-eyed, but over time we learn she is conniving and ambitious to a fault and that it was no accident that she forced her way into the lives of Channing and the other Broadway insiders.

All About Eve won the Academy Award for Best Picture in 1951 and it was well deserved. The story is about fame, ambition, jealousy and the nature of people. And while the film is “all about Eve” it’s really just as much about Channing, who is trying to find her way as an “older” actress now that she has hit the big 4-0. Channing is struggling with aging in a young woman’s world, and even worries that her younger boyfriend will leave her for a new model. But as the film moves on and she begins to see the “real” Eve she learns that she has true friendships and the love of her boyfriend and that no matter what Eve does she will always have that. After seeing the film I can’t believe Davis didn’t win the Best ACtress honor, but it’s quite possible the votes were split between her and Anne Baxter who played Eve thus handing the Oscar to Judy Holliday in Born Yesterday.

The film is loaded with tremendous acting performances from Davis and Baxter to George Sanders who won an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor as well as Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter who were both nominated for Best Supporting Actress. The film even includes Marilyn Monroe in one of her earlier roles. The acting was brilliant in large part because of a wonderful screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz who also directed the film. The dialogue is really excellent and quite provocative for its time. It’s very intelligently written with lots of humor as well. And it has the famous line from Bette Davis:

“Fasten your seatbelt, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”

Next Up: High Noon

AFI #29: Double Indemnity

Double-Indemnity-006Well, after a month off I’m back to the countdown and No. 29 on the AFI list is 1944’s Double Indemnity starring Fred MacMurray and Barbara Stanwyck. It’s the story of an insurance salesman who together with the unhappy wife of one of his clients plots to kill the husband to collect the insurance money. The film, directed by the great Billy Wilder (Some Like it Hot, The Apartment, Sunset Boulevard), this film tried too hard to be a Raymond Chandler novel (Chandler wrote the screenplay from a novel by James Cain). It’s noir, but for me it is bad noir — I even laughed a few times at the faux drama. I know it was 1944, but there are so many great noir films from that period that this one pales in comparison.

Double Indemnity did get nominated for Best Picture, probably because it was a crappy year for films (Bing Crosby’s Going My Way won the honor). Stanwyck was nominated for Best Actress (she also lost) and in fact the film lost all seven of the Oscars for which it was nominated. I found Stanwyck to be quite good as the icy cool murderous wife and Edward G. Robinson was great as the insurance agency’s skeptical leader. And then there was MacMurray. I was really impressed with his performance in another AFI film, The Apartment, but he was clunky and over-the-top in this performance. I know it is interesting to see the dad from Father Knows Best and the Absent Minded Professor as a killer, but it wasn’t enough for me to say this was a great performance.

I’m going to chalk this one up to AFI voters who think Billy Wilder can do know wrong (he certainly is one of our greatest directors) but this is not one of his best. Overrated!

Next Up: All About Eve