Written & Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
I didn’t know much of anything about this film before it got dictated to me in Filmspotting Forum’s, and one of its member’s MartinTeller’s, wonderful inventions: The List of Shame. Finally this film, which is highly regarded, winning 6 Academy Awards including Best Picture the same year Sunset Blvd., once of my all time favorites, was also nominated. All of this jazz and yet as for plotline, I had absolutely zero idea. I didn’t even really know who was in it. I guess I sort of knew Bette Davis was there, but I would have had no idea that Marilyn Monroe was here, or especially Thelma Ritter, whom I saw for the first time and loved in Pickup on South Street.
So when the opening scene started to set everything up, with all these characters, my ear were perked and I was interested to find out what this was all about. Davis plays, much to my surprise, Margo, one of the biggest actresses of the stage in New York. Eve is actually played by Anne Baxter. Eve is a huge fan of Margo, borderline stalker, but when she gets her chance to meet her thanks to Karen (Celeste Holm), she gets into her graces with a sob story and soon becomes her personal secretary. Tensions rise, however, when it becomes apparent that her ambitions start to get into the way of the relationship, despite her steadfast loyalty to Margo.
I had a really strange reaction to this film. For one, and this is something really peculiar from me and I don’t know why I reacted this way, but I felt this was a really girly movie. And by girly I mean I think girls would be more readily able to enjoy it than me. I don’t know why I feel that way, other than maybe the two main characters are women and basically have a power struggle. But I say this is weird because I usually have a really open mind when it comes to film and never think about things like “this movie is better for girls, or guys, for whites or blacks, etc. etc.” I usually just watch the film, try to relate the best I can, and reflect on the experience of watching the film. I just couldn’t get past it this time for some reason. It felt like there was a barrier and I think that is because of the direction the film took.
The dramatic twist is something that really works for the film, but didn’t work for me. I don’t want to spoil it, even if the film is 60 years old, but basically something I liked and could really get behind turns out to be something else, and that bothered me, even though I know it was what had to happen with the story. I don’t know where I was expecting the film to go, but not that way, and that being said the conclusion to the picture was somewhat of a letdown after the dramatic build of the denouement. This was one of those rare instances where the ending really just kind of ruined what was an otherwise pretty good film experience for me.
That being said, the rest of the movie was, like I said, a pretty good film experience. Bette Davis and Anne Baxter are great in the lead roles, especially Davis, and really the whole cast is great. There were, however, a couple instances where I was conscious of Baxter’s melodramatic “looking off into the distance” scenes. But Bette Davis hits all of the over the top notes in her big scenes. I really do need to seek out more of Thelma Ritter because she is 2-for-2 in my book and you hardly see her in this film. There are a lot of characters, but the film is well thought out by writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz and all of the actors give good performances. Certainly a good film, just one of those that has an invisible barrier between its greatness and my enjoyment.