ALL ABOUT EVE
Upon turning 40, Margo Channing (a leading light of the theatre, devilishly portrayed by Bette Davis, who was never better) finds out that her close circle of friends has made room for one more: a young lady named Eve (Anne Baxter). Eve is a starstruck ingenue who’d like nothing more than to be Margo’s assistant, but wouldn’t turn her nose up at being her understudy either. And from there, well, the world’s your oyster. “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end,” a character wisely observes of Eve’s agenda. One star on the wane as another rises … it’s the kind of timeless plot that’ll never go out of fashion (hello, The Artist!).
And this year’s Oscar front-runner will surely be delighted if it winds up winning six statues, like All About Eve, which walked away with Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay as well as Supporting Actor (George Sanders, who didn’t exactly give the most gracious of acceptance speeches), Costume Design and Sound Recording. And you can make a considerable case that Davis should have taken home a seventh Oscar but was arguably denied Best Actress because voters couldn’t decide between her and Anne Baxter’s Eve, to say nothing of a certain Gloria Swanson, whose portrayal of aging silent star Norma Desmond, dominates Sunset Boulevard. In the end, the Oscar went to Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday. TIME’s original review in 1950 noted that All About Eve is “probably Hollywood’s closest original approach to the bite, sheen and wisdom of high comedy,” which was high praise indeed. As they say, they don’t make ‘em like they used to.
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THE SILENCE OF THE LAMBS
The second big screen adaptation of one of Thomas Harris’ popular serial-killer novels (following Michael Mann’s Manhunter), Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs ratchets up the fear factor even further. The film is underpinned by an utterly captivating (and still, to this day, genuinely chilling) performance by Anthony Hopkins, whose psychopathic Dr. Hannibal Lecter chews up the screen — as well as his victims — with unbridled relish. But The Silence of the Lambs (both the original text and this film) doesn’t descend into messy chaos thanks to Jodie Foster’s FBI agent-in-training, Clarice Starling. She might be having a tough time solving the case of finding the serial killer Buffalo Bill but Lecter is particularly taken by her and offers a deal of sorts: if she opens up to him during their conversations then he’ll review the evidence in the Buffalo Bill case.
While everyone will forever remember the bloody, violent sequences and Lecter’s infamous “I ate his liver with some fava beans and a nice chianti,” it’s the tense, terse interplay between Hopkins and Foster that has the most impact. And Oscar couldn’t have been more enthralled: it’s only the third film ever to sweep the board in the main five categories (along with fellow bracket entrant It Happened One Night and One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest): Best Picture, Best Actress, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. And to show that the studio clearly had a sense of humor, today marks the 21-year-anniversary of the movie’s release. You read that right: The Silence of the Lambs came out on Valentine’s Day.