April 29, 2017

Anne Baxter • All About Eve

as Eve Harrington
Anne Baxter, All About Eve
Within the time-honored tale of 1950's Best Actress race, a question presents itself: in demanding that she be campaigned in the lead actress category for her work in All About Eve, did Anne Baxter inadvertently create a vote-splitting scenario against co-star and co-nominee Bette Davis, thereby contributing to the latter's loss to Judy Holliday?

The myth of the vote-split so heavily looms around the lexicon of the Academy Awards and its ensuing awards campaigns such that we've not seen multiple stars of one film in the lead actress category since 1991 (Julia Roberts in August: Osage County and Rooney Mara in Carol be damned). I'm of the belief that the concept of vote splitting in relation to double-nominees from the same film is an inflated myth. As victories from Shirley MacLaine, F. Murray Abraham, and Peter Finch demonstrate, there are external factors that come into play for one's Oscar glory. You can't argue that Debra Winger, Tom Hulce, and William Holden could have realistically won when their counterparts were either more acclaimed or perceived as more "overdue". Such is the case for Baxter - if you eliminated Davis from the equation, would she really have stood a chance against Holliday and Swanson?

Anne Baxter, All About Eve
I think it's easy to dismiss Baxter's work as Eve when you first watch the film. There she is, with those intensely longing eyes, speaking her lines with an aggressive, kiss-assey breathlessness such that, after about an hour or so, it wears a little thin and one gets the feeling that this is some one-dimensional work.

At first blush, I concluded that I wasn't a fan of suck-up, doe-eyed Eve. I found it all grating, I don't think it reads as genuine, and something about Baxter's approach is tirelessly annoying. And yet, in retrospect: these feelings basically mean that I am Thelma Ritter's Birdie! And as Birdie is the only character from the get-go to call bullshit on Eve's bullshit, might that mean that Baxter's annoyingness is meant to be? That that grating quality is a deliberate, conscientiously planned facet to the broader package that is Eve Harrington / Gertrude Slescynski?

Anne Baxter, All About Eve
It's not until the scene in which Eve tries and fails to seduce Bill do we see a sudden unraveling of said package. And then, later on, in that expertly acted scene in which Eve is blackmailing Karen for the part of Cora, that aforementioned breathlessness suddenly bears a more sinister connotation. Baxter is cold and firm, her eyes cutting and steely. It's more interesting to realize that nearly every frame of Eve prior was essentially a performance within a performance acted by Baxter. After all, there is something suspiciously artificial about Eve to start - I like to think that that's Baxter's added touch. Suddenly, when revisiting Eve's sappy first monologue about Eddie, it comes off a touch more genius than it does saccharine. Baxter is at her absolute best when playing Bitch Eve - not a moment reads as untrue.
Anne Baxter, All About Eve
And yet, for a film that is All About her character, Baxter's lacking some oomph. Perhaps it's because her wardrobe is predominantly humdrum for much of the picture. Perhaps it's that damn hairdo of hers, which I find SO bland and which manages to stay the same to the very end. Even in her best scenes, there is a stubbornly pedestrian feel to her; I wish that she projected a more extraordinary sense of divaness, a more magnetic fire. Unlike her co-star and co-nominee, perhaps those are simply qualities that Baxter does not innately possess. In the end, Baxter doesn't look or feel like this breakout, prospective superstar actress that Eve allegedly is set to be. Ultimately, as much as I did enjoy her work, Baxter/Eve never feel truly focal to the story and the viewing experience.

I can't imagine that Baxter received a great number of votes that year, never mind enough to cock block a potential victory from Davis. What's more, who's to truly say that voters who preferred Baxter to Davis would have actually converted their votes to Davis had Baxter not been apart of the equation? If anything, I think a vote split was more likely between Swanson and Davis to ultimately give Holliday the victory. Baxter - probably a distant fourth or fifth.



5 comments:

  1. I agree Anne didn't spoil any voting. I mean seriously: who voted for her win? :) maybe got 3-5% of the votes.

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  2. Is it not considerably easier to imagine someone else playing Eve Harrington than to imagine someone other than Davis as Margo, or Swanson as Norma, or Holliday as Billie?

    Baxter does wonderful work in this film, and is deserving always of robust applause and admiration, but in no way makes the part immortal as do the other three. You're right; Baxter did not prevent a Davis win. It was Bette and Gloria creating iconic characters at the same moment, who banged heads, knocking each other out, and clearing the path for Judy.

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  3. Anne Baxter is a better actress than her performance in 'Eve' indicates. Her test footage for 'Rebecca' and her work in 'The Sullivans' and 'The Razor's Edge' attest to that. Here she is too bland in the first half and too intrinsically evil in the second to broach the two. Some shadings between the two 'personas' would have been far more interesting and dynamic. There's just not enough fire in her Eve to believe the character arch.

    Still, she's too good an actress to phone in a performance and yet she doesn't ever persuade us that Eve is Margo's equal. The screenplay, however, is so sublimely literate that no one can undo its strengths and Baxter is too fine an actor to have squandered her greatest opportunity. It's not the great performance it's made out to be but Baxter still manages to be almost (but not quite) unforgettable. To her credit, she's still talked about with great respect for her work.

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  4. I had to watch the movie a few times to sorta "get" her performance. The first time I watched it, I found her breathy way of speaking ridiculously fake and annoying. But when I started to piece together the character's motivations, I would agree with you that it is probably a deliberate choice by Baxter.

    I also agree that she's overshadowed, but it is still a strong peformance.

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