Posts Tagged ‘Bette Davis’

Movie Reviews 340 – All About Eve (1950)

April 13, 2018

I was going to write a review for an entirely different type of movie this week but the ‘chinglish’ dubbing was so atrocious I could not be sure what some of the points of discussion really meant (that movie was Jet Li’s early oeuvre Lord of the Wu-Tang for those that are curious and I may attempt it again in the future). But as luck would have it I watched All About Eve the following night and was so enthralled I just had to write about it instead and solve my problem at the same time

I always thought that Bette Davis had her second coming with What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, easily my favorite Davis film. But it turns out that that was her second career revival as she had already faded once before only to be resurrected by her stunning performance in All About Eve. Even I have to admit her performance here was almost as outstanding as her Baby Jane role. What makes all this so bizzare are the multitude of ‘life imitating art’ coincidences associated with both this movie and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?.  Davis plays an aging movie star while herself being considered a has-been at time, and in both cases she earned Oscar nominations for those portrayals.  Also in both cases, what happened behind the scenes eerily mimicked the plots of the movies.

Both written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, the story about a calculating and conniving aspiring actress Eve (Anne Baxter) that manipulates star Margo Channing (Davis) and her entourage by eliciting pity and plying adoration as needed to make her way up the Broadway ladder. Her marks include Margo’s boyfriend Bill (Gary Merrill), Margo’s best friend Karen (Celeste Holm) and her playwright husband Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), and the theater critic Addison (George Sanders) in this circle of friends. This is literally all about Eve’s lies, deceit and games, all geared towards taking Margo’s place.

I’ve always said that if any movie is worth its salt it begins with a good script and All About Eve is a fine example of that axiom. It seemed that almost ever sentence had a double meaning and the perception of almost every character seems to change from good to bad or the other way around. It is chock full of memorable one liners like Lloyd noting “It’s about time the piano realized it has not written the concerto!” or Davis’ famous “Hold on, it’s going to be a bumpy night.

My 20th Century Fox “Studio Classics” DVD contained a “Backstory” documentary on the making of the film which detailed the history as well many aspects where the film echoed real life. For instance, while Davis was a shoe in for the Best Actress Oscar nomination, Baxter fought and convinced producer Darryl Zanuck that she should vie for the same Oscar and not settle for a Supporting Actress one. But by pitting both performers in the same category and presumably having them take one one another’s votes they both lost, effectively both losing oscars probably would have otherwise won had they been in separate categories.

There is so much more to this movie that tackles ageism, the politics of theater, fame, and of course love and friendship. There is even a decent amount of comedy, most of that coming from Margo’s assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter). But the best is of course Bette Davis essentially playing… well herself.

Advertisements

Movie Reviews 318 – Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte (1964)

October 27, 2017

I’ve been looking forward to watching Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte ever since reviewing Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? which is probably my favorite Bette Davis movie. So successful was Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? that it inspired an entire subgenre of so called ‘psycho-biddy’ films of which  Hush… Hush, Sweet Charlotte is probably the most well known besides the progenitor.

The movie begins with a young Charlotte (Davis) having her plans of eloping with a married man (Bruce Dern) shattered on the eve of a lavish ball hosted by her wealthy father (Victor Buono). Her father did not approve of the romance and earlier in the evening coerced and bribed the young man to end the affair. Soon after Charlotte’s heart is broken she dazedly stumbles into the house full of celebrating guests and shocks everyone wearing a bloody dress and raving.

Presumed guilty but managing to evade prosecution on a technicality (and some southern hand greasing) Charlotte, now a spinster thirty years later, clings to the last legacy of her wealthy upbringing, the quickly deteriorating mansion. Alone except for the company of her wretched servant Velma (Agnes Moorehead) Charlotte maintains a low profile until a demolition crew comes to raze the homestead to make room for a bridge. This entices Charlotte to call upon her one last remaining relative, Miriam (Olivia de Havilland) to help her out of the predicament.

Miriam is shocked by Charlotte’s dire state and enlists the help of the local country physician Drew (Joseph Cotten), a former beau of Miriam’s, to tend to Charlotte’s physical and mental well being. But Charlotte begins to be haunted by the events of that dreadful night so long ago. She knows that everyone believes she killed her lover although she herself does not seem sure.

Suspicions of the murder vary between Charlotte, her angry father, the man’s widowed wife (Mary Astor), Velma  and a few other possibilities. But identifying the guilty party is just part of the intrigue here as we chip away at her present descent into madness and discover an even ghastlier surprise. This double mystery, one from the past and one in the present and how both are interconnected elevates the film thrill factor far beyond any mundane thriller.

