*All About Eve (1950)*

eve

Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Summary: An ingenue insinuates herself into the company of an established but aging stage actress and her circle of theater friends.

Other Nominations: Director*, Actress (Davis), Actress (Baxter), Supporting Actor (Sanders)*, Supporting Actress (Holm), Supporting Actress (Ritter), Adapted Screenplay*, Dramatic/Comedy Score, Sound Recording*, B&W Art Direction, B&W Cinematography, B&W Costume Design*, Film Editing

Positives

-Both of the female leads are fantastic playing two of the great female roles in cinema. Davis basically plays herself, a star on the downside of her career. She’s entertaining, bitchy with a little bit of camp, and this role would basically define the rest of her career where she played similar roles, although she hasn’t gone overboard to self-parody here like she eventually would. Baxter gets arguably the tougher role, considering she has to be convincing to the audience (at least initially) that she’s something other than what she is, while still giving us hints to her true nature. She hits it out of the park, especially towards the end when she gets to bare her fangs.

-George Sanders is also terrific playing…George Sanders as he is in most of his movies. I cannot imagine anyone else playing the part, as he is so naturally acerbic, cynical and detached from humanity.

-The script is excellent, especially the dialogue which has a lot of wit, fun, drama in addition to having a great arc for both of our main characters.

-Marilyn Monroe has a bit part in this movie, from before she became famous. Even here, she stands out and you can tell that something interesting is in store for her in the future (whether it be as a star or at the minimum, a Jayne Mansfield or Mamie Van Doren type career).

Negatives

-Gary Merrill is easily the weakest of the main characters, even if his mediocrity doesn’t have that huge of an overall impact because he’s the 5th most important character.

Other Stuff

-Originally Claudette Colbert was cast in the Bette Davis role until she injured her back filming another movie and then they ended up re-writing the part slightly. Seeing Colbert here would have been fascinating, as she is so totally different than Davis in her persona and I don’t know how the movie would have worked as well.

Overall

Classic story about the cutthroat entertainment business and the people who inhabit it, with some stellar performances and a great script backing it.

Rating: A-

Advertisements

Born Yesterday (1950)

yesterday

Starring: Judy Holliday, William Holden, Broderick Crawford, Howard St. John

Director: George Cukor

Summary: A newspaper reporter takes on the task of educating a crooked businessman’s girlfriend

Other Nominations: Director, Actress (Holliday)*, Adapted Screenplay, B&W Costume Design

Positives

-The entire movie hinges on Holliday’s performance, and it’s fantastic. She’s able to pull off a really challenging comedic performance, where she has to be both dumb and obnoxious, but still very likeable and funny. Only a handful of people could have succeeded here: Holliday originated the role on Broadway, but it was originally written for Jean Arthur who bowed out at the last minute, and Marilyn Monroe did a screen test for it; all of them could have been good, but I’m not sure how they would have been better than Holliday who completely owns the role. Her winning an Oscar over one of the most competitive Best Actress fields ever has to be considered a massive upset, but she had nothing to apologize for-she’s great. Also, her voice here had to be the inspiration for Harley Quinn in Batman: The Animated Series, it’s a dead ringer.

-Crawford and Holden are also very good in their supporting roles, with Crawford being very entertaining (most of the time) as a rich, corrupt, loud-mouth New Yorker, and Holden does a solid job as the straight man in the movie, even if the character himself isn’t that interesting

Negatives

-The movie has an obvious political message, and while it’s sincere enough, it was the weakest aspect of the film for me. It gets heavy-handed, they’re usually the dullest parts and it’s been done before in more interesting ways (Mr. Smith Goes to Washington is essentially the same thing).

Overall

This is a really good comedy anchored by an outstanding lead performance from someone who sadly was not in all that many movies-Holliday died at age 43 due to breast cancer, although she did go on to win a Tony after this movie. Recommended.

