Sunday, June 23, 2019

Act of Violence (1949)

Tribute to a Bad Man
"What did he tell you? Did he tell you that I'm crippled because of him? Did he tell you about the men that are dead because of him? Did he tell you what happened to them before they died?" Joe Parkson
This is as much a movie review as a tribute to Robert Ryan. Directed by Fred Zinnemann for MGM’s B unit, Act of Violence is one of those must-see jewels of postwar Noir that nobody wanted to see on its original release. It just patiently waited to be to be rediscovered. Maybe the audience wasn’t quite ready for a story about veterans that is like a wet blanket of despair and anxiety. 

On the surface a straightforward suspenseful cat-and-mouse thriller, there’s a lot going on under the surface. The picture digs deep into dicey moral issues. It takes a harsh and honest look at the effects of postwar trauma in veterans who fought and then were left to their own devices. It manages to confront such themes as betrayal, guilt, courage, cowardice and the situational ethics of men required to survive in wartime. Act of Violence is the anti-companion piece to The Best Years of Their Lives whose drift was much more optimistic as to reintegration of veterans into society.
Classic Noir wouldn't be the same without Robert Ryan’s unforgettable contribution though he rarely ever played a conventional hero. (The same can be said about his Westerns). Appearing in at least ten films that can be called true Noir, Ryan’s towering presence is one of the cornerstones that built the city known as Noirville. Even if not all his films were first rate, his performances always were. There was a darkness in his portrayals that seemed to spring from his inner core and many of his characters gave the impression they lived in perpetual Hell. As an actor he understood the sickness that could live in men’s hearts. I always got the feeling that his characters would like to believe in the goodness of people but only have evidence to the contrary.
Ryan played gangsters, racketeers, psychos, mob bosses, corrupt businessmen and similarly prepossessing characters. His protagonists had a hellish temper and a short fuse. If he was miserable he made damn sure everybody else was too. A good beating could convince anybody to see things his way, the hell with the Geneva convention. 

He was a hateful killer in Crossfire, a psychotic gangster in The Racket, an ugly racist in Odds Against Tomorrow, an unhinged control freak in Caught, a sadistic cop out of control but redeemed by love in On Dangerous Ground, an unbalanced mob boss in House of Bamboo, a charming bastard in The Naked Spur. Ryan occasionally showed that he could be different. In The Secret Fury he’s an all around nice guy and in The Set-up he’s the underdog scrapping for a shred of dignity. I have a particular fondness for boxing movies and I blame Ryan for this obsession entirely. But whatever he played one wouldn’t be surprised to learn that he ate nails for breakfast.

He didn’t shy away from uncomfortable characters. They were seething with suppressed rage - not to say unfathomable wrath - pain, loneliness and a deep self-loathing that seemed almost existential. Ryan fully embraced their tormented and troubled souls and revealed the inner workings of these alienated man who often had unexpectedly hidden depths and complexity. His cynical, misanthropic and bitter men always emotionally engaged the audience and somehow he managed to elicit some sympathy even for his worst characters because they were so absurdly charismatic.
With his steely gaze, contemptuous sneer and menacing stance he could make your blood run cold or give you those goosy-pimply goosebumps. There was a brooding intensity and ferocity about his performances that drew in the audience and occasionally we got a hint of charm and a killer grin which completely drive this girl wild. It is no surprise that women were attracted to him. He possessed a pretty lethal mixture of danger, violence and surprising tenderness. When Ryan goes bad, I go right after him.

During his lifetime he unfortunately never achieved the same (star) status and recognition as his contemporary tough guys Cagney, Bogart or Mitchum.
In reality he was the polar opposite of the characters he played so often. A committed family man, he supported many liberal causes and shunned the Hollywood spotlight. He was at best a reluctant movie star who didn’t play the Hollywood game and this is probably the reason why he never achieved real stardom.

Act of Violence’s opening scene packs a punch. We see a mysterious man, Joe Parkson (Robert Ryan), limping down a deserted rain-slicked New York street at midnight, shrouded in deep dark shadows, hobbling up the steps to his dumpy digs, opening a drawer and taking out a loaded gun before boarding a Greyhound bus to LA. His room is bare. No belongings, no personal touches, no interests… except for his mission. On the journey out West he doesn’t close an eye. We know this guy means business. 
The bus leaves the dark rainy city and heads to the sunny suburbs of SoCal. There the viewer meets the man Parkson is hunting: Frank Enley (Van Heflin), prosperous building contractor, all around nice guy, devoted family man with a beautiful wife Edith (Janet Leigh), a little boy and a nice house in the suburbs. The unimpeachable pillar of the community. Soon we learn why the guy with the limp is on Enley’s trail. Enley was Parkson’s commanding officer in the army, until they and several others ended up in a Nazi prison camp. There Enley cracked under the pressure. His men wanted to escape but he sold them out to the prison guards for food, a betrayal that cost most of them their lives.

Act of Violence is one of the many 40s and 50s Noirs that probed the wartime traumas of returning servicemen. Literally as soon as the war was over and the heroes were home, Noir started producing anti-heroes. The damaged war veteran with a psychological trauma became a staple in crime films of the period. To name just a few: The Blue Dahlia, The Clay Pigeon, High Wall, The Breaking Point, Cornered, Dead Reckoning, Ride the Pink Horse, Nobody Lives Forever, 99 River Street, The Chase, Martha Ivers, Somewhere in the Night, The Crooked Way.

When the war ended a generation of former soldiers found themselves adrift, surrounded by a public who had no idea what they endured and couldn’t share their experiences. They had faced violence and death, seen their buddies maimed and killed and had acquired a capacity for violence that couldn’t simply be switched of. In essence the returning vet was a displaced person who came home to unemployment, troubled marriages, broken dreams and a country that had taken a turn for the noir and changed into alien territory. They had left pieces of themselves behind in places they never wanted to visit in the first place. After being primed to take no prisoners in the violent theaters of war, many found it hard to settle back into peaceful civilian life.

Too often people didn’t want to know what soldiers had been through. In a way understandable as postwar society was focused on reconstruction and moving forward. So some of them turned into walking time bombs. The best years of their lives had been spent in hellholes and they weren't about to wait for the Good Life on the installment plan.
Broken in body and mind, servicemen came home desperately trying to forget what couldn't be forgotten. “He’s sick with it”, says Edith to Parkson’s girlfriend Ann about her husband. “They’re both sick with it”, replies Ann.

