What was the greatest year for films?
There has been quite a bit of debate on the subject. Strong cases are usually made for four years in particular.
- 1975: Jaws, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, Dog Day Afternoon, Monty Python and the Holy Grail
- 1994: Pulp Fiction, Shawshank Redemption, The Lion King, Forrest Gump
- 1939: Gone With the Wind, The Wizard of Oz, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington
- 1977: Star Wars, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, Saturday Night Fever
But I can’t say that I’ve ever heard 1950 included in the discussion. But it should be. And this film has a lot to do with it.
Notably, three films on my current list of the top 25 films of all time were released that year. The Third Man, Sunset Boulevard and the best picture winner, All About Eve.
Based on the story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, All About Eve is a slick and mesmerizing story of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) a woman in love with the Broadway theater and obsessed with her favorite star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Margo takes Eve under her wing and the naïve fangirl quickly becomes an indispensable assistant to Margo.
Eve is beloved by everyone in Margo’s world.
Her director and boyfriend, Bill Sampson (Gary Merill). Her friends, playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife Karen (Celeste Holm). Even the caustic and jaded theatre critic Addison DeWitt is taken by Eve. She is charming, caring and above all else devoted to helping Margo.
But Margo begins to feel uneasy with Eve’s place of prominence in her life and decides to gently transition her into the service of her friend, producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff).
When, through a series of events Eve is appointed as Margo’s understudy in Lloyd’s play “Aged in Wood” the tension between them mounts and their relationship begins to break down.
What transpires is remarkable because everything about it is flawless. Absolutely flawless.
The script rivals Casablanca. Yes, it’s that good. So many razor-sharp lines of dialogue from so many different characters, each with their own unique voice.
“Lloyd, honey, be a playwright with guts. Write me one about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband.” – Margo Channing
The most well-known moment comes from Margo when asked by Karen at the start of Bill’s birthday party if her foul mood is the start or end of a tantrum. Margo downs her entire martini, hands the glass to Bill, takes two steps up the stairs, turns and surveys the scene.
“Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” – Margo Channing
Betty Davis is one of the few who could pull off this role. Davis was 42 when the film came out playing an actress who had just turned 40, concerned about her fading youth and how it might impact her career. She plays it honestly.
“Bill’s thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.” – Margo Channing
This is one of her finest performances which says a lot about a woman who received two Oscars and a total of 10 best actress nominations in a career that spanned 58 years and more than 120 films.
But the cast as a whole is remarkable. There’s a scene near the start of the film when Karen first brings Eve to Margo’s dressing room after a performance. It’s the first time the two women meet and so much is established in the scene. Margo, Eve, Karen and Birdie (Margo’s maid) are all in the scene together and all four actresses would receive Oscar nominations for this film (2 lead, 2 supporting).
But they most definitely weren’t the only ones who the Academy smiled upon.
All About Eve holds the record with 14 nominations. Titanic and La La Land each also had 14 but in my opinion All About Eve stands as the king of Oscar nominations. Titanic and La La Land both benefited from original song nominations. Most of the time best original song nominations have little or nothing to do with the quality of the film*.
It won 6 awards that night at the Pantages Theatre including two for writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz. Of the 5 acting nominations received only George Sanders as Addison DeWitt won. Sanders had a long career with a tragic end when he took his own life. You might not know his name but you’d recognize his voice as Shere Khan in the original Jungle Book from 1967.
So what about those other two 1950s classics, Sunset Boulevard and The Third Man?
The Third Man received 3 nominations that year including director Carol Reed and the editing. It won for its marvelous cinematography. It’s too bad the screenplay wasn’t up. It’s so sharp and clever not to mention legendary for Orson Welles’ spur-of-the-moment rewrite of his speech in the film’s iconic Ferris wheel scene.
Sunset Boulevard had 11 nominations of its own including all four acting categories and a best director nod for the great Billy Wilder. It won for its screenplay, score and art direction (black and white).
As much as I love All About Eve I think Sunset Boulevard is an even better film. But they have a number of similarities. Both take place in the entertainment world. Both begin with voiceovers before flashing back to the start of their stories. Both feature actresses past their youthful prime who bring 30-ish prodigies under their wing and later find themselves at odds with one another.
And if there ever could have been a year for a tie for best picture this was it.
All About Eve might have the best picture title but only Sunset Boulevard has a funeral for a chimpanzee. So take that!
Was 1950 the greatest year for film? What do you think? What year stands out to you?
Let me know on the Facebook page.
*Fifty Shades of Grey is an Oscar nominated film (“Earned It” – best original song). So… um… yeah.