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Cinematic Shorts: All About Eve


All About Eve (1950)

     Although I immensely enjoyed All About Eve on my first viewing, it was not until the second time around that I really came to feel the utter evilness of the title character, giving me chills and heightening the experience. This picture is definitely a standby that not only highlights the talent of the actors and writer-director, but also gives a great look at the cut-throat side of the acting world. Although set in the realm of theater, All About Eve could just as easily be portraying the caustic and rough environment on some Hollywood soundstages.

     Bette Davis is perfectly cast as Margo Channing and was thought of as “brave” for taking on the role of an aging actress. It was a great move on her part professionally and romantically, as she ended up married for 10 years to her onscreen lover, Gary Merrill. But speaking of well-cast talent, George Sanders earns his Supporting Actor Oscar as theater critic Addison DeWitt, whose meddling and always quotable lines make him essential to the plot and wholly loathsome. Anne Baxter as Eve does not necessarily grab be as a great performance, but it is possible I am too busy wishing harm upon her character to give Baxter a chance. Perhaps the greatest talent lies in writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz who was vehemently warned against working with Davis. Thankfully for us, he avoided the advice and gave us a thouroughly complex and well crafted story and fantastic performances from his cast.

     To sum it up, poor, star-struck Eve Harrington is mad about dramatic actress Margo Channing and wrangles a meeting with her, after which she quickly snakes her way into a personal assistant-type role. Eve aspires to be an actress and wins everyone’s trust, except Margo’s. She manages to secretly land herself Margo’s understudy position and when circumstances allow, and with some help from friends, Eve takes the stage in Margo’s place, becoming an instant sensation.

     The story is really an unbelieveable tale about the lengths to which people will go to reach their dreams and is probably the best backstage movie ever made. It was nominated for 14 Academy Awards with wins going to Mankiewicz (directing and screenplay), and the movie itself earning Best Picture accolades. Do not let modern promotion of this film fool you, however. Marilyn Monroe is in two scenes and is meaningless to the story. She is literally arm candy.

Seatbelt, anyone?

  • All About Eve is set for 10 p.m. ET March 1 on TCM.

A Shot in the Dark

Ring a Ding Ding

A Shot in the Dark (1964)

     Unlike The Thin Man movies, the series of films following the bumbling French detective Jacques Clouseau opted not to fashion the titles of the sequels off the first. The Pink Panther title refers to a priceless gem featured only in the initial film, similar to how the “thin man” is only sought in the primary movie of the set, which also happens to follow a detective.

     Just as with the first Clouseau appearance, A Shot in the Dark is a roaring good time of dialogue and physical comedy. Peter Sellers hams up the French accent even more in this endeavor giving us words such as “bemp” (bump) and “meths” (moths). Some of the writing (“The telephone is for Inspector Clouseau,” the butler says. “Ah, that will be for me,” Clouseau responds) had me thinking these films might have inspired gags in films like Airplane! and other Jim Abrahams work. The sight gags come one after another. My favorite repeated joke is Clouseau’s various arrests in his attempts to go under cover. The action quickly cuts to a paddy wagon, siren blazing, zooming toward the camera, always with an additional joke on the back of the vehicle. I would follow that with Clouseau’s houseman who repeatedly tricks us into thinking he is actually trying to assassinate the inspector. No worries, Clouseau is just trying to keep on his toes.

     The plot starts with Clouseau investigating a murder at the large home of Benjamin Ballon, played by an old and tired-looking George Sanders. Clouseau surmises the woman found with a gun in her hand, Maria Gambrelli (played by German actress Elke Sommer), cannot possibly be the murder and so repeatedly releases her from jail, each time with another murder to follow. In the second half of the picture the murders come absurdly one after another. Oddly, the riddle of who killed whom acts as a MacGuffin. Various side characters rattle off what happened, but the confusion is so great, the viewer is left not caring about the truth. It does not really matter anyway; we are just here for the laughs.

     The score is again composed by a favorite of mine, Henry Mancini, who is responsible for “Moon River” and the Charade score. The man has 168 movies to his credit for musical score or a single song with participation even as recently as last year. Mancini should be worshiped for creating some of the most memorable scores in history, which of course includes the Pink Panther theme that carried over into the cartoon.

     Much like The Thin Man  movies, one does not need to have seen The Pink Panther to enjoy A Shot in the Dark. I highly recommend it.

  • A Shot in the Dark is set for 1:30 p.m. April 20 on TCM.

While the City Sleeps


While the City Sleeps (1956)

     I suppose I recorded While the City Sleeps because it has Ida Lupino in it. I discovered that little dynamo in They Drive by Night with Humphrey Bogart, but I nearly did not recognize her in this film. What I remembered and so identified with in my first Lupino viewing was a scrawny, dark-featured woman with a certain uniqueness to her speech,  but what I found in While the City Sleeps was a curvy vixen with a lightness to her look and what seemed to be a completely different voice and persona, but maybe that’s acting.
     I must say although Lupino gave a great performance in While the City Sleeps I preferred the look I had come to know opposite Bogart and in some crummy musical TCM must have mislabeled as three-star quality.

Lupino in "They Drive by Night"

     Putting those feelings aside, I was incorrectly delighted with While the City Sleeps when the opening credits revealed not only was Dana Andrews also in the cast, but so was George Sanders and Vincent Price. Jackpot! Battle of the Talls, I thought (Price takes the prize, by the way).

Ida Lupino in "While the City Sleeps"

     Unfortunately, this film, although having the backing of  fantastic director Fritz Lang, was a bit sloppy in its plot. Not only does the narrative cover the search for the “Lipstick Killer” by one reporter, but also details a battle between three newspaper bigwigs as they seek to impress the new boss (Price) who recently inherited the firm and is dangling an “executive director” position before their noses. Add into that some complex romances among married but mostly unmarried individuals, and one is not sure to what exactly he is supposed to pay attention.

     Being a reporter, While the City Sleeps affords me the opportunity to whine about how important, impressive, and all around cool reporters used to be. Today one is lucky to find a job in print journalism let alone see a movie with a plot strictly centered on a gent in the field. Journalists played central roles in so many films from the bygone era to the point I will not bother to list those that come to mind, for there are too many. In While the City Sleeps, Andrews’ character is such a well-reputed reporter that he is granted access to witness interrogation, confessions etc. In this flick it is Andrews’ reporter who chases down the murderer and captures him. Fat chance of that happening today (or probably in real life at any point). I can only imagine what it must be like to work in a well reputed field. A gal can dream.

     TCM gave this movie a 4.5 star rating leaving me to wonder what I am missing. Perhaps it is the performances that make this movie great, but the plot offers too great a stumbling block for me. Divide this into two or three films and I could stomach it, but as is, my mind is wandering…

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