When I first thought about doing a month of woman-centered movies, this is actually the film that inspired me. I hadn’t heard much about the plot of it, except that it featured several women, which was a pretty big deal simply because of its rarity. Even though I’d seen good things about it, I was still concerned (as I am with all the older movies I watch) that I might find it dated or dull. I can honestly say that this is one of my favorite Oscar winners that I never would have watched if not for this project.
The story itself is maybe not the most original: an aging actress fears her position being usurped by a younger, fresher ingénue. In a way, though, it’s the familiarity of this story that makes the way it plays out so engaging. It’s like watching someone hit a piñata – you know what’s going to happen, but you still want to see which way the candy flies. So much of the plot is driven by various characters being bitchy to each other and either plotting against or suspecting each other of plotting against each other. Ultimately, though, it is all about Eve and the destruction she brings.
This movie touches on a question about a woman’s career and ambition that’s basically still unresolved today. At one point, Bette Davis’ character wonders how to balance her acting with “the career of being a woman” – she concludes that you can’t have it both ways. It’s moments like this, where she’s sitting in a car with a woman she thinks is her closest friend, confiding her deepest fears, that really show what’s possible when women are given strong roles.
Boring side note: whenever I watch one of these movies for the blog, I always jot a few notes into a notebook to help me remember characters or details, or simply to record my initial impressions. Usually, I’ll end up with one page of thoughts, maybe a quote or two. I’m pretty sure that my notes for this movie are longer than anything I’ve seen thus far. To be fair, the movie begins with a virtual dramatis personae, rattled off amid an awards ceremony, and I figured I’d need to keep track of who’s who. (I also observed, “Room full of dudes: great start” in reference to my Bechdel Test.)
But I also found myself copying down quote after quote. There are so many clever lines and witticisms, that even if the plot – hurtling toward some sort of inevitability – didn’t keep your interest, you could just listen for the funny stuff. I hope someday to have the right context and solemnity to intone, as Bette Davis, “Remind me to tell you of the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.”
In the context of the Test, perhaps it’s Marilyn Monroe, in one of her early roles, who gets the best and most lasting line. When someone suggests Eve talk to the pretentious theater critic, who’s brought Marilyn as his date to a party, she demurs, saying she doesn’t have anything interesting to say. “You won’t bore him, honey,” Miss Monroe reassures her. “You won’t even get a chance to talk.”
I’ll conclude with one last note I made, which I actually have thought about with respect to all of the films I’ve watched this month so far. “Wouldn’t it be great,” I wrote to myself, “if the women just fell in love with each other instead?”
Theme: Ladies on film
Bechdel Test: I’ll say it passes.
First Time Watching? Yes
Final Verdict: Real diamonds in a wig