War doesn’t end when the peace agreement is signed and besides their physical wounds, many returnees carried heavy psychological baggage. The wounds had only healed superficially, but pick off the scab and it would start bleeding again.

It doesn’t take Robert Ryan more than a few minutes to establish a mood of menace and impending violence. Back from the dead and making a beastly nuisance of himself, he’s a man with a gun and a score to settle. He may be on home soil, but this vet is still operating behind enemy lines. He’s out for blood. His hate is the gasoline in his veins, the thought of revenge is the only thing that keeps him alive. We can see it in his eyes. There’s nothing but the single-minded resolution to kill in them. 
Parkson’s limp is a visual symbol for the psychic scars he drags around with him (Eddie Muller, Noir Alley intro), it’s a reminder of Enley’s betrayal. In the beginning Parkson is clearly painted as the villain, an obsessed mental case straight from the psych ward and we’re frightened for the guy he’s hunting. But in Noir nothing is as it seems. We slowly learn that Parkson’s moral outrage and vigilante tactics are justified.

When Johnny came limping home, he couldn’t let go of the past. His life stopped on the day his buddies died. Vince Keenan calls Parkson very aptly “yesterday’s man” in his Noir City Magazine article Ryan’s Vengeful Vet. A man with a past but no future. Noir’s classic alienated loner.
Noir has always been the genre of the disenchanted and no more so than here. One of the best scenes of the movie is Parkson not even sparing one glance for the parade of veterans on Memorial Day. It tells us all we need to know about his war. Here’s a guy with nothing to celebrate. Rosy reminiscences of wartime heroics are not for him.

Years of war hadn’t been kind to many soldiers and not every man came back a hero. Enley’s supposedly spotless war record is hiding dark secrets.
His introduction is completely different. No rain, no darkness, no shadows, no dirty city. When we first meet him it’s a beautiful sunny day in small town Santa Lisa where Enley - revered war hero - is honored by his community for finishing a housing project.

Small town America is always a crucial symbol of healthy life in many Hollywood movies, standing for innocence, simplicity and decency. Not only is Enley the embodiment of the American Dream, he’s also the embodiment of progress, reconstruction and postwar prosperity. He and his construction company are the hope for a new and better tomorrow. Enley himself though stands on extremely weak foundations. 
It doesn’t take long for his life to unravel once Parkson appears to undercut the apple-pie wholesomeness. Noir is a genre where danger (or evil) frequently pervert the ordinariness of familiar locations and here they turn a comfortable home into a jail cell. 

Coming home early in a panic from a fishing trip after he’s spotted Parkson, Enley closes all the doors in his house, pulls down the blinds, turns off the lights and refuses to answer questions to the confusion of his wife. He’s standing in the dark looking terrified, listening to Parkson sneaking around the house dragging his leg. The sound of limping takes on a second meaning. For Enley it is a rebuke, the sound of his guilt. Parkson is the film’s conscience that won’t stay buried.
Slowly but surely Enley is falling apart and later we see him running through a dark tunnel in the Bunker Hill neighborhood, having flashbacks about his screaming men being slaughtered by the prison guards. It’s interesting to note that the violence in the film is mostly psychological. Parkson and Enley don’t actually meet until the end of the movie and then Parkson doesn’t get a chance to lay a hand on Enley.

Duality is a key feature in this movie. Past vs future, city vs small town, light vs darkness. 
The happy daytime scenes in Santa Lisa are sunny but once Enley’s sins catch up with him and he leaves his pastoral sanctuary and tries to flee his consequences - in the middle of the night leaving his wife behind - all his scenes take place during shadowy nighttime, within a dark seedy urban netherworld full of whores and thugs that almost swallow him up. But then darkness had been his inevitable destination from the beginning.

Enley has managed to bury his guilt deeply in his subconsciousness. When he finally confesses his guilt to Edith, initially he’s trying to justify his actions by saying he betrayed his men to save them, but if that story were any lamer it would walk on crutches.
“Do I have to spell it out to you? Do I have to draw you a picture? I was an informer! It doesn’t make any difference why I did it; I betrayed my men! They were dead! The Nazis even paid me a price: they gave me food, and I ate it… I ate it! I hadn’t done it just to save lives…They were dead and I was eating and maybe that’s all I did it for - to save one man. Me. There were six widows. There were ten men dead, and I couldn’t even stop eating. ”
Survivor’s guilt can be a terrible thing. There is a level of self-disgust so deep in these words that we know then that there is only one way out for him in the end.

Here’s another recurring Noir theme. The claims of the past are relentless. "The past is never dead. It isn't even past”, wrote William Faulkner. The past is a debt collector, silently waiting to demand its pound of flesh.
It was a courageous role for an actor to take. Playing a coward and squirming worm isn’t necessarily good for the image.

Zinnemann takes his time to let the viewer know what’s going on. Ambiguity is something no good Noir can do without, and here it is taken to the extreme. The release of information is slow. Motivations and intentions are kept in the dark as long as possible. Sympathies shift and fluctuate constantly. For the first half of the film we just don't know who the hero and who the bad guy is. Is there even a good guy and a bad guy? 
Who do we root for? The obsessed guy bent on revenge or the guy who took the easy way and is still running? As always it is not that simple. There is no black and white, no clear cut lines. 
“The moral landscape of this film is complex and difficult terrain; and Zinnemann never allowing …us to categorize or pigeonhole his protagonists.” Mark Freeman, Act of Violence, Senses of Cinema
To Zinnemann’s credit he doesn’t give us pat answers. He offers each man a measure of compassion.

If we feel sympathy with Enley at all it is because of his wife and her attempts to understand his crimes. If she loves him there must be some good in him. 
Edith symbolizes prewar normalcy. Young, innocent and untouched by the ugliness of war, she is a light in the darkness, assuring her husband of her love even after she knows the whole truth. 
“Ever since I first knew you, Frank, and up until yesterday, I thought you were the finest, most wonderful man in the world. Now I know that you’re like everybody else. You have faults and weaknesses… that doesn’t mean I don’t love you, or that I don’t want to be your wife—because I do.”
Special mention has to go to Mary Astor - looking like someone put her through the wringer - playing over-the-hill street-wise hooker Pat who gives Enley shelter one night after he decides to get plastered and go on the run. She’s hit rock bottom and broke but she gets her kicks, you know. Her desire to make a quick buck mixes nicely with her very real concern for Enley. She’s another one of those wised-up and disillusioned characters that populated Noir. There is an underlying sadness about her because her life has been one big failure. “So you’re unhappy. Relax. No law says you gotta be happy.”
For Pat there’s only two kinds of trouble in the world, love trouble or money trouble. In most Noirs that would be spot on. But Enley’s particular predicament lies outside even her quite considerable experience. 

