The other day, a friend of mine asked if I had seen a recent broadcast of All About Eve on TV. We laughed as we recalled how many times we’d seen the flick and how we admired the tremendous performances in it. And although I did not see the movie last week, All About Eve remains one of my favorites.
How flawed but noble was Bette Davis’ Margo Channing; how treacherous the cloying villainy of Anne Baxter’s Eve; and most deliciously, how perfidious the unctuous urbanity of George Sanders’ Addison DeWitt? Yet for all her wheeling and double-dealing, in the end Eve ends up as the unwilling mistress of DeWitt. Although to some of us more shallow female moviegoers, this mightn’t have been so terrible a fate.
Yes, Margo achieves a modicum of revenge and gets her man alright, but, in an almost prophetic scene, Eve survives to continue her grasping, conniving ways, even to the point of cloning herself at the end of the film; letting us in on the fact that there are countless Eves waiting in the proverbial wings. And so this has indeed come to pass; just think of the apparent allure of the same kind of ruthless ambition in the latest episode of Survivor.
Those great performances seem even greater in hindsight for the fact that the dark proclivities to cheating, lying, doubletalk and deceit are now desirable, while the traits we esteemed in the good guys are nearly absent on the modern silver screen. Today, the Eve Harringtons are the winners; much to be admired.
As several others joined in our cinematic reverie, someone brought up Animal House. Now, I’m no fan of this lewd, sophomoric frat house flick, but in a way, even this throwaway comedy would serve as high art today. As is the case with many old movies, the themes which were once the subject of parody, are now themselves a part of everyday life.
When John Belushi’s Bluto cracks his line about the Germans bombing Pearl Harbor, it was a great joke, but would scarcely resonate with today’s fraternity brothers who most likely wouldn’t get it. A survey taken a few years ago found that most college students didn’t know much about history. According to the survey, 63 percent did not know during which war the Battle of the Bulge was fought. But the one thing in common between the fictional Delta House of the 1960’s and today’s collegians is that the behavior of those pledged to “the worst house on campus” is now de rigueur for too many Americans under the age of forty.
As our discussion on other old movies we loved continued, we got to talking about the possibility of anything like them being made today. They say life imitates art, and if anyone considers the dreck coming out of Hollywood art, this is sadly a reality. Similarly, if one considers the reverse true, both our lives and our art are in dire cultural peril. But could any of the old classics survive the cutting room floor were they under consideration to be made today?
How about The Caine Mutiny? In it, Captain Queeg is taken down partly through the cowardly machinations of Lt. Keefer, yet in the end, all agree that his years of brave service to his country must command respect. Compare that to the Obama Administration’s depiction of veterans as possible terrorists and Hollywood’s stock portrayals of American servicemen since the Vietnam War.
Gone with the Wind? The romantic entanglements aside, the notion that Margaret Mitchell could possibly wax nostalgic over the Old South is unfortunately as anachronistic as the film itself is considered by far too many today. And this is the point; Hollywood can no longer overlook any aspect of American history that does not accord itself with modern mores. Consequently, this and other factors naturally limit its range and appeal.
Cinematic fare is so torpid today that whole genres of movies have been relegated to the Tinseltown trash heap. Want to catch a shoot-em-up Western where there’s a snowball’s chance in hell of coming across a white good-guy? Where have you gone, Randolph Scott? Religious blockbusters like The Ten Commandments or Ben Hur? Much too controversial. Yearning for a musical filled to the brim with graceful dancing and songs replete with witty lyrics fit for the whole family? Sorry, Hollywood has not kept folks with that kind of talent on its roster for decades.
No, you won’t find a good Eve Harrington to sink your teeth into today on the silver screen anymore. If you do, she’s likely the heroine, dishing out well-deserved revenge on some Rhett Butler who has unwisely toyed with her feminist affections. It’s enough to make you want to paraphrase Margaret Mitchell:
There once was a land of heroes and heroines called Hollywood. Here in this pretty world, civility took its last bow. Here was the last ever to be seen of wise men and their devoted families, of faith and of patriotism. Look for it only on TCM, for it is no more than a dream remembered, a civilization gone with the wind.…