Criterion November 2019 Releases
Another month, another batch of new titles to be added to the Criterion collection. The array of titles are once again an eclectic one, including the French drama Betty Blue, the recently triple Oscar nominated Cold War, the Greg Mottola comedy/drama The Daytrippers, and two Bette Davis films, Now, Voyager and All About Eve. As excellent and interesting as all these films are, I am most particularly excited about the two Bette Davis films. I'm actually surprised to learn that these titles haven't already been issued through the Criterion Collection. But I'm very pleased to see that the situation is finally being rectified.
I can't remember the first time I saw All About Eve, but I do know it was as a young adult either in my late teens or early twenties. I also know that it left a great impressions upon me. I loved it immediately and some how knew it was an important film. As it turns out, the 1950 Oscar winner was nominated for fourteen Academy Awards and walked away with six, including ones for Darryl F. Zanuck for producing Best Picture, two others to Joseph L. Mankiewicz as Best Director and Best Writer, Edith Head for Best Costume, five time Oscar winner Thomas Moulton for Best Sound, and one for George Sanders as the Best Supporting Actor of the year. Each, well deserved.
Just one year after crafting A Letter To Three Wives, Mankiewicz shaped a devastatingly witty Hollywood classic, depicting a world that happens backstage where the real drama plays out. Besides the intimate friendships, professional rivalries, and love lives of the six central characters, there is a real love of the theater that is a character in and of itself. It is in fact the motivating factor in the plot and subplot of this tale. I don't like to give away too much about a storyline because I believe that takes away from the enjoyment a viewer has when they discover what that is. With that in mind, I will tell you that Davis plays a Broadway diva named Margo who is respected and admired by all. One night her most ardent fan, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), makes her way into her circle of friends and closest confidants. It's nearly unbelievable how easy it is for Eve to enter this private world, but the writing, directing and most of all the performances are conducted in such a way as to suspend all disbelief. That's the power of good filmmaking - you just buy into it.
George Sanders is particularly good in his Academy Award winning role of the acid-tongued critic, Addison DeWitt. His dueling repartee with Davis creates some of the most memorable moments in a film that featured her in the role that revived the aging actress' career and came to define it. All About Eve is one of the most deliciously entertaining films ever made about the ruthlessness of show business. The Special Edition Features list a 4K digital restoration, two audio commentaries featuring co-star Celeste Holm, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's son Christopher Mankiewicz, a feature length documentary about the film's director All About Mankiewicz, episodes of The Dick Cavett Show from 1969 and 1980 featuring actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, another documentary featuring interviews with Davis and others about the making of the film, the short story on which the film is based and its real-world inspiration, and the film's Trailer.
Now, Voyager is another favorite film of mine of which I can't remember when I first saw it. And yet, it has always been a part, let alone an influence, on the films I have come to love over the years. It's mostly because of Davis, who represents a type of woman unlike any other on or off the screen for many decades before, during, and after her time. As in most of her films, Davis plays a woman who is the master of her own destiny. Although her path begins in a shroud of insecurity and neurosis, her inner strength bubbles up and guides her to a world of her making. Gladys Cooper is superb in the role of Davis' overbearing and manipulative mother. The inimitable Claude Rains provides his usual superb talents as a kindly psychiatrist who guides her into the world. His portrayal of a wise, yet approachable psychiatrist is worthy of an Oscar nomination but received no such honor. Davis and Cooper where nominated for Best Actress and Best Supporting Actress respectively but lost out to Greer Garson and Theresa Wright fort their performances in the Best Picture picture of the year, Mrs. Miniver. Paul Henreid's sympathetic lover is strongly appealing as the understanding man who believes in the strength of a woman who has yet to believe in herself.
Made at the height of Davis's reign as the queen of the women's picture and bolstered by an Oscar-winning Max Steiner score, Now, Voyager is a melodrama for the ages, both a rapturous Hollywood romance and a poignant saga of self-discovery. The Special Edition Features include a newly restored 4K digital transfer, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray, an episode of The Dick Cavett Show from 1971 with Bette Davis, an interview with Paul Henreid, selected-scene commentary on the film's score, a new interview with film critic Farran Smith Nehme, a new interview with costume historian Larry McQueen, and two radio adaptations from 1943 and 1946.
Whether you love all things Bette Davis, or the dramas of the 1940s, or just the plain good filmmaking of the studio system era, Bette Davis vehicles are must see films that will appeal to film fans of all types, classic and otherwise.