My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress 1950: Bette Davis in "All about Eve"

After having appeared in All about Eve, Bette Davis told director Joseph L. Mankiewicz: “You resurrected me from the dead” which may have been exaggerated but still described the situation quite well. After having been the most acclaimed dramatic actress at the end of the 30s and the beginning of the 40s, the quality of Bette’s work began to diminish and she appeared in mostly mediocre movies – until Mankiewicz offered her the part of the aging theatre diva Margo Channing in All about Eve. Her performance turned out to be an artistic comeback on the highest level for which she received her 8th Oscar nomination.

All about Eve tells the story of two women: one is Margo Channing, a great star of the New York theatre stage and the other is Eve Harrington, a young and aspiring actress who pretends to be Margo’s biggest fan but turns out to be a scheming manipulator who tries to get Margo’s next part.

The movie begins with an awards ceremony where the greatest achievements of the stage are awarded with the Sarah Siddons award while the viewer hears the voice of the theatre critic Addison DeWitt who explains the situation and presents the main characters of the story. Considering that Margo’s is such a great star and diva, her entrance is rather unspectacular. The camera suddenly cuts to her while DeWitt is introducing her to the viewer but Bette Davis movie star personality is already visible in this short scene. The way she rejects water in her drink, lights a fire or looks around her fits perfectly to DeWitt’s description that Margo is ‘a great star’ and that she will never be anything else. It’s an incredibly subtle introduction of a very real diva. When Eve Harrington receives the award for the best acting, Margo does not applaud. Instead, she seems to be curious to see what happens – and there seems also to be something knowing behind her face. With a few looks, Bette Davis shows there is a whole history behind her and Eve – a story that hasn’t been told yet.

From the first moment Bette Davis appears in the flashback scenes, she creates a multidimensional, larger-than-life but always very real theatre diva. Just like her character is supposed to be, she dominates the screen but she is able to make it look completely natural. Bette Davis never overacts any emotion but instead is able to be larger-than-life in a very subtle way that results in a very honest and believable characterization. She flawlessly demonstrates the self-assurance of Margo and how she is automatically the center of attention but Bette Davis never overshadows any of her co-stars but instead creates wonderful relations with them all: her chemistry with Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Gary Merril and, of course, Anne Baxter, is fantastic and she never turns All about Eve into a Bette-Davis-movie but a wonderful ensemble piece instead.

But Bette Davis doesn’t stop at showing Margo’s self-confidence but very soon opens her characters up and demonstrates a certain vulnerability and uncertainty especially when it comes to her age. She is able to joke about that topic but it’s obvious that this is actually very serious and troubling for her because it’s concerning her professional and her private life. She is realizing that she is becoming too old for the parts she is playing and she is constantly worried that Bill, the love of her life who is younger than her, will someday leave her for a woman his own age.

As if all these worries wouldn’t be enough, she soon begins to doubt the intentions of Eve, the young girl whom she gave a room in her house and a job as her assistant. When she catches Eve with her own costume in front of a mirror, she seems rather amused but very soon she is not able to define Eve anymore. Bette plays this beginning suspicion very well.

She is especially impressive at the party scene because all of Margo’s worries and fears come together here and make her react in a sullen way. Bette convincingly shows that Margo hates herself for acting the way she does – being mean to everyone, unpleasant and suspicious but she simply can’t stop it. She feels hurt so she likes to hurt others. Bette is able to clearly show when Margo is her real self and when she is behaving in a fake, arrogant way when something is not going according to her wishes or she simply doesn’t know how to handle reality. And especially handling reality becomes more and more difficult for her as she realizes that she has come to a crucial point in her life where she can’t go on like this anymore.

Eve does not only threaten Margo with her youth but also with the simple fact that she is able to fool everyone else (except Margo’s friend Birdie). Suddenly, Margo is alone on her side. Eve seems to destroy the natural authority that a star like her has – her friends are on Eve’s side when Margo is behaving in the most temperamental way where she can’t hide her true feelings.

Bette Davis is able to show all the weak and strong sides of Margo and mixes them with wonderful sarcastic humor and so creates one of the most fascinating characters in movie history. It’s a very private portrayal of a larger-than-life woman. Bette shows that for this woman who is used to get everything she wants, the uncertainties of her life are becoming too much. Margo is in a phase in her life where she prevents herself from happiness because she doesn’t know how to react to all the changes.

But finally, Margo opens her thoughts and soul in a cold car on the side of the road. A fight with Bill seems to have provoked her to finally decide about her own life. She realizes that she turned herself into a stage character and that she must find herself again. It’s a great moment and Bette is able to deliver it without any self-pity but rather shows a thoughtful reflection on Margo’s character.

When she and Bill are finally getting engaged, Bette plays Margo with a wonderful openness and relaxedness that hasn’t been visible in her performance up to that point. She shows that Margo finally figured out what is good for her and how she wants her life to be.

Bette Davis delivers an astonishing and unforgettable portrayal of a great star at her personal crossroad and for this she gets


joe burns said...

Yay! This is just an amazing achievement! I hope she gets your vote. What did you think Ritter and Holm's performances?

Fritz said...

Celeste Holm was great! Thelma Ritter worked very well with her material, maybe she even deserved the nomination, but it's really not that special...

Louis Morgan said...

A great performance. My only problem with film is the male performances (besides George Sanders) are underwhelming.

Robert said...

Believe it or not, I STILL haven't seen All About Eve. I cannot wait to though!

Fritz said...

lol, actually, I can't believe it!

Zephyr said...

This performance is easily one of my favourite actress performances ever (maybe do I prefer Vivien Leigh's two oscar winning performances more). I totally agree that whilst Davis is stunning in this role she never steals the scenes from her costars and that is the sign of a great actress.