For a while Pat and Enley are fellow travelers in the shadowy underworld of Noir. He anaesthetizes his guilty conscience with booze, she introduces him to contract killers. In a drunken stupor Enley promises hitman Johnny - played wonderfully with chilling ice-cold amorality by Barry Kroeger - several thousands to get rid of Parkson. This blurs the line between good guy and bad guy even more. Mr. Nice Guy is willing to stoop so low and hire a hitman to kill his enemy. 

If there is an out and out villain in this piece it’s neither Enley nor Parkson but the hired killer. Johnny - who sat out the war in a cushy office - is the one who has no qualms whatsoever about his profession; he sees killing not as a moral issue, but as a business. Killing is a job, and a job is a job is a job.
When he emerges from his 80 proof haze and can think straight again, Enley tries to stop Johnny. Which brings us to the showdown at a train station, a finale that plays like a final standoff in a Western.

Some viewers found the ending a bit too pat. It is without a doubt a screen writer’s ending, not a real world one. But I am a sucker for the redemption angle and I don’t subscribe to the notion that every Noir must end in abject misery.

Johnny has come to kill Parkson and Enley finally does the right thing. He takes the bullet which was meant for Parkson. Both Enley and Johnny die in the ensuing car crash. Parkson goes to tell Enley’s widow. 

Enley finally finds redemption, if only in death. For Parkson Enley's sacrifice is a spiritual renewal. Like Tosca he can forgive now that his enemy is dead. He can hopefully let go of his hate and regain some of the humanity he had lost. 

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Mildred Pierce (1945)

Ok, guys and dolls, I'm back. Sorry for maintaining radio silence so long, it got busy. With apologies to Erica from Poppity Talks Classic Film and Gabriela from Pale Writer this is my very belated entry into Joan Crawford: Queen of the Silver Screen Blogathon from May 10 - 12, 2019.

“It’s a great tragedy that when people hear the name Joan Crawford, first thing they think of is ‘no more wire hangers’. But there is another Joan Crawford people should remember…She really was the ultimate movie star.” Joan Craw­ford: The Ultimate Movie Star Documentary 2002
Love her or hate her, there’s no denying that Joan Crawford was not only the ultimate movie star but a consummate actress and a genuine artist as well.
The cult of her personality has so often overshadowed her work and her talent. Somewhere along the line Crawford ceased to be an actress and not only became a Star but an Institution. Then in the end - with her star status faded - a sad caricature. 

Crawford playing a self-sacrificing mother in Mildred Pierce is an irony not lost on contemporary audiences and a big chunk of the blame for that can be laid at Christina's infamous book and the subsequent film in which Faye Dunaway played Crawford as camp all down the line, interpreting her as a crazed drag queen and an undiluted mental case. It was in essence character assassination. Neither book nor film did anybody any favors. Whatever the truth may be, Mommie Dearest tainted Joan’s legacy forever and reduced a career that had spanned almost five decades to one dire little unfortunate line. 

Crawford’s larger-than-life persona can cloud our judgment of her films because The Crawford Factor often had the tendency to eclipse everything else. How do we define The Crawford Factor? With the elephant test. It’s hard to describe but we know it when we see it. The FABulousness, the gloss, the glamour, the Joan. She may not have been generous to her children, but she was to her audience. A Crawford picture was first and foremost aware of itself as a Crawford picture. 

Joan possessed that elusive but essential quality called star power, in spades. Crawford constantly reinvented herself during her long career. The radiant flapper of the 1920s gave way to the determined shop girl on the make of the 30s. By the mid-40s the shop girls were all grow up with children of their own and Crawford morphed into the woman from the wrong side of the tracks who makes good against all odds. After Mildred Pierce she continued to play a variation of that character, a self-sufficient and hard-working woman who neither accepted deprivations nor limitations. Mildred Pierce is the essence of all (later) Crawford roles. If she’s never quite convincing as a down-trodden ordinary housewife, a “common frump”, that’s because she was never completely able to shed that veneer of glamour that she seemed to have been borne with (but wasn’t). But by sheer force of will she could pull it off.

Crawford’s life was the classic Hollywood rags-to-riches story. Born into poverty and relatively uneducated, she knew from an early age that she wanted to BE someone. Her sole desire was to be a Star. She had limitless drive and ambition and tirelessly worked to better herself, until she had eradicated every trace of that unsophisticated poor girl Lucille LeSueur she had once been. Lucille was reborn as Joan, rising like Phoenix from the ashes. Joan created herself, or better the image and persona she presented to the public, carefully cultivated and guarded throughout her entire life. “If you're going to be a star you have to look like a star. I never go out unless I look like Joan Crawford the movie star.” This was not a woman who was casual about her stardom. The public never got to see anything other than an exquisitely manufactured product. 

If this sounds all suspiciously like a plot of one of her movies, that’s because it is. Her films fit her like a glove because they used elements of its star’s life story, blending together her personal and her screen persona. Joan was so good at playing these gritty characters because they came close to who she really was. Crawford took a character and molded it around her own personality.

Apart from success there was one more thing Joan craved. Approval. She wanted not only Hollywood but the public to love her. This overpowering need for validation we meet again in the movie. Mildred craves nothing more than the love of her daughter, desperately so.

There’s no denying that late in her career Joan’s movies steadfastly veered into the campy. By the time Queen Bee rolled around, Crawford was less and less able to reign in her tendency towards ham. She became the Joan so many people now remember her as, the bad punchline on the edge of hysteria with a face like a grotesque kabuki mask, an image that has sadly persisted in the cultural memory. By the 60s she was long past her expiry date but still valiantly plugged away. But now there was a touch of Norma Desmond about her. She couldn’t let go of her glory days. Our girl Joanie put up a good fight to the end but never realized that there comes a time when you have to pack it in.