Rating: B+

Father of the Bride (1950)

father

Starring: Spencer Tracy, Joan Bennett, Elizabeth Taylor, Don Taylor

Director: Vincente Minnelli

Summary: A doting father faces mountains of bills and endless trials when his daughter marries

Other Nominations: Actor (Tracy), Adapted Screenplay

Positives

-Tracy is good in the lead. The role calls for someone who will be the most sympathetic and relatable person possible to the audience, and choosing someone who’s not especially tall, attractive or has a great voice like Tracy is a good decision. He is the central focus of the entire movie, and he does the best he can to keep things interesting.

Negatives

-This movie has one joke and it does it over and over again for 92 minutes. The entire middle of the movie is “they said the wedding wouldn’t be big or expensive, but guess what? The wedding is big and expensive!” It’s really hard to stretch a single premise like this for an extended period of time, and some movies have done it successfully (The More the Merrier is a great example of this), but here it lacks any creativity or variation in the jokes and it’s just not very funny or heartwarming. There’s some nice moments towards the end, but it doesn’t make up for the monotony that preceded it.

Other Stuff

-You do have to enjoy the irony of a movie about Elizabeth Taylor getting married. Just before the premiere, she married Nicky Hilton, which the studio massively publicized in conjunction with this movie. She would divorce Hilton the next year, and married 7 more times (six off of divorces, one marriage ending due to her husband Mike Todd’s death).

Overall

This was an unfunny and rarely heartwarming movie that was a slog to watch, although Spencer Tracy does the best he can under the circumstances.

Rating: D+

King Solomon’s Mines (1950)

solomons

Starring: Stewart Granger, Deborah Kerr, Richard Carlson

Director: Compton Bennett & Andrew Marton

Summary: A spirited woman hires a daredevil jungle scout to find her husband and a lost diamond mine

Other Nominations: Color Cinematography*, Film Editing*

Positives

-The movie looks great because it was actually filmed on location in Africa, the first time MGM had done so since Trader Horn, a movie I look at earlier (and hated). This movie bears some similarities to Trader Horn in that both involve a group of white people braving the jungle, wild animals and tribesmen in an effort to try and find a missing white person in Africa. This is a definitely the better movie of the two, as it looks and sounds much better, and it’s nowhere near as racist even if it’s still not great in that department.

-Granger absolutely looks and sounds the part as explorer Allan Quatermain-you might recognize the name if you’re familiar with Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, or its hideous film adaptation that was so bad, it made Sean Connery retire from making movies altogether.

Negatives

-I was expecting a fun action-adventure movie in the vein of Indiana Jones or Errol Flynn; instead, it’s a really boring movie about people walking through the jungles and the plains for two hours without much of anything happening until it finally picks up a bit near the end. There’s almost no action and other than Granger, everybody’s pretty useless. Kerr, who was nominated for Best Actress 6 times in her career, is totally wasted and while she isn’t an active burden like you might expect, she just kind of stands by while things happen around her. Carlson is even more useless and I couldn’t tell you anything about him, either in character or in action, other than that he’s Kerr’s brother in the movie. I wasn’t expecting anything amazing, but I was still extremely disappointed with this lifeless movie.

-There’s a scene where Kerr cuts her hair, and the next time we see her, it’s perfectly curled as it is for the rest of the movie. Apparently she brought a solar powered curling iron with her? It’s actually hilarious.

Overall

There’s not much here to keep your interest other than it being a technicolor movie filmed in Africa. Boring and disappointing where not a lot happens.

Rating: D+

Sunset Boulevard (1950)

sunset

Starring: William Holden, Gloria Swanson, Erich von Stroheim, Nancy Olson
Director: Billy Wilder

Summary: A failed screenwriter falls into a mercenary romance with a faded silent-film star
Other Nominations: Director, Actor (Holden), Actress (Swanson), Supporting Actor (von Stroheim), Supporting Actress (Olson), Original Screenplay*, Dramatic/Comedy Score*, B&W Art Direction*, B&W Cinematography, Film Editing

