In 1950, two instant classics about the cruelty of show business, both starring older dames, went at it for Best Picture. Joe Mankiewicz’s All About Eve–starring Bette Davis as an aging actress whose entire life is usurped by an unctuous fan–clobbered Billy Wilder’s Sunset Boulevard, with Gloria Swanson as a faded screen star who’s plummeting into dementia, the business having turned its back on her eye-rolling acting style and needy personality.
Well, Eve won–in fact it nabbed six Oscars–and, though it’s a cracklingly witty story and a perfectly cast romp, I have