With Mildred Pierce Crawford struck gold. Her career had been in freefall after a string of flops in the early 40s and many had written her off as a has-been. She asked MGM to be released from her contract and to her dismay they took her up on the offer and kicked her to the curb in 1943. But Jack Warner saw that there was still life in the old girl. Warner Bros. rescued her and Pierce was Crawford’s celebrated comeback role. It was a resounding box office success and Joan won an Oscar for it. What had promised to be a low point in her career turned out to be a career highlight and prolonged her shelf life by another 15-20 years. 
From then on she stayed in the shadowy back alleys of (quasi)Noir. She followed this success up with Humoresque (1946), Possessed (1947), Flamingo Road (1949), The Damned Don’t Cry (1950) and Sudden Fear (1952).

Directed by the great and extremely versatile Michael Curtiz for Warner, Mildred Pierce is based on James M. Cain’s eponymous novel which was deemed unfilmable for a long time. Cain had that in common with other pulp writers. Cain’s novels were the kind of stuff that made the PCA and studio executives equally nervous. They were mean and downright dirty. So Joe Breen and his cronies wouldn’t get a conniption, as a concession to the Production Code the novel was overhauled, cleaned up and a murder was added. Though the screenplay took great liberties with the plot, straying from the source material was actually a smart move. The Code doesn’t really work against the movie, and the murder trajects the film straight into Noir territory. Cain’s novel is driven by sexual desire, the film focuses on insatiable ambition due to (non-sexual) obsession. 

In a strangely deserted police station housewife and restaurant entrepreneur Mildred Pierce (Joan Crawford) is questioned about the shooting of her second husband Monte Beragon (Zachary Scott). Several flashbacks tell us Mildred’s life story. After divorcing her first husband Bert (Bruce Bennett) Mildred is in money trouble. To give her snotty daughter Veda (Ann Blyth) all that her heart desires Mildred finds work as a waitress and soon becomes a dizzying business success with the help of good friend Ida Corwin (Eve Arden) and business partner Wally Fay (Jack Carson). To have access to a high society lifestyle Mildred marries Monte…with tragic consequences.

Mildred Pierce has so often been slapped with that dreaded woman’s picture label. There’s no doubt that the movie is occasionally feverish, but then these kind of melodramas always are. Absurdities must not only be accepted but embraced, especially when we have top-notch actors who can easily make the story work and smooth over any contrivance on the filmmaker’s part. Mildred Pierce is simply a great piece of cinema. 
Incidentally the most emotionally draining scenes of the movie are not played for loud effect. Younger daughter Kay dying of pneumonia is a scene beautifully restrained and Crawford leaves the scenery unscathed. In Mildred’s and Veda’s fights we can see the fur fly but it’s kept just this side of histrionic.

Clearly Mildred Pierce occupies a cinematic grey space. Noir takes on the woman’s picture, or vice versa. A flashback structure casts a pallor of doom over the picture. The beach house is a modernist dream of split levels, spiral stairs and looming shadows on the wall. The opening sequence is a knockout. The credits - written in the sand - are washed away by the incoming tide to Max Steiner’s fantastic score. Then we hear shots being fired, a man is pumped full of lead, keeling over and gasping with his last breath “Mildred”. 

The stylistic means of Noir are used to great atmospheric effect here but we have to look into the soul of the film to see if the psychological underpinnings hold up to genre expectations. And indeed they do.
Not only do we find the Noir themes of ruthlessness, selfishness, moral ambiguity, greed, lust, jealousy and dissatisfaction. We also have the most obvious, the elephant in the room: Obsession.
“The trappings of motherhood and pie baking may not seem like the stuff of film noir, but Mildred’s obsession with her older daughter is as perverse and destructive as any man’s enslavement to a femme fatale.” Imogen Sara Smith, Criterion Collection article Mildred Pierce: A Woman’s Work
Spot on. Obsession does not necessarily have to be sexual to be an unstoppable driving force. Incidentally in the novel the mother-daughter relationship takes on slightly incestuous shadings, something that is definitively not found in the movie though Mildred’s obsession with her daughter is decidedly pathological verging on the sadomasochistic.

The driving force of Noir stories is often the urge to escape. From the ordinary, from poverty, from bad relationships, from oneself. In Mildred’s case her aspirations are not for herself but for her daughter. Veda’s greed is Mildred’s motivation and she subordinates all her own wants and needs to Veda’s wishes. 
Mildred puts her children above everything, including her marriage. She is one of those women whose nurturing love for her brood drowns out any other feeling. She explains to her husband that the children “come first in this house, before either one of us. Maybe it’s right, maybe it’s wrong, but that’s the way it is.” Bert no doubt is something of a dud and a defeatist, he’s lacking Mildred’s drive and will to succeed but to me it’s no wonder he left. He doesn’t seem to exist for Mildred. He's the one though who is clear-sighted enough to see what Mildred clearly can’t and won’t. That she’s spoiling Veda rotten and thus ruining her character.

Mildred is a protagonist straight from a Greek tragedy. She has a tragic flaw, the character trait that invariably leads to the protagonist’s downfall. Complete blindness to her daughter’s character.

Mildred is the quintessential 40s working girl. She epitomizes the American Dream. A self-made woman who’s not afraid to get her hands dirty, she rises above near poverty to great success by sheer indomitable spirit, hard work and determination without resorting to unethical business practices or compromising herself. She’s the gritty stuff America was built on and is rightly proud of.
Even when she was married to Bert she was always busy, selling cakes and pies to her neighbors out of her kitchen to pay for her daughters’ piano and ballet lessons. 

Contrary to popular belief, it must be stressed that Hollywood in general portrayed working women in quite a positive light. Taking a closer look at many 40s movies it’s time to overhaul the preconceived notion that working women played havoc with the ideal of American womanhood.
"It is often said that men’s discomfort with women’s entry into the workforce during World War II conjured the figure of the femme fatale, which demonized strong, ambitious women. This theory makes no sense, since the femme fatale is never a woman who works or is independent; she is always a woman who uses men to get what she wants, relying on the most traditional feminine wiles. Women who do work, like Mildred and Ida (or like the secretaries played by Ella Raines in Phantom Lady and Lucille Ball in The Dark Corner, or the nightclub performers portrayed by Ida Lupino in The Man I Love and Ann Sheridan in Nora Prentiss) are invariably good eggs, while femmes fatales are like Veda, avaricious gals who would rather cheat and exploit their desirability than work for what they want.” (Smith, ibid.)
I can add a few more movies that subvert the accepted wisdom. Joan Leslie in Born to be Bad, Roz Russel in His Girl Friday, Jane Randolph in Cat People, Ella again in The Web and The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry and Anne Crawford in Bedelia.

