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Tuesday
Jun252013

Great Moments in Gayness: "Fasten Your Seatbelts"

Happy Gay Pride Week Everyone!

The best screenplay I’ve ever come across is from Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950). It tells a deceptively simple story in a straightforward manner, but does it in such a gloriously telling, bitchy manner that it remains to this day, one of the only films I can’t stop watching once it’s started.

Its most iconic moment is when its leading lady, Margo Channing (played by ours, Bette Davis) literally ascends the stairs in her New York apartment. A party is about to take place that changes the direction of the narrative and the relationships between its characters; a climax that comes only halfway through the picture, which manages to sustain its level of suspense and biting humor thereafter. 

Margo, putting on the facade of genteel, warm host is instead preparing her plan for the evening; to oust the titular Eve Harrington (a wonderful turn from Anne Baxter), and reveal her deceptions to their friends. This is, of course, a plan that goes awry once Davis becomes intoxicated and spends the rest of the party moping about, making her pianist play Liebestraume by Franz Litze and effectively dampening the mood of the entire occasion. But for one brief moment, as her partner and closest friends inquire whether or not the storm has passed or if it’s just about to begin, she gives a beautiful telling look, sashays over to the steps in a way that would make Tyra Banks weep with envy, and like a betrayed Cassandra, intones that classic line:

Margo Channing Portrait © Trevor Heath. Read about it here!

Fasten your seatbelts.
It's going to be a bumpy night.

Her prediction holds true.

All About Eve is a hallmark in gay cinema, not just because of the sexual ambiguities of Eve Harrington or the effervescent, snakelike charm of Addison DeWitt, but because of its diva, Margo Channing. A light that shines from a tower Joe Mankiewicz built that, like any great architect of the cinema, is at once inimitable and forever desired.

We all want that entrance, and we all want such an exit.

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Reader Comments (13)

Delightful. ALL ABOUT EVE will always be in my top 10 - I feel the same way about the scripts and movies for Wilder's SOME LIKE IT HOT (the best constructed comedy ever) and SUNSET BOULEVARD, and Mank again for LETTER TO 3 WIVES, and Hawks BRINGING UP BABY, again a contender for best comedy ever.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike O'Sullivan

I absolutely adore All About Eve and this moment in particular - I have always wanted a house with a staircase in the middle of the party room JUST so I can do this moment one day. Such a brilliant script. The verbal sparring is unparalleled in Hollywood history.

And as much as I love her, you just know that were this film made today, Anne Baxter would have gone Supporting, although she probably still would have lost because her character isn't "likable", which is such bull because she gives a brilliant performance in a very tricky part.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterdenny

I think Baxter was in the film as she rather resembled Claudette Colbert, who was going to be Margo intitally but hurt her back. Baxter was mainly in Fox programmers before and after this, as indeed was Davis, but we also love her marvellously over the top Nefertiti in Cecil's THE TEN COMMANDMENTS, among her other good roles.
I also love Margo's apartment - is it a duplex? - and that breakfast tray Birdie brings in with the glass of freshly-squeezed orange juice in that bowl of ice. Presumably chilld orange juice was not readily available at supermarkets back then? Margo's breakfast though of course is coffee and cigarettes ... and there's that line "some snowy night in front of the fire". All that fire and music ... and "write me a role about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband".

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike O'Sullivan

I have seen this movie countless times and have even read All About All About Eve and yet had never made the connection between Anne Baxter's looks and Claudette Colbert. Now that you mention it, it seems completely obvious. Anne was the Fox player and Claudette would have been brought in "special," correct?

And All About Eve is the only movie that I think works just as well with only the audio and not the video. Now that's a strong script!

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterDave in Alamitos Beach

Loved this write-up! ALL ABOUT EVE is one of my faves of all time! So I was happily surprised to read this! Whenever I watch it, I always wonder if Bette Davis is playing Margo Channing, or is she really playing herself. Such a magnificent performance either way.

I don't want to argue about Judy Holliday's surprise win because she was wonderful, but I'm curious as to who was 1950's Best Actress runner-up, Gloria Swanson or Bette Davis. It's possible that Anne Baxter may have caused a split vote with Bette Davis, but Davis surely is the star of ALL ABOUT EVE.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterkent

My favorite classic film. The exploration of age, gender, fame and authenticity is a wonder, but the dialogue is beyond perfection. I love Judy Holiday, but man, I still can't believe Davis lost the Oscar (and yes, she gets my vote over Swanson). It might very well be the most competitive Actress year of all time, just given the incredible performances.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentereurocheese

and poor eleanor parker always gets forgotten.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered Commentermark

What people don't realise now is that Davis and Swanson were seen as old-timers back in 1950 and were not as revered then as we revere them now. Swanson was a retired silent star, and Bette was all washed up in hollywood by the late 40s when her films were under-performing at Warners and she left the studio in 1949 after the bad "Beyond The Forest" where she was patently too old for the role, of course its a camp classic now, but her films before and after EVE did not further her career. EVE was a fluke for her as she was not even initially cast. So of course the two old stars cancelled each other out, leaving the new girl in town Judy Holiday to grab the award. New girls in town often do that - Audrey in 1953, Grace in 1954 (at the expense of another old timer seen as "difficult" Judy Garland, and a decade later Julies Andrews in 64, and Christie in 65.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMike O'Sullivan

Favorite film of all time.

June 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterRick

Mike, transfixing as Swanson and David were in their respective films, let's not undersell Judy Holliday's phenomenal comic genius. It's such a shame her career was destroyed by the mid-50s. She was priceless in everything she appeared in.

Incidentally, your taste in comedies is impeccable.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commentergoran

mark -- i think one of the problems there is that it's difficult to get CAGED on dvd and when a film is hard to access, it is quickly forgotten. I wanted to do it for BEST SHOT but i kept running into trouble finding outlets that carried it so i knew only a few people would participate.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterNathaniel R

Baxter-Davis (MY VOTE IS FOR HER)-HOLLIDAY-PARKER-SWANSON...what a glorious line-up that year!

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterMirko

Beau, a marvelous piece. Bette so deserved the Oscar, despite the steely competition. Beyond the probable split vote, I think another factor was that Bette had a lot of enemies in the Academy. Biotches.

June 26, 2013 | Unregistered Commenterbrookesboy

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