My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
10. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

11. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
12. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
13. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
14. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
15. Kate Winslet in Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (2004)
16. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
17. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
18. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
19. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
20. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

21. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)
22. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
23. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
24. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
25. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
26. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
27. Anne Baxter in All about Eve (1950)
28. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
29. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
30. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)

31. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
32. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)
33. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
34. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
35. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
36. Jane Wyman in The Yearling (1946)
37. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
38. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
39. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
40. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)

41. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
42. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
43. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  
44. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
45. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
46. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
47. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
48. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington in All about Eve

Few performances in the Best Actress category are as difficult to evaluate for me as Anne Baxter’s turn as an aspiring but also scheming actress in All about Eve. It’s hard to deny that the part itself is a true showcase, written to perfection like almost everything else in this classic Best Picture winner. And Anne Baxter does find various great moments in her performance – but as my ranking shows, I am not completely convinced that her approach was overall successful or that she was even the right actress for the part.

I do have to say what I find very interesting that, despite my reservations about Anne Baxter’s performance, there is never a moment in All about Eve where I think that she is actually hurting the movie or threatens to destroy its flow. Instead, she completely integrates herself into the outstanding ensemble and contributes to the success of the story – but looking back on it, I think this has mostly to do with the fact that the remaining actors possess the necessary aliveness to compensate for her often stoic acting choices. I get that Eve is an outsider, even when she is welcomed into this group of theatre folks – but I still don’t think that Anne Baxter got everything out of the role that was possible. And I think that it is Anne Baxter’s sometimes lacking acting style that is responsible for one of the most discussed questions around this movie: leading or supporting? To this day, movie fans debate if Anne Baxter’s choice to compete in the Best Actress category is the reason that Bette Davis lost the award for her iconic role as Margo Channing, thus paving the way for Judy Holliday’s win for Born Yesterday. Personally, I agree with Anne Baxter – Eve is a leading role. But somehow, Anne Baxter’s performance doesn’t feel the same. What I mean is that both Eve and Margo were given the same chances by screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz – both are given an intriguing arc, both are dominating the story and both are given material that can easily lead to performances that are proclaimed “all-time great”. But only Bette Davis fulfilled this. Her performance is so dominating, so effortless and so memorable that she made Margo Channing naturally the center of attention. All about Eve became all about Margo, as also the later musical version Applause demonstrated. But as I said, this was a result of casting – if an actress who could have held her own against Bette Davis had been cast as Eve, then history might have been very different but Anne Baxter simply too much disappears next to Bette Davis, even with a role that, on paper, has the same potential.

Maybe the part of Eve actually had even more potential than Margo – the apparently innocent and devoted fan who turns out to be a scheming manipulator, trying to take everything away from her idol (her parts, her friends, her lover) is a dream role that demands an actress to do a complete turnaround in her performance and constantly act on different levels for different targets. And I won’t deny that Anne Baxter possessed the instinct for this – she knows when to appear innocent, when to crack an evil smile and when to completely let go of her carefully constructed protection. But still, the outcome does not convince me. First of all, what I think, is that Anne Baxter quite simply was too mature for the role of Eve. I realize that she was only 26 years old when she played the role but something about her was too “grown-up”. She simply lacks that quality that would make Margo Channing say that she feels an urge to protect her, she never really comes across as that devoted, wide-eyed fan who only lives for her idol. I’ve been unsuccessfully trying to come up with an actress who might have been more suited for the part – I just think that an actress with more spark and youth could have portrayed the naivety of the character better. Because of her maturity, Anne Baxter, at least for me, destroys her entrance completely – she feels much too secure when talking to Karen (does anyone really think that it took all her courage?) and her scene in the dressing room also feels too calculated. I get that Eve is acting at this point but she unfortunately doesn’t do it convincingly. Barbara Bates later gives a much more believable performance of the same character as Phoebe at the end of the movie – I am not saying that Barbara Bates would have been a better Eve but I can imagine that she would have given her opening scenes the needed charm and plausibility.

This acting style of Anne Baxter in my opinion also ruins the effect when she finally turns out to be something completely different. Anne Baxter never seems to hide her true intentions. I know that by now we are all aware of Eve’s true plans but watching the movie, there is no reason to immediately assume just how far Eve went to get to that award show. The beginning of the movie is intriguing and makes you wonder just what happened between these characters and if Eve had been a more likeable and sympathetic character, the question would have been going on for much longer (even when she tries to seduce Bill, she does it with such a clearly evil agenda in mind that it's surprising she would think that anyone would fall for it). But Anne Baxter’s acting style and Bette Davis’s performance don’t make it very difficult to side with Margo right away and begin to expect the worst.

But as I said, the acting of Anne Baxter does not diminish the success of All about Eve – I just think the movie and the role could have succeeded on a more intriguing level. Other scenes when Eve is fooling (or trying to) those around her also suffer from her melodramatic acting style, from convincing Karen to make her Margo’s new understudy to lying to Addison about what happened in the ladies’ room. But I would expect that a woman whose acting style is called “fire and music” would be more convincing in her schemes. Anne Baxter mostly puts on a melodramatic whisper and turns her head away from her scene partners to look into the open space which makes it impossible to imagine that she can seriously rival Bette Davis’s Margo on the stage – or off.

This was a lot of negative talk so far which could pose the question why Anne Baxter is then not lower on my list. Well, first of all, as I said, despite her acting choices she does not harm the movie but still fits into it and still manages to make her journey captivating. But most of all, Anne Baxter succeeds when Eve finally drops her niceties and shows her true self. She is absolutely mesmerizing in the scene with Celeste Holm in the ladies’ room and later when she is defeated by Addison in her hotel room. Again, I wish her approach in these scenes would have been a bit deeper (just how true is her love for the theatre? Is it only about awards and fame? Or about acting, too? Just what is her true personality in the end anyway?) but it works to bring her performance full circle.

So, there remains a certain frustration as the role itself certainly had the potential to become a 5 star performance but I think that Anne Baxter was not the right actress to do so. Still, it’s a captivating performance that works within the structure of the picture.  

And a hint to the next performance that will be ranked:


Giuseppe Fadda said...

I agree it’s not a perfect performance and that the writing allowed for far more than what she did, but I liked her more than you I think. The next one is Marie Dressler in Emma I guess.

Deiner said...

Great review Fritz. I've only seen All About Eve once and it was about 9 years ago. I remember Davis, Sanders, Holm and even Ritter and Monroe perfectly, and yet, I have a hard time remembering Anne Baxter before her ~big~ scene near the end of the movie. I think the next review is Ruth Chatterton in Madame X.

Giuseppe Fadda said...

Ugh I did not think about Chatterton, you’re probably right!