I’ve seen so many reviews stating Mildred is punished for being an independent working woman at the end of the movie. Horsefeathers. This is not a movie about the evils of women in the workplace. Mildred works because she has to, not because she wants to. This is a movie about social ambition and misplaced (mother) love. Her downfall comes about NOT through the disapproval of society but through her own character, her fatal flaw. She, and only she, set herself up for her own failure.

Looking like a luminously beautiful porcelain doll, Veda has the face of an angel and the soul of a cash register. If you look up the word entitlement princess in the dictionary you’ll find a picture of her. Ann Blyth was only 16 verging on 17 when she made the movie and for someone that young she turns in a fantastic and chilling performance. Hell, she turns in a fantastic performance no matter the age. 

She must be the youngest femme fatale in film ever, “a femme fatale in bobby socks” (Smith, ibid.). Outwardly so sweet you can literally feel the cavities eating into your teeth, she is really a spider woman whose gossamer light web is woven so delicately that by the time you notice you’re in it it is already too late.
Veda perfectly understands the finer points of psychological warfare. She uses her mother’s love for her against her. Veda’s cruelty is always deliberate, each and every one of her poisonous darts is designed to cause the most pain. A contemptuous user for whom any gift is too shabby, Veda is a bottomless pit of greed and is always working one angle or another because happiness can’t buy her money. 
Veda has complete control over her emotions…that’s because she hasn’t any. She can switch on a particular human emotion at will - or at least a good imitation of it. When she notices that a tantrum won’t do the trick, she changes her tactics to declarations of love and tears. “I’ll change, Mother, I promise. I’ll never say mean things to you again.” Would she like a little bit of cheese with her whine?

Considering the fact she’s still a teenager, that little dame is frighteningly knowledgable, about everything. Aided and abetted by her mother’s business partner Wally, Veda marries rich kid Ted Forrester just to take him to the cleaners. Having the marriage annulled shortly after, she extorts a $10,000 check from his mother claiming a fake pregnancy. This isn't cheating, mind you, it’s just skewing the results in her favor. Mildred might smell of grease but Veda knows a thing or two about high-class prostitution. She then proceeds to seduce her mother’s second husband. “There’s something to be said for alligators eating their young.”

Class and social status play a big role in the movie and it is Veda who is obsessed with it. She acts like a spoiled heiress despite being an heiress to nothing. Veda is ashamed of her mother’s working class background, her shabby home and her - gasp!- work as a waitress. So bourgeois. Mildred and family may have crossed the railroad tracks, but Veda can still hear the train roar. 

The scene where Veda accuses Mildred of “degrading” the family by waitressing is painful to watch for its sheer maliciousness. Veda detests the “smell of grease” on the money from her mother’s restaurants though that doesn’t prevent her from taking the developmental aid anyway while holding the source in contempt.
“You think just because you made a little money you can get a new hairdo and some expensive clothes and turn yourself into a lady. But you can’t, because you’ll never be anything but a common frump whose father lived over a grocery store and whose mother took in washing. With this money I can get away from every rotten, stinking thing that makes me think of this place or you.”
She spits out those lines like they’re poison. If Veda is not the most venomous femme fatale in Noir history, she’s definitively a contender.
Veda openly aspires to an aristocratic life in which she lives on wealth she never earned and looks down upon those who do as akin to something the cat dragged in. Oddly enough singing at a grubby waterfront dive for hooting sailors doesn’t seem to bother her. Full speed ahead, Fleet Week. We always knew those singing lessons she took were good for something. 
Unfortunately we never get to know the root of Veda’s social ambitions. There is nothing in the film to explain the origins of her attitude. Maybe it was Curtiz’s little stab at California’s post-War burgeoning consumer culture.

In the end Veda blames her mother for all her crimes. “It’s your fault I am the way I am”. In a way she’s right, there’s no doubt Mildred is enabling a sociopath. After all, Gods and Goddesses don’t exist until someone builds a temple to them. 
If ever a dame was itching for a good walloping it’s Veda but I don’t believe Mildred created Frankenstein’s monster. It’s another nature vs nurture debate. I don’t think anything that Mildred could have done would have changed Veda. Neither love, nor understanding, nor setting boundaries, nor discipline would have made any kind of impact on Veda. To paraphrase Lady Gaga, Veda was born that way. There’s a bad seed in her, her venality is all her own. 
In the book we can assume that Veda may have started out human - maybe - but was warped by Mildred's adulation and attentions. As incarnated in the movie she was simply born without a moral compass.

This is one of the few movies where the audience has pity with Crawford, usually not an actress to evoke this emotion. Both trailer and promotional material are misleading to the highest degree and expressively designed to make as little sense as possible. The audience is made to believe Mildred wrecks every life she touches. 
“The kind of woman most men want... but shouldn't have!”
“Loving her was like shaking hands with the devil.”
“She wasn’t too particular how she got what she wanted.
What? Turns out Saint Mildred is not the perpetrator but the victim forever tilting at the windmills of hopeless causes. 

Zachary Scott was always best when playing slimy heels and human specimens that are practically slithering, and he certainly doesn’t disappoint here. The moment we see him we know he’s Snidely Whiplash. That’s because he has a pencil-thin mustache. The flat broke offshoot of a once-wealthy Pasadena family, Monte Beragon is a leech, a lounge lizard and a self-confessed sponger with a perpetual cash flow problem. What does he actually do for a living? “I loaf, in a decorative and highly charming manner.” Work, the bane of the freeloading class. He sure sounds like a winner.
The family’s fortunes may be gone but he hasn't lost his sense of entitlement and class conceit. He continues to live in that never never land of ritzy manor houses, polo fields and posh country clubs. The only thing he has left is his spurious charm. And precious little of that. 

In the beginning Monte lets us think that he may be really in love with Mildred. It’s no wonder she falls for him, he makes her feel desirable again. Soon however Mildred is bankrolling Monte’s high-flying life style. Mildred finally catches on to what he is but marries him anyway, not because she’s still in love with him but because through him she has access to the aristocratic lifestyle Veda craves. 
Scott breathes life into a portrayal that could easily have come off as one-dimensional, because Monte is a type who embodies a single defining trait: greed. It is to Scott’s credit that he’s walking the tightrope between that combustible mix of charm and contemptible cad so perfectly.

