Kicking off their 2015 programming, the Redford Theatre spent January 9 and 10 hosting screenings of All About Eve, starring the incomparable Bette Davis as well as Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe and Celeste Holm.
Bette Davis is one of my all-time favorite actresses, and All About Eve is one of her greatest films, so I couldn’t pass up the chance to see it at the Redford. I attended the Saturday night screening.
No cartoon short was played prior to the film, but organ concerts were provided by Dave Calendine before the film and during the intermission. When I searched Calendine to be sure I was spelling his name correctly, I discovered that he also plays the organ at Red Wings games! TMP is not a sports blog, so I don’t talk about the Wings here very often, but they’re my favorite sports team. I’ve been to quite a few games, and how fun that all along the organ was being played by someone who moonlights at the Redford!
Before I get into my thoughts on the screening, I must also mention that I added to my Redford shirt collection with an All About Eve tee. It features a picture of Bette Davis along with the film’s most famous quote — “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night!” — and the name of the theater. My wardrobe is slowly being overtaken by these classic film shirts.
Now, on to the film. If you’ve never seen All About Eve, I’ll give you a brief synopsis. Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film tells the story of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an aspiring actress who weasels her way into the lives of stage star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and her director boyfriend Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), as well as those of famed playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), his wife Karen (Celeste Holm), and theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Saunders). Initially, Eve seems like a harmless fan who adores Margo… but her secret ambitions lead to a boat-load of drama for the entire group.
Funnily enough, the first time I ever saw All About Eve was on a big screen — not a theatrical big screen, but in a film class at the university where I earned my BA. Despite having seen it on a screen at least twice my height before, it was still a very special experience to watch the film at the Redford.
As always, there were a couple of things that stuck out to me while watching the film this way, having not re-watched it in a year or two.
The first is the complexity of the film’s exploration of female roles in society. Some of the ideas presented aren’t fully realized by the film’s end, but I still applaud the film for this aspect of its script. On one hand, you have Margo, who speaks of someday giving up her career to become a “real” woman by fulfilling the role of wife. Meanwhile, Mrs. Richards seems a bit unsettled in her role as a successful playwright’s wife — a very similar life to what Margo hopes to have. The narration in which Mrs. Richards describes feeling worthless, as though she has no talents, after she decides to stop attending the “Footsteps on the Ceiling” rehearsals, is so valuable to this discussion, and begs the question of whether it is possible to truly be fulfilled. Margo is not totally fulfilled as a woman with stage stardom and a great career; Karen is not totally fulfilled as a woman with a husband to care for.
Another thing that stood out to me was the intensity of Anne Baxter’s performance. As a Bette Davis fan, I’ve always sort of thought of All About Eve as Bette’s film. And certainly, she gives a performance very much worth marveling at. But watching the film again, at the Redford, I was very impressed by Baxter — how she threw a little bit of an “off” element into her character from the beginning, subtly hinting at how things would turn out. Davis herself, in Whitney Stine’s “I’d Love to Kiss You…” refers to Eve as a “sweet bitch” character and praises Baxter’s portrayal of the dual nature of the character (p. 227). Eve Harrington is a scheming woman — such a fascinating character, and Anne Baxter is a perfect fit for the role.
But most striking of all when watching this film as it was meant to be seen, is that final scene! I’ve always loved the ending of this film, but to see those dozens of “Phoebe” fame-hunters in the mirror on a theatrical screen, in a dark room, with a cackling audience is quite spectacular. It’s such a brilliant way to end the film, and like the previously-mentioned contrast between Karen and Margo, adds such depth to the film’s meaning. Phoebe will do to Eve what Eve did to Margo, and so the chain goes on in a culture obsessed with artistic fame.
All About Eve is a film that never fails to impress me, but there was another thing that made this screening special. I happen to be in the middle of reading a book about Bette Davis at the moment: Whitney Stine’s “I’d Love to Kiss You…” (also cited above), which is a candid account of his friendship with Davis, and his conversations with her. The day before visiting the Redford for this film, I read a quote in the book about how she was able to characterize Margo so marvelously:
“Mankiewicz gave me one line that told me exactly what kind of dame Margo Channing was in All About Eve. He said, ‘She treats her mink coat like a poncho.’ Pow! Lightning struck.” (p. 213)
This quote was in my head throughout the film’s entire run-time, and Mankiewicz’s description of the character fits her to a tee.