Positives

-This is just an absolutely wonderful movie that works as so many things-it’s a film noir, it’s a horror movie, there’s black comedy elements (what else do you call a movie that has a chimp coffin and solemn funeral in it?), it’s depressing and grotesque yet fascinating, it has everything. Swanson completely sinks herself with no reservations into the role of deluded has-been movie star Norma Desmond with incredible gusto, which is a bold role for someone like Swanson who herself was a has-been movie star. Not only that, but she never goes too far over the line into camp, she plays the character to be depressing consistently throughout. Again, this was one of the strongest Best Actress fields ever, but I’m still shocked she didn’t win considering the two stars of All About Eve split the vote between them, dooming them both; however, Bette Davis and Swanson might have cancelled each other out as well, because there’s some similarities between their characters even if there’s a huge difference in degree. Everybody else is also great in this movie, and I don’t know how Nancy Olson never did much else of consequence after this movie (no, the flubber movies don’t count).
-This is a very complete and expertly-written story, as all four of the main characters are fleshed-out and distinctive with clear goals, motivations and personalities. My favorite subplot is the one between Swanson and von Stroheim’s characters, with von Stroheim playing Swanson’s butler/general caretaker. There’s a fantastic scene where we learn about von Stroheim’s past, and it gives us a lot to think about their relationship with each other in the movie, but still leaves enough unexplained that the audience has to connect some dots and make some guesses, and for that it’s all the more interesting, leading up to the finale which is one of the most iconic in cinema.
-The set design is spot on, centering around Swanson’s mansion which feels like an outdated, opulent mausoleum for a faded career that still feels realistic and believable.

Negatives

-I have heard others make good points about why they didn’t like this movie (its all-encompassing cynicism and its lack of subtext among other things). I would probably agree with the later

Overall

One of the all-time classic films with one of the best screenplays ever and an incredibly gutsy female lead.

Rating: A

1950 in Review

Other Notable Films of 1950

Rashomon: The movie that introduced American audiences to Japanese cinema (along with the always great Toshiro Mifune) and is still considered one of the best films to come out of the country.

Cinderella: The film that saved Disney from bankruptcy after the (then) financial failures Pinocchio, Bambi and Fantasia and was their biggest success since Snow White. Named the 9th Greatest animated film by the AFI.

The Asphalt Jungle: Another classic film noir by a master of the genre, John Huston that has been named to the National Film Registry. Also features a then unknown Marilyn Monroe in a minor role.

Harvey, Broken Arrow & Winchester ‘73: Jimmy Stewart had an amazing 1950, coming out with these three movies. Harvey was named to the AFI 100 laughs list, Broken Arrow was nominated for three Oscars and is noted as one of the first post-war Westerns to have a positive portrayal of Indians, and Winchester ‘73 is in the National Film Registry.

D.O.A & Gun Crazy: Two b-list Film noirs in the National Film registry, the first was written by Dalton Trumbo while he was on the blacklist, the other about a man who knows he’s going to die of being poisoned, but tries to figure out who did it and why.

In a Lonely Place: This was the era of the film noir, this one starring Humphrey Bogart whose reputation has grown tremendously over the years. On the Time 100 best films list and the National Film Registry.

Rio Grande: This John Ford western was the first of five team-ups between John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara (who would also co-star in The Quiet Man two years later).

1950 Nominees in Review

Sunset Boulevard: A

All About Eve: A- (Won Best Picture)

Born Yesterday: B+

Father of the Bride: D+

King Solomon’s Mines: D+

Well, 3 out of 5 isn’t bad. This was a very hit or miss year with some great movies and some movies I didn’t like at all, but any year featuring two movies as good as Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve have to be considered memorable. I think the wrong movie won Best Picture, even if it would have been a very worthy choice in many other years, but there’s nothing too objectionable about it. I really wish though that they had sapped out the last two movies for The Asphalt Jungle and Harvey, which are both much more interesting and have some real heft to them.

1951 features three nominees that were named to the original AFI Top 100 list (along with a 4th that wasn’t nominated); the only other times that happened: 1939 (five on the first list, three on the second), 1967 (3 on both lists), 1971 (three on the updated list), 1975 (three on the updated list), 1976 (three on the updated list) and 1994 (three on the updated list). As for the other two nominees, one was a technicolor epic about ancient Rome featuring uncredited performances by Elizabeth Taylor and Sophia Loren, and the other is a WWII film about the American Army forming a tenuous relationship with German POWs to gather intelligence.