Thursday, 3 March 2011

"All About Eve" - A Review Of The 1950 Black & White Classic – Now Reissued Onto BLU RAY in 2011.

"…There Isn’t Another Like You…There Couldn’t Be…"

On 23 February 2006, 20th Century Fox issued their new "Cinema Reserve" Series on DVD in the UK. Fox’s mission-statement was to present their best back catalogue in the very best way. It some instances, this actually worked - in others it didn’t (see my review for the 1951 Sci-Fi masterpiece "The Day The Earth Stood Still" – Number 001 in the series). The list eventually petered out at Number 17 in July 2007 (“Some Like It Hot”) when the new High Definition formats began taking over and further issues seemed and were pointless.

Which brings us to this January 2011 single-disc Blu Ray reissue. Number 003 in the "Cinema Reserve" series is the 1950 black & white classic "All About Eve". It came in a 2-disc steel-tin (pictured below), had a specially shaped info-filled concertina-booklet inside, relevant extra features and a supposedly newly restored print. And this reissue simply apes the 'content' of that 2006 2DVD set completely - but without any fancy packaging or generic series name (mores the pity).

But is it any good? Yes and no. First and foremost is the PRINT itself – it claims to have been ‘restored to pristine quality’ which is just nonsense. There aren’t scratches on the negative like ruined old stock, but there are occasional lines and worse – there’s an ever-present blurring and blocking that afflicts large portions of the film. The print is good – it is - but it never really dazzles. This is not a Black & White British Film Institute clean up (“Saturday Night Sunday Morning”) or a Lowry Digital Restoration (“Roman Holiday”). As I say, just be prepared for the print to be ‘good’ rather than great…

The extras are a mixed bag – here’s what’s on offer:

1. Audio Commentary by Celeste Holm (the actress who played Karon Richards in the film), Christopher Mankiewicz (son of the Writer & Director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz) and Kenneth Geist (Author of “Pictures Will Talk” – a biography on the sixty films of Joseph L Mankiewicz)
2. Audio Commentary by Sam Staggs (author of the novel “All About Eve”)
3. 4 Movietone News Segments
(a) 1951: Academy Awards Honor Best Film Achievement (2:22 minutes)
(b) 1951: Hollywood Awards Gala Premier Of “All About Eve” (1:50 minutes)
(c) Holiday Magazine Awards (2:42 minutes)
(d) Look Magazine Awards (1:50 minutes)
4. 3 Featurettes
(a) Backstory: “All About Eve” (24 minutes)
(b) Bette Davis Interviewed by “New Week” Magazine (1 minute)
(c) Anne Baxter Interviewed by “Woman’s Home Magazine” (1 minute)
5. Original Theatrical Trailer

As you can see from the above list, you 'seem' to be offered a lot in the way of extras, but much of it is very short and very disposable. The commentaries are excellent and the main featurette - “Backstory” - tells how Joseph Mankiewicz took a short story by Mary Orr called "The Wisdom Of Eve" from a magazine and adapted it into a screenplay he initially called "Best Performance". Fox’s Darryl F. Zanuck loved it, but noticed what he thought would be a better title in the first page (he circled it) – "All About Eve".

"Backstory" then goes into how Claudia Colbert threw out her back two weeks before principal shooting and only at the last minute and with great reluctance did Zanuck call in the hated Bette Davis ("You’ll never work in this town again..."). Davis saw the genius in it immediately – agreed to do it - was as sweet as light on set - and re-launched her fading career at 41. It opened 13 October 1950 to genuine critical acclaim - eventually earning it a staggering 14 Oscar Nominations (a record only equalled by “Titanic” in 1995).
Although "All About Eve" did win 6 Oscars including the big ones – Best Picture, Screenplay and Direction - four of its actresses – Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter – were all famously nominated, but lost out on that March 1951 night. All of this and a few lines for the luminous Marilyn Monroe in an early role.

The weirdest extra is “Holiday Magazine” Awards where none of the stars showed and it seems to be hosted by some morally uptight fascist hijacking the film to stamp his own agenda on things…it has a slightly sinister big-brother feel to it. The “Look Magazine” footage is badly corrupted so the vocal track is missing much of the time – and although it contains segments with Bette Davis, Bob Hope and even Jimmy Stewart – it’s chopped and very disjointed – fascinating though.

As to the movie itself - in a world where playwrights treat actors with disdain (“It’s about time the piano realised it didn’t compose the Concerto…”) and lead actresses are treated like Goddesses (Eve’s assessment of Margo titles this review), only George Saunders caustically casts a sceptic eye over the proceedings. He plays Addison De Witt – an aristocratic theatre critic who sees right through Eve’s single-minded determination to usurp Margo’s crown and be the toast of the theatre boards. Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington (wannabe actress) and Bette Davis plays the object of her lust – actress and beloved star Margo Channing – with Bette’s part literally being Art imitating Life. Davis is magnificent in the part.

Speaking of larger than life characters and genius, George Saunders (who won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor) opens the film in a voice-over that goes for 4 minutes straight. Ruminating on all the principal characters in the movie (the camera pans to each sat at some dreary awards ceremony) - its quite possibly some of the best dialogue ever written - incredibly insightful stuff that would make Aaron Sorkin green with envy. And it’s biting assessments still sound relevant to this day - 61 years on.

To sum up - this is an acceptable Blu Ray reissue, but not a great one, when you can’t help but feel that such a classic deserved better.

As you’ve probably guessed - the “Cinema Reserve” issues are now being reissued by Fox one by one on Blu Ray. Personally, I’d check the reviews first ‘before’ you rush in and buy each and every one of them…(“The Hustler” has a beautiful print – “Lifeboat” is awful).

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night…” Betty Davis warned. She was of course right…

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