Wally Fay, Mildred’s business partner and frenemy, looks like a well-fed chipper cherub but it would be unwise to underestimate him. He has a knack for one thing: making money. He’s always on the lookout for a quick buck…or a hundred. He’s the one who cooked up the plan to swindle Ted out of $10,000 because he gets a cut of the proceeds. It’s not that Wally is a bad guy, it’s just that he never occupied any moral high ground. On the credit side, he shows genuine concern for Mildred’s well-being - he warns her against Monte - but he’s also a wolf on the prowl and makes at least two passes a week at Mildred which she easily pitches back. He’ll just bide his time with another martini. 
In fact he’s a guy who’d naturally sniff around any halfway attractive woman who crosses his path. It’s an automatic reflex with him. He draws the line at damaged goods though. He never falls for Veda. Smart man. He knows a rotten thing when he sees it. 
Wally lays on that sleazy charm a bit thick but in a likable sort of way. He’s never shy of a wisecrack and never met a bad joke he didn’t like.

After misappropriating funds to support his lifestyle Monte ruins Mildred's business and Wally is caught with his hand in the cookie jar too, leaving Mildred high and dry. Wally does feel bad about it though. Really. 
“I didn’t mean to cut up your business the way I did. Just got started and couldn’t stop. I see an angle, right away I start cutting myself a piece of throat. It’s an instinct. With me being smart is a disease.”
No hard feelings then. 

After Monte’s murder Mildred tries to make Wally the fall guy but somehow I get the feeling he wouldn't hold it against her, what with not being hampered by an over-abundance of conscience himself and all. Wally understands why Mildred had to do it.
This must be one of Carson’s best roles and he runs with it. Somehow he makes this guy absolutely likable. Sure, Wally’s a crook and a louse who’d sell his own granny for a quick buck but that’s no reason to hate him. I like him against my better judgment. What better judgement?

The ending is an interesting mix of the sadness, anguish and hope. Veda is charged with murder and Mildred - now financially broke - finally has all her illusions about her daughter shattered. 
But both Mildred and Bert are cleared of the murder. Outside the sun begins to rise, peeking though the clouds and maybe - just maybe - there is a better future ahead.

The reason why Mildred gets sort of a happy ending and does not have to pay for her “sins” as per Joe Breen’s dictates is because her maternal love, though misguided, was untainted by sin. Mildred’s sacrifices are never portrayed as anything but noble and selfless. The worst the movie - rightfully - can accuse her off is blindness, but it is made very clear that there is no evil in Mildred’s ambition to better herself. 

So if your mental image of Crawford conjures up visions of a campy old broad with a bias against wire hangers I say get over it. For all her artificiality Crawford had the capacity to show her audience the damaged soul beneath the mannered surface. And she could bulldoze over any script absurdity like nobody's business.

Sunday, March 24, 2019

All About Eve (1950)

Crystal over at In The Good Old Days of Classic Hollywood is hosting the Fourth Annual Bette Davis blogathon on April 5-7, 2019. Here's my (early) entry.

“You're an improbable person, Eve, and so am I. We have that in common. Also, our contempt for humanity and inability to love, and be loved, insatiable ambition, and talent. We deserve each other.” Addison DeWitt to Eve Harrington
At two hours and twenty minutes a movie can feel more like a life sentence than entertainment but this is not the case with All About Eve. Written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz for Fox, the picture is a biliously cynical and biting commentary on theater life specifically and human nature by extension. The project, unsurprisingly, sat untouched for years by studios. Too unflattering was the presentation of show business as a world full of sociopaths, or damn near to it. 

Films that are like stage plays - with a strong reliance on dialogue and a limited number of sets - can come off as very static and overly verbose, but not when we have a script that is as witty and viciously sharp as this one, with acerbic zingers and prickly little barbs galore. The literary craftsmanship on display is simply a cut above the rest.

Author Sam Staggs described the film as “the bitchiest movie ever made” in his book All About All About Eve. A misguided assessment of a film if I’ve ever seen one. No doubt there’s a lot of scenery-chewing going on in the movie, and it’s Bette who’s doing most of it. The other cast members have to content themselves with chewing the leftovers. Davis was rarely ever a subtle actress but then she believed that “acting should be bigger than life”. I have no problem with that and call her acting broad and blousy. 

The issue I have with the “bitch reputation" is that it banishes the movie to the camp stratosphere where it definitively does not belong, despite the fact that the film has been like Manna from Heaven for generations of second-rate drag queens from Singapore to Los Angeles who can’t resist the temptation to parody Margo Channing because…Ab Fab! 

Throw into the bargain that poky runt-of-the-litter line about seatbelts and a bumpy night - endlessly parroted as part of the pop culture collective consciousness - and you have a movie that many people lampoon without ever having watched it. Don’t get me wrong, my tastes are low-brow enough to like camp. In fact I adore it. But years of impersonations and spoofs have given this genuine classic - fully deserving of its status - a bad rap, and have made it impossible for many to see it as anything other than an overwrought soap opera. I don’t want to beat a dead caribou to death, but this isn’t Plan 9 from RuPaul's Drag Race. All About Eve elegantly sidesteps those pitfalls.

The plot is quickly told as befits a movie that is more about character motivations and intentions than story. The film opens at an award ceremony where Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is honored with the coveted Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement. The unsuspecting audience is applauding but quite a few are sorely lacking enthusiasm. They’re the ones who know all about Eve. One long flashback tells us the story of how Eve came to be The Golden Girl.

The pistol
Stage-struck, sweet and oh so innocent Broadway fan Eve Harrington weasels and slinks her way into the company of famous but aging Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) - with a sob story to end all sob stories. A sad childhood, a life of drudgery in a brewery, a tragic shot down fighter pilot husband…cue the soft violins. Margo’s perceptive friend and wardrobe mistress Birdie (Thelma Ritter) is the first to sense something the others don’t: "What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snapping at her rear end.” Caustic but with real sympathy and friendship for Margo, unfortunately her character falls by the wayside halfway through the movie.

In no time Eve becomes Margo’s companion and assistant but her devotion soon shows more sinister layers. She immediately goes to work trying to separate Margo from her career, her friends and her fianc√©, director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). Also along for the ride are playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and Lloyd's wife Karen (Celeste Holm), Margo's best friend. It's only acid-tongued theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) who catches on to Eve and takes action. Turns out Eve isn’t the only shark in the tank.

