(On Cable TV, February 2019) There is, in many ways, something comforting in the kind of domestic costume melodrama that is All This, and Heaven Too: As the story of a French governess who ends up being at the centre of a rollicking story of lust and murder, it’s clearly meant to thrill audiences. It would have been significantly better if it had been shorter—there isn’t that much plot here, and the film clocks in at a punishing 141 minutes with plenty of repetition along the way. I’m also not entirely convinced about Bette Davis as a young innocent romantic heroine—she’s a terrific actress, but her uncanny ability to play evil characters is wasted here in a role meant to be almost angelic. The framing device isn’t too bad in allowing a Paris-based story to be literally told to an American audience, although it does add even more length to a film already overstuffed with tangents. (Including a gothic Halloween interlude that’s actually not too bad.) Even today, the expensive nature of All This, and Heaven Too’s production is obvious: the lavish sets, costumes and re-creation of late-Nineteenth century Paris is quite successful. Modern viewers will still have something to watch in between the increasingly lurid story, and Bette Davis in a strong (even if miscast) performance.
(On Cable TV, March 2018) There’s a deliciously impish quality to All about Eve that becomes apparent only a few moments in the movie, and remains the film’s best quality throughout. It’s a cynical look at showbusiness, triangulated between actors, writers and critics. Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz can use rich material in his exploration of the dirty side of theatrical showbusiness, and his actors, in-between Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and George Sanders, are all up to the challenges of his vision. (Plus, a small role for Marilyn Monroe.) All about Eve has a lot to say about fame, acting, age and even a touch of closeted homosexuality. It does so with considerable wit—the film is good throughout, but it improves sharply whenever George Sanders shows up as a waspy critic acting as an impish narrator. The film still plays exceptionally well today: showbusiness hasn’t changed much, and much of the film doesn’t deal in easily dated artifacts … although some of the social conventions have thankfully moved on. A bit like contemporary Sunset Blvd, All about Eve is a film built on wit and a great script, so it’s no surprise that it would stay so engaging sixty-five years later.
(On Cable TV, February 2018) I enjoy reading Wikipedia pages of films I’ve just seen, and from What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? I learn about the delightful expression “psycho-biddy,” a forgotten subgenre of horror thrillers featuring older women spawned by the success of this film. I also learned about the ongoing feud between co-stars Bette Davis and Joan Crawford, which does add quite a dimension to the end result as two sisters come to possibly fatal conflict in a film presented as hard-edged thriller. Saddled with two useless prologues, What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? really gets going fifteen minutes in, as the situation becomes clear: A disabled former actress, practically held hostage by her sister, a bitter and resentful former child star who escalates the horrible actions required to keep control over the situation. Joan Crawford has the likable role, but it’s Bette Davis who sticks in mind as the psychotic Baby Jane, layers of caked makeup not concealing a complete breakdown. The black-and-white cinematography is pretty good, although the ending is one or two whiskers away from satisfaction. The film feels a bit too long and scattered with half-hearted subplots, but it still has an impact—Fifty-five years later, aged actresses seldom get roles as interesting as those in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, and the plot is still nasty enough to resonate even today.