All About . . .

I'll be getting to the NY Film Festival shortly -- no, really, I promise -- but I had an interesting experience over the weekend, wedged in among the Yom Kippur observances. For reasons I won't bore you with, the b.w. had to look at All About Eve a couple of nights ago and, loyal spouse that I am (and movie junkie), I watched alongside her.

Quite a shock. I had vague memories of the film being a bit stodgy but clever, so I was appalled when I saw it again. It is, quite simply, dull, dull, dull. Mankiewicz takes a 90-minute script and in his trademark self-congratulatory 'cleverness' blows about 45 minutes of hot air into it. Except for Eve, who is a caricature of innocence unprotected -- until she becomes a caricature of evil unleashed -- every one of the characters speaks exactly alike, in a tortured, pompous cartoon of Broadway 'wit.' It's as if someone regurgitated the worst of the Algonquin Round Table. With the honorable exceptions of Bette Davis and George Sanders who, for better or worse, are iconic, and the always wonderful Thelma Ritter (whose character disappears without trace or explanation after 45 minutes), the acting is excrutiating. The script's structure -- the passing from hand to hand of flashback narration -- is awkward to no purpose, a reworking of the similarly clumsy Letter to Three Wives.

Andrew Sarris has admitted to having missed the boat on a few of the directors in his "Less Than Meets the Eye" category -- most notably Billy Wilder, who he has said he would now move into the Pantheon -- but I think he pegged Mankiewicz absolutely right. His best films -- Somewhere in the Night, The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, House of Strangers, There Was a Crooked Man -- were written by others. His most gaseous works -- and I'd put All About Eve squarely in that category, alongside the obnoxiously self-righteous People Will Talk -- are entirely the product of an egomaniac so delusional that he rewrote F. Scott Fitzgerald (Borzage's luminous Three Comrades). It's obvious from comparing their writing credits that Herman was the talent in this family.