Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bette Davis vs. Gloria Swanson

On Thursdays in January, TCM has been running a series of movies comparing New York to Los Angeles. This week takes a loot at the entertainment industry in both cities. I've already recommended 42nd Street, which airs at 8:00 PM tonight, and the following movie, A Star is Born, at 9:45 PM. However, TCM is also contrasting All About Eve (an aging star in New York) and Sunset Blvd. (an aging star in Hollywood), at 11:45 PM and 2:15 AM overnight, respectively. Surprisingly, I've never recommended either.

Both movies were released in 1950, and the stars playing the old actresses -- Bette Davis in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson in Sunset Blvd. -- were both nominated for Best Actress Oscars. I can't help but think it was a big surprise to everybody on Oscar night when the envelope was opened and the award went to... Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday. Anne Baxter had also been nominated for playing the title role of Eve Harrington in All About Eve, and a lot of Bette Davis fans will say that Baxter's nomination resulted in voters who would have voted for All About Eve splitting their votes, with the result that Davis lost an Oscar she "deserved" to win.

I don't believe this. Frankly, I prefer Swanson's performance as aging silent film star Norma Desmond. Bette Davis' Margo Channing is a 40-something theater actress who is entering middle age, but isn't really too old. It's not really as difficult to play that, I think, as a woman who's going insane, if not already there. Also, Davis had already played a more difficult actress role in Dangerous fifteen years earlier, and won an Oscar for that, to boot.

Having said all that, I do like to you you to judge for yourself. Both All About Eve and Sunset Blvd. are among the greatest Hollywood movies of all time; both are filled with great performances in addition to those of the lead actresses.

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