Eve is a frightening case study in sociopathy if there ever was one. So sweet, so humble, so pitiful. Poor little lost lamb. Her wide-eyed innocent act is well-played because innocence is the ultimate master manipulator and can be just as potent a weapon as in-you-face sex. If this were Noir - which it isn’t - there’s no doubt Eve would be called a femme fatale. 
She's pure poison dissolved in fluffy and sweet cotton candy. Any shrink would gladly attest her a 10 out of 10 on the psych-o-meter. She’s classic textbook. A compulsive liar, manipulator, user and cheat with no empathy or remorse. She feels entitled to leave a trail of victims in her wake if it suits her needs. Amorality, Miss Harrington knows all about it.

A little mouse
Eve wants everything Margo has. Her roles, her star status, her friends. She’ll even take her man, as an afterthought. But it doesn’t end there. It seems Eve wants to morph into Margo, become Margo, not only steal her life but her very soul. “It’s as if she’s studying you”, says Birdie. 

It’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Strangely, Eve seems to think she can become a real star by imitation which to me is a premise that does not work. A real star must possess originality. It begs the question though, does Eve even have a personality of her own? Does she have a self? While Margo is all charisma and personality, Eve is not only fake all the way through, she seems to be an empty vessel. She is what people want her to be by taking on an infinite number of roles. The performance of Eve’s life is literally being Eve.

Her scheming is hard to nail down because there’s nothing definite to get hold of, nothing you could put your finger on though cracks show in the facade occasionally. By the time everybody catches on to Eve, it is already too late. Eve has landed the coveted part of Cora and for Eve, sharing isn’t caring. There Can Only Be One.

One almost has to admire the amount of planning and preparation Eve has done to get her introduction to Margo and gain sympathy. Deliberately dressing in drab and pitiful clothes, Eve signals that a little mouse like her would be no threat to an established star. She had to look the part, not just play it. But this is one little mouse on the prowl. The more Eve gains the upper hand, the more her wardrobe changes to the elegant and expensive. Soon she dresses like Margo’s equal. At Bill’s birthday party, Cinderella is finally wearing her ball gown. And not just any ballgown but one that is almost a carbon copy of Margo’s. A separate article could be written about the costume design.

Eve is in stark contrast to Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe). Miss Casswell may be a graduate of “the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts” but she won’t let a little disadvantage like that derail her. Her, erm, business arrangement with producer Max Fabian is - if nothing else - at least refreshingly honest and above board. Everybody knows where they stand. No subterfuge required.

Much has been made of Eve’s sexuality, with many viewers suggesting Eve to be a lesbian. A fairly convincing case could be made for that, with the way she and her female friend ascend the staircase at her boardinghouse tightly hugging and the way Eve extends an invitation to stay overnight to Phoebe. What it comes down to is that it has absolutely no bearing on the movie. I’d go so far as to suggest that Eve is not really interested in sex at all. She no doubt would use sex as leverage - and obviously does so on several occasions - with whoever can promise her the most gain, but it is nothing more than a means to an end. Eve's relationships are based on opportunism, not affection. One thing will always take precedence over her private life - whatever it may be - and that is the applause of an adoring audience - “the waves of love coming over the footlights and wrapping you up”. For that she’d gladly sell her, let’s call it virtue to the highest bidder.

Margo is a woman of a certain age and a midlife crisis in full swing. At the same time vain and full of insecurities, her ego needs constant feeding and that’s where her fianc√© Bill and her friends come in. They're supposed to supply her with nonstop unquestioning adoration which is becoming increasingly difficult for them as her prima donna behavior and her temperamental outbursts are becoming harder and harder to take.
Margo can’t stop acting, even after the curtain comes down. She lives and breathes melodrama. Her approach to life is inherently theatrical. It seems she doesn’t know where make-believe ends and reality begins. Margo, just like Eve, isn't living her life, she is performing it.
Karen has to throw the painful truth in Margo's face: “Stop being a star...It's about time Margo realized that what's attractive on stage need not necessarily be attractive off.”

Sloshed at the big Four-Oh
Incidentally Sunset Blvd. came out the same year and both Davis and Gloria Swanson were nominated for an Oscar. Norma Desmond has been teetering on the brink of madness for years, her narcissism is a hermetically sealed bubble that reality can’t puncture anymore. For quite a while the viewer is afraid that Margo may turn into Norma Desmond 2.0 because Margo's vanity is her Achilles heel as well. That’s why Margo is easily swayed by Eve’s devotion in the beginning. Her narcissism doesn’t allow for the possibility that Eve’s idolatry is all an act, after all she is a STAR, and blind adoration is something due a star. Eve - who has a good working knowledge of psychology - knows how to play Margo.
It’s interesting to note that Margo later despises Eve for what she has done but there’s good reason to assume - though we never get conformation for this - that Eve is Margo’s younger self.

Bill’s birthday party is the night the claws come out. Margo is itching for a cat fight. The air isn’t always rarified in theatrical circles. Two sheets to the wind and working on three after guzzling down a few painfully dry martinis, Margo is in rare form and hyping herself up to an epic hissy fit, uttering THAT line…I’ll be damned if I repeat it.
Loudly proclaiming that she detests cheap sentiment, Margo isn’t fooling anybody. She literally wallows in boozy misery and self-pity. Admittedly her scenes here are pretty high on the Richter scale for bitchiness. Not to say she hits it out of the ballpark. It’s loopily enjoyable. 

But Margo - for all her egotism - is a realist. In the end she understands that she can’t go on forever playing ingenues and that there comes a time for a changing of the guards. Fame has a short shelf life. 
Much has been made of the conflict between marriage and career. 
“Funny business, a woman’s career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman.”
...ruminates Margo one night. Of course we could snigger about this sentiment but I consider this tediously revisionist. Eve’s machinations have forced Margo to do one thing: take a good hard look at herself. Life isn’t only about the ambition to be a star, there’s more to it. All the world is not a stage.  
Margo has realized that true love is more important that the adoration of a faceless crowd.

When Margo turns down the role of Cora, in a way she triumphs over Eve, she refuses to let herself be drawn into another contest and chooses not to be bothered by Eve anymore. She emerges from the battle disheveled but unbowed. Maybe she’s hasn’t found peace yet but she’s finally come to terms with herself. “No more make believe off stage or on.” It's probably the most grown-up thing she's ever done.
Sympathies fluctuate during the entire movie but in the end the scales of sympathy come down in favor of Margo.

About Anne Baxter’s role Roger Ebert wrote: “Eve lacks the presence to be a plausible rival to Margo, but is convincing as the scheming fan.” I’m inclined to agree. Baxter’s babe in the woods act is well played but it’s hard to believe she could be an actress of the caliber to rival Bette Davis, or (presumably) Sarah Siddons for the matter. Eve is a knockoff and as such I have a hard time believing her to be serious competition for Margo. It throws the film slightly off-balance.

