Friday, June 21, 2013

Screening: All About Eve at the Los Angeles Theatre

As part of its annual Last Remaining Seats program, the Los Angeles Conservancy presented the classic All About Eve at the beautifully ornate and historic Los Angeles Theatre on Broadway in Downtown L.A.  Renowned film critic and historian Leonard Maltin introduced the film to the 2,000 strong audience.

All About Eve (Twentieth Century-Fox, 1950)
Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe and Marilyn Monroe
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the short story 
"The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr
Winner of the Academy Award for Best Picture, Best Director, Best Supporting Actor (Sanders), Best Screenplay, Best Costume Design (Black & White) and Best Sound Recording
Also nominated for Best Actress (Davis and Baxter), Best Supporting Actress (Holm and Thelma Ritter), Best Art Direction/Set Decoration (Black & White), Best Film Editing, Best Cinematography (Black & White) and Best Music/Scoring

Margo Channing (Davis) is a star of the New York theatre.  As introduced by Addison DeWitt (Sanders), she is a great star, a true star.  But she is also a star who has just turned forty years old and that's a problem for an actress, even one as great as Margo.  It doesn't help that Margo's director/boyfriend Bill Sampson (Merrill) is a distantly young thirty-two.

In the midst of all this greatness turns up a mousy, devoted uber-fan who never misses a single Margo Channing performance.  The ever-humble Eve (Baxter) is brought into the golden inner circle of her idol's life by Karen Richards (Holm), the non-industry wife of Lloyd Richards (Marlowe), Margo's go-to playwright.  Eve's tragic life story of a poor, boring existence made meaningful by a small-town theatre company, only to be dashed by the World War II death of Eve's husband touches Margo so much that she takes the waifish fan into her life and home.  The unassuming girl quickly becomes an indisposable friend and assistant.

But as time goes on, Eve makes moves into Margo's personal and professional lives, eventually persuading Karen to pitch her to Margo's producer as the star's new understudy.  By now Margo feels threatened by her youthful charge and things reach an ugly head when Bill returns home from a brief stint in Hollywood during a maudlin party in which Davis as Margo, after arguing with Bill about "the kid" utters the immortal line to her guests: "Fasten your seatbelts.  It's going to be a bumpy night!"

As the story progresses, Eve is revealed to be anything but the humble angel she has presented herself as.  She manages to tear apart both Margo and Bill as well as Karen and Lloyd.  Unable to seduce Bill, Eve moves on to the weaker Lloyd, who she persuades to leave his wife for her, envisioning for them a future as a Broadway super-couple.  However, in her quest for stardom Eve has enrolled the assistance of the deceptively civil but ultimately vicious Broadway critic DeWitt, and he will make her pay for her transgressions with Lloyd Richards.  To DeWitt, he and Eve are cut from the same cloth - ruthlessly ambitious, utterly devoted to the theatre and disdainful of their fellow man, unable to love or be loved, and therefore strangely meant to be together.  The scene where DeWitt rips Eve apart by exposing her true backstory and destroys her ambitions as the future Mrs. Lloyd Richards, followed by him forcing her to admit they are meant to be together is one of the all-time horrifically great scenes ever committed to film.

And I loved it at the end, when Davis uttered the much less famous but no less awesome line to Baxter, "I wouldn't worry about your heart, my dear. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be."  The Los Angeles Theatre erupted in delighted applause.  Take that Eve, you bitch!!!

Some All About Eve facts and trivia:
  • Claudette Colbert was originally cast as Margo, but had to drop out after injuring her back shortly before filming began and Davis stepped in.  Other actresses considered for the role included Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Joan Crawford and Gertrude Lawrence.  Other actresses considered for Eve included Jeanne Crain, who had just appeared in Mankiewicz's previous film, A Letter To Three Wives, and Donna Reed.
  • All About Eve earned fourteen Oscar nominations, the most ever by a motion picture.  This record has never been exceeded and was only equaled decades later by Titanic.
  • Tallulah Bankhead was widely considered to be the real-life inspiration for Margo Channing.  While Davis based her performance on the larger-than-life Bankhead, author Mary Orr personally told Bankhead that Margo was not based on her.  Bankhead was reportedly not amused by this news.
  • Davis' husky voice was the result of screaming matches with her then-husband, William Sherry, as their marriage was deteriorating.  She fell in love with her co-star Merrill during filming.  Davis and Merrill eventually married and the result was a ten-year roller coaster ride that ended in divorce.  During their marriage they adopted a daughter they named Margot, who was later found to suffer from mental retardation so severe that she was institutionalized.  They also adopted a son, Michael.  Davis' daughter by Sherry, B.D. Sherry (later known by her married name of B.D. Hyman) would go on to write My Mother's Keeper, in which she detailed a chaotic and dysfunctional life with Bette, who disowned her as a result.
  • The film was originally titled Best Performance.  The title was changed by Fox head Darryl F. Zanuck, who took the new title from Addison DeWitt's opening monologue.
  • Future superstar and icon Marilyn Monroe made one of her early appearances in this film.  She played a ditzy blonde aspiring actress making nice with a producer in the position to help her career.  Other actresses considered for the small role were Angela Lansbury and Zsa Zsa Gabor, who was married to George Sanders at the time.
  • Mary Orr's story The Wisdom of Eve was based on a real-life incident involving Austrian stage actress Elisabeth Bergner.  In the short story, which originally appeared in Cosmopolitan in 1946, Eve's exploits are detailed by Karen, who at the end is revealed to be on her way to Reno to obtain a divorce from her playwright-husband, whom Eve has stolen away from her.
  • A Broadway musical version of the film, titled Applause, opened in 1970 and won the Tony Award for Best Musical.  It ran for almost 900 performances.  Margo was first played by Lauren Bacall; when Bacall left the show she was replaced by Anne Baxter.
  • All About Eve has a staggering 100% fresh rating at Rotten Tomatoes.
The Los Angeles Theatre is located at 615 Broadway in DTLA, on the same block as Clifton's Cafeteria, which is currently closed for remodeling.  Before the film began we were informed that the family that owns the Los Angeles Theatre also own a couple other historic theatres in the area and they are committed to restoring those to their former glory as well.  The DTLA renaissance hasn't quite made it to Broadway yet, but with the restoration of Clifton's and the old movie houses, hopefully it won't be long until it does.

Some shots of the interior (unfortunately not great quality as I took them with my phone):

All About Eve on imdb - Joseph L. Mankiewicz on imdb - Bette Davis on imdb - Anne Baxter on imdb - George Sanders on imdb - Celeste Holm on imdb - Gary Merrill on imdb - Hugh Marlowe on imdb - Thelma Ritter on imdb - Marilyn Monroe on imdb - All About Eve on Wikipedia - All About Eve on Rotten Tomatoes - Bette Davis: The Official Site

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