Annie Caulfield looks into the heart of an artichoke. Wait, what?
There’s something about the way Bette Davis, with her hands in the pockets of a silk dress, swishes haughtily through this film.
The flash of her eyes and the ‘don’t mess with me’ tilt of her chin are weapons I wish I could conjure when I’m messed with.
Yet despite her magnificence, Bette Davis’s character in this film, Margo Channing, is tormented by friends and foes alike, particularly by the conniving minx of the title, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter).
Margo Channing is a grande dame of Broadway but she’s 40, playing 24 and Bill Sampson, the love of her life, is only 32: “Bill’s 32, he looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it 20 years from now.”
At this vulnerable juncture, with Margo’s closest friends growing tired of her temperament, wide-eyed Eve Harrington insinuates herself into Margo’s life. Eve makes herself indispensable while she goes after Margo’s career, man, friendships…
The storms this provokes lead to some of the most quotable lines in cinema. We all know, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” or the introduction of a young Marilyn Monroe’s character as being from the “Copacabana School Of Dramatic Art”. This is uttered by the compellingly wicked theatre critic, Addison DeWitt, played by sardonic, sinister George Sanders, who twists and observes events with amused detachment.
Some of the best lines though, are from Margo’s ex-vaudevillian dresser, Birdie, played by the indomitable Thelma Ritter. When observing a pile of fur coats on the bed at a fancy party, she remarks, “The bed looks like a dead animal act.” And when Eve tells everyone her heartbreaking backstory, Birdie mutters, “What a story. Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.”
Streetwise Birdie is the first to spot Eve as phoney. But will Eve get her comeuppance?
Not really. Eve gets fame and fortune but at a terrible price. Does Margo win? Well according to the intentions of this 1950 Joseph L Mankiewicz film, she does. Much as I love this film, there’s a moment in it when my heart sinks. It’s like the moment in Calamity Jane where Doris Day puts on a dress and you know she won’t be her wonderful self any more.
Margo Channing doesn’t care about Eve’s success because she has domestic bliss instead: “In the last analysis, nothing is any good unless you can look up just before dinner, or turn around in bed – and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman.”
So perhaps the message makes All About Eve something of a guilty pleasure. However, even if you hate the message, you’ll stay for the wisecracking dialogue, emotional tension and great storming, furniture-chewing confrontations.
I know if I’ve had a bumpy night of my own, All About Eve will be my comfort food. I’ll hug a cushion and puzzle for the umpteenth time over Margo Channing’s bizarrely effective, unfathomable put-down: “Remind me to tell you about when I looked into the heart of an artichoke.” The day I get to use that in a non-greengrocery context, my life will be complete.
Sadly, Annie died in November, 2016. Please consider donating to the Macmillan tribute fund set up by her sister Jo Caulfield in Annie’s name. https://macmillan.tributefunds.com/annie-caulfield3570 Views