No slouch herself under normal circumstance, de Havilland pales under the stellar Davis who makes magnificent use of those legendary eyes in numerous scenes. Perhaps understandably so given that de Havilland was a last minute substitute for Joan Crawford, the original choice for the role and who began the shoot until succumbing to Davis in their legendary offscreen war. The rest of the cast are all also in top form here, Buono (ironically playing Davis’ father here after playing her younger suitor in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?) and Moorehead in particular. Another surprise inclusion is the use of some fairly graphic gore in a few select scenes, but at the same time not quite gratuitous and genuinely adding to the suspense.

While this wasn’t nearly as savory as Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? it certainly merits a viewing. Now I’m tempted to seek out more of those other psycho-biddy movies. I need to know Who Slew Auntie Roo? Don’t you?

Movie Reviews 261 – Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)

April 9, 2016

What Ever Happened To Baby JaneExhibiting the greatest sibling rivalry and betrayal since Cain and Abel in the Book of Genesis, silver screen divas Bette Davis and Joan Crawford give landmark performances in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, a movie that not only delivers a thrilling drama, but borders on horror, both on and off screen.

Davis and Crawford, both former screen vixens that were themselves aging legends at the time of filming, perfectly fit the roles of Hollywood stars past their primes and now long forgotten. Sporting golden curly locks, “Baby” Jane Hudson (Davis) was a cherubic vaudeville child star on the scale of Shirley Temple who not only had adoring children panting for Baby Jane dolls but boasted a signature hit song “I’ve written a Letter to Daddy” that had adults tearing up as well. Conceited and vain, Jane’s later Hollywood career did not amount to much and ended on a scandalous note. Her sister Blanche (Crawford) was overshadowed on stage and bullied by Jane as a child, forever standing in the wings as Jane basked in the glow of her adoring fans, all the while simmering and vowing not to forget. In contrast to Jane, Blanche later blossomed into a headline Hollywood star, eclipsing her sister’s languishing career.

Both sister’s fortunes came crashing to halt one faithful night when a car accident leaves Blanche a paraplegic and bound to life in a wheelchair while sister Jane took the rap as the driver of the car that rammed Blanche. Now, years later and living together in a shared house, the women are all but forgotten when a retrospective of Blanche’s movies airs on TV, regenerating interest and fond memories by Blanche’s fans.

The combination of seeing Blanche’s resurrected fandom and the impending sale of the house they share becomes the tipping point for surly Jane. Her former mere annoyance now becomes outright terror as Jane first toys with her sister, now a captive, and then as she spirals down in  drunken insanity, begins to plan a more permanent deadly solution. Delusional and reminiscent of her past glory, Jane also decides that Blanche isn’t the only one that can rekindle a stagnant career and hires a musician via the want ads so that she can practice her signature song again. She entices a burly session player (Victor Buono) looking only for a quick buck who plays along with her off key parlour rehearsals. But it isn’t long before Jane’s every more complicated conniving becomes deadly, leading to a final scene on a beach where Jane creepily dances on the sand after being subjected to one more shocking surprise.

The screen sibling rivalry was nothing compared to be behind the scenes maneuvers exercised  between two combative divas. The studio tried to make light of that strain even going so far to try to dismiss the friction with select quotes in the DVD extra features, but over the years many other sources have documented the on-set battles. Knowing that Crawford was married to the president of Pepsi Cola, Davis had a contract stipulation that a Coca Cola vending machine be made available on the set. Not to be outdone, Crawford donned hidden lead weights prior to shooting a scene where Davis had to lift her. So celebrated was this feud that books and even a documentary capture the public jabs and taunts they inflicted one another over the years.

Despite the animosity, or more likely because of it, both women gave the performances of their careers, which for a time rekindled their own Hollywood postures, Davis even getting a Oscar nomination for her portrayal as Jane (as did  Buono). Sporting a ghoulish caked makeup and shriveled braids, Davis’ menacing look is unforgettable especially in one scene where she seems to undergo a physical transformation after seeing her own horror in the mirror. Swaying from  utter calm and the voice of reason to flat-out caged terror, Crawford elicits compassion and sympathy as the duel escalates.

So positive was the response to the movie that director Robert Aldrich and the writing team  planned to reunite the diva duo in Hush … Hush, Sweet Charlotte again in 1964, only to have Crawford exit the film shortly after production started.  Oh, what could have been…