We never find out if either Margo or Eve have real talent because in a smart twist, All About Eve studiously avoids showing anybody perform on stage, instead using newspaper testimony to describe Margo's and Eve's performances. Mankiewicz confines himself to showing their offstage antics and self-dramatizing. It’s easy to believe that Margo has talent - we sense the artist underneath the Star - but does Mankiewicz want the audience to doubt Eve’s abilities? Of course Addison praises Eve’s performance but then he has ulterior motives. Does Mankiewicz want to make the audience believe that bloodsucking and backstabbing is what really counts? That theater and film is nothing but a Darwinian dog eat dog world?
All About Eve was the movie that resuscitated Davis’s career which had been on the downward spiral for a couple of years. Many people maintained that Bette didn’t have to act playing Margo, that she was Margo’s mirror image. I’m sure there’s a good deal of truth in it, with one crucial difference. Davis proves that - contrary to Margo - she was not afraid to show her age. Davis didn’t put a premium on vanity. She was 42 at the time of the movie but looks a good ten years older. When we see her first, Margo is positively unglamorous with her hair scraped back and her face smeared with make-up remover. Davis didn’t let herself be defeated by her insecurities, because Davis could rely on her attitude and personality to see her through. To quote Roger Ebert again: “Growing older was a smart career move for Bette Davis whose personality was adult, hard-edged and knowing.” She would prove that even more in the years to come when she didn’t mind looking positively grotesque if the role called for it.
Eve can only hope that there’s a painting of her in an attic somewhere that's rapidly aging.

George Sanders, if he wanted to, could steal the thunder from anybody. Addison DeWitt is New York’s foremost theater critic… by the power he has invested in himself. He’s deliciously wicked.  Shrewd, sophisticated and with a penetrating insight into the human condition, he is by far the smartest guy in the room, probably any room he enters. His charm can easily lull people into believing he’s a nice guy. A dangerous miscalculation. He’s somebody on whose bad side nobody wants to be on. Sanders was blessed with a mellifluous voice - like soft silk with a touch of unyielding steel underneath. Everything he said sounded like a sly and not unwelcome insinuation. A poisonous snake, so polite on the surface, so dangerous underneath.

DeWitt enjoys the power he wields, he likes people to be afraid of him and his goose quill dipped in venom. Eve may have won the Sarah Siddons Award, but Addison deserves the Waldo Lydecker Award for Cutting Wit and Withering Scorn.
He is an agitator, a man who pulls the strings and then sits back and watches with sardonic glee. He’s also a catalyst, someone who brings about a reaction between people without being himself affected. In a way he has detached himself from humanity, he considers himself above the rest. 

Addison recognizes in Eve “the mark of a true killer”. That’s why he can talk to her on his own level, “killer to killer”. He admires Eve’s ruthlessness - as long as he can keep her under control.
Eve, so secure in her own arrogance, makes the mistake of underestimating him. He isn’t fooled by her little games, for that he’s too much like her. He slaps her hard across the face, saying:
“Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on? That you have the same contempt for me as you have for them? I am nobody's fool. Least of all, yours.”
It’s actually shocking when he drops his guard. An animal lurks under his impervious calm. There’s a world of wounded pride in this little speech. Nobody makes a fool out of Addison DeWitt and puts him in the same category of gullibility as The Great Unwashed, least of all a little upstart of an actress.

For Eve karma’s a bitch. It’s not he who falls into her trap, she falls into his. Addison can sniff out a phony a mile away. He dug up some juicy dirt on her and quickly demolishes the lovely sob story she had manufactured about herself. And then lays down the law.
Addison: I’ve come here to tell you that you will not marry Lloyd or anyone else for that matter because I will not permit it.
Eve: What have you got to do with it?
Addison: Everything, because after tonight, you will belong to me.

You can always put that award where your heart ought to be
Just as with Eve, there have been endless speculations as to Addison’s sexuality. I’ve seen myriads of people vehemently insisting Addison is a coded - or not so coded - gay character but not one has been able to nail down a convincing reason for this assessment. Just because he’s eloquent, suave and sophisticated doesn’t mean he’s gay. Those are rather flimsy arguments, in themselves nothing more than cliches. 

When he utters the line “you belong to me” it is not just an exercise in pure power and a show of ownership. Not with that tone in his voice. This is not a gay man talking to his beard. This is not Waldo Lydecker wanting to possess a perfect work of art. This is a man talking to a woman who he wants to, well…let’s keep this family-friendly. It doesn’t take a particularly fertile imagination to guess how this relationship is going to play out.

It’s a very satisfying comeuppance for Eve. With her machinations Eve has lost all her benefactors bar one, and if Addison tires of her it will be the final curtain for Eve. Addison triumphs, as he must have many times before. The devil looks after his own.

The last scene is rightfully a favorite of many viewers. It features neither Margo nor Eve but a new girl, Phoebe (Barbara Bates). She has invaded Eve’s apartment and immediately starts to ingratiate herself with Eve. Phoebe is yet another snake in the grass waiting for her chance to replace the star as soon as she lets her guard down. Posing before a multi-paned mirror, Phoebe puts Eve's cape around her shoulders, holds her Sarah Siddons Award and admires herself. We see infinite replications of Phoebes reflected in the mirrors. Mankiewicz doesn’t go in for the subtle approach here. For every star, there is someone younger and more ambitious in the wings. Past and future, a never-ending cycle of lies and deceit. The many faces of Eve; the many faces of treachery, expanding themselves into infinity.

It should be a consolation for Margo. The laws of gravity never fail. Once you’re at the top there’s nowhere else to go but down. Eve will be brought down by Phoebe, as Phoebe will be brought down by yet another young hopeful. 

I have seen criticism of the film that calls it “misogynistic” because it paints a bleak portrait of female power games. I says cow patties. Apparently it’s a hanging offense for certain people to suggest that women are anything less than perfect. I've seen enough women who are perfectly happy to use every dirty trick in the book to get where they want to be.

The story of treachery, power games and ambition that blinds people is a tale as old as time. It is universal and eternal, it spans centuries, countries, class, race, everything. It will never go out of fashion. 

Let’s just hope Hollywood won’t make another sequel in 2019, All About Phoebe. That's just too depressing to think about.