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All About Eve

The Barefoot Contessa (1954)

When I’m not looking at all kinds of geeky media on this blog, I’m co-running my website Set The Tape, on which I now and then publish content. This is part of a review you can find the rest of in the link below.

For many, the high point of Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s quite legendary Hollywood career is 1950’s All About Eve, a picture which has lingered in cinematic history for its caustic wit, cold glamour and harsh performances. The Barefoot Contessa is, and in some ways isn’t, a lighter affair than Mankiewicz’s previous effort. Filmed in colour rather than black and white, often beautifully shot thanks to the redoubtable talents of great cinematographer Jack Cardiff, The Barefoot Contessa continues to explore Mankiewicz’s obsession with women and fame, the abusive power of privileged white men in the Hollywood system, his own conflicted feelings about it. Though where All About Eve was a spiky satire, The Barefoot Contessa is a Cinderella-fantasy.

The well known fable is mentioned in dialogue several times by Humphrey Bogart’s writer-director and frequent narrator Harry Dawes, underscoring how Mankiewicz saw Ava Gardner’s Spanish-startlet Maria Vargas as the Cinderella-figure and Bogart, essentially, as the Fairy Godfather who, if he was being completely honest, fell in love with a woman he ended up trying to save from a destructive corporate movie-making machine.

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All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve is an early attempt in Hollywood filmmaking of questioning gender politics, and the place of powerful women within the creative, performance landscape.

Writer and director Joseph Mankiewicz had been contemplating producing a picture about an aged, waning actress for a while, and upon learning about Mary Orr’s 1946 short story ‘The Wisdom of Eve’, he saw the wisdom (ironically) of fusing together the two ideas – telling the story Bette Davis’ celebrated stage actress Margo Channing and how her life is affected by Anne Baxter’s ambitious upstart Eve Harrington.

What follows is a frequently caustic drama, set in the Broadway world of actors, playwrights and critics, which almost certainly by design has the feel more of a stage play, Mankiewicz relying on dialogue and his actors to carry long, lengthy scenes to tell his story. What it does, quite significantly for a film made at the turn of the Fifties, is depict the facile, cyclical nature of fame in an age long before the advent of everyone wanting to become a star. All About Eve was perhaps so well received because it’s a little ahead of its time.