My current Top 5

My current Top 5

4/12/2010

Best Actress 1950: Anne Baxter in "All about Eve"

After having won the Best Supporting Actress Oscar a couple of years earlier, Anne Baxter received her only Best Actress nomination for her performance as the title character in All about Eve – a young and shy aspiring actress who turns out to be a scheming manipulator.

Among movie fans, Anne Baxter is generally considered to be the reason why Bette Davis didn’t win the Best Actress Oscar for All about Eve – Anne Baxter’s decision to go lead instead of supporting reputedly resulted in vote splitting and cost Bette the award. But this simply overlooks the fact that Anne Baxter’s Eve is clearly a leading character in All about Eve.

Anne Baxter was a rather limited and artificial actress with a tendency for overacting and that melodramatic acting style from the 40s. This all worked in her Oscar winning role in The Razor’s Edge because this part gave her a lot of emotional and heartbreaking scenes where her acting style either fitted the situation or wasn’t so noticeable because of the character’s miseries. But in All about Eve, Anne Baxter didn’t have the luxury of obvious tragedy but only had herself and the dialogue to rely on. And while she was able to use that wonderful dialogue wisely, her shortcomings as an actress become too obvious in this part.

As mentioned before, there is always something artificial about Anne Baxter’s acting. This does not refer to the fact that Eve is a character who is always pretending and acting herself, but simply to Anne Baxter’s entire performance. All about Eve is filled with performances that are alive and real and Anne Baxter can never keep up with them. When Eve meets Karen Richards for the first time outside the theatre, Anne Baxter moves like a robot, positioning herself in front of Celeste in the right angle for the camera which results in completely unnatural movements and line deliveries.

The biggest problem of Anne Baxter’s performances lies in her early misinterpretation of the character. The viewer is supposed to believe that Eve is not only shy and quiet but also immediately likeable in a way that would make a woman like Margo Channing give her a room in her house and make her fool everyone around her (except for Birdie). This ability to make almost everybody like and trust her is the most important quality in Eve’s character and considering that Eve is supposed to be such a great actress, it should not be too hard for her. But Anne Baxter’s performance is never able to show these qualities. When she is questioning Karen about Margo, there should be some kind of excitement and admiration, but Anne Baxter delivers her lines mostly bored, sometimes even threatening but always very stiff. She does not succeed in showing the allegedly innocence in Eve. When she finally meets Margo, it’s also such a lifeless scene because Anne Baxter again seems almost bored to be there. Her biggest failure is the scene when Eve is telling about her own life and her past. It’s these scenes that should connect Eve to the other characters but again, Anne Baxter delivers her lines with so much lifelessness and a monotonous voice that is constantly gasping for air that it’s impossible to believe that anyone would care for this woman in any way. The only way to make this scene even slightly moving is by highlighting it with depressing music in the background. The normal reaction should have been that Margo’s and Eve’s ways part after that encounter because Anne Baxter fails to show why Margo and her friends accept her in their group.

Anne Baxter’s lifeless performance also makes another important aspect of Eve’s character unbelieving: the fact that she is supposed to be a great actress ‘full of fire and music’. It’s absolutely impossible to believe that a woman like Eve could seriously challenge Margo on the stage.

What does succeed in Anne Baxter’s performance is her ability to show Eve’s longing for that stage. In these scenes, she shows that this is not only a desire, but even an obsession. When she watches Margo’s curtain call or talks about how important the applause from the audience is, her performance and her character become much more interesting. It’s in these scenes that Anne’s acting style works well in the context of the move. Next to that, she is also able to show how inexperienced Eve seems to be compared to everyone around her. Thanks to her acting style that separates her from all the other performances, Anne Baxter is also able to separate Eve from all the other characters. Even when they are interacting, Eve seems to be distant.

Of course it’s obvious that Eve is a character who is supposed to be constantly acting but it’s Anne Baxter’s job to never let the other characters or the viewer realize this. But since Anne Baxter is not able to show this in Eve, the final outcome where Eve’s true character is revealed doesn’t work as well as it could have in the hands of a better actress.

But the astonishing thing about Anne Baxter’s performance is that, as misinterpreted as it may be, it still works in the context of the film. Anne Baxter’s performance does not harm the movie in any way but surprisingly works in its overall context. The reason is that Anne’s performance is low-key and quiet enough to never draw attention to itself but melt with the rest of the cast and movie.

On the whole, Anne Baxter’s performance improves during the run of the movie because her scenes of anger or hidden evil are much better acted than those of silent obedience. Her smile when she tells Margo about her phone call to Bill is a great moment in her performance and suddenly the character of Eve appears from a different angle. Her most famous scene in the bathroom with Celeste Holm is very well done and Anne Baxter is able to nail the moment when Eve suddenly shows her true self. Whenever Anne Baxter can show the merciless and conniving side of Eve, her performance suddenly comes alive. But even then, there are still more over-the-top moments to come. Her big fight scene with Addison DeWitt is so over-the-top, overdone, melodramatic and unreal that it’s impossible not to laugh when Addison slaps her after her fake laugh or when one sees her over-the-top crying.

The final scene of Eve is clearly the best moment in Anne Baxter’s performance because here she shows how Eve really is – lazy, bossy and too arrogant to notice the obvious truth in front of her eyes.

It’s a performance of so much mixed feelings because Anne Baxter has the right instincts for the part. She shows the differences between the fake Eve, the evil Eve, the manipulating Eve, the scared Eve and the real Eve but her limited talent prevents her from combining her instincts with a truly great performance.

Anne Baxter wants to do everything right but unfortunately does a lot wrong in her performance but is nonetheless still able to create an interesting character thanks to the brilliant writing. For this, she gets

9 comments:

Sage Slowdive said...

I hate the conspiracy that Anne Baxter took away the steam from Bette winning....good god :]

Anyways, I agree with you about the sometimes artificiality of it, but it worked for me.

Fritz said...

I also don't believe in it because I don't believe in this whole "vote-splitting"-theory.

Sage Slowdive said...

If there was some actual proof that the Academy didn't vote for Bette Davis because Anne Baxter was also nominated, then I probably still wouldn't believe it. It makes absolutely no sense.

Louis Morgan said...

I liked aspects of this performance but a lot of it did seem a bit stiff. Vote splitting probably should not be mentioned as much as it is because there have been so many examples when there was more than one nomination from one film and one of the nominees still won.

Fritz said...

Yes, it all comes down to five nominees and the one with the most votes wins. End of story.

Zephyr said...

I agree. There are five nominees and Judy Holliday got the most votes. Simple. Also, whether Baxter was as good as Davis or not is besides the point. Both roles were leading and both should have been nominated for the leading role, not the supporting role.

joe burns said...

I really disagree. I thought Baxter was fantastic and not stiff at all. She would have made a better winner then Judy Holliday in my opinion.

Fritz said...

Well, most people love Anne Baxter, so no need to worry, Joe! :-)

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you.Yes Anne's acting style is artificial,but it somehow works wonderfully in this part.For me this is great performance,not as good as Bette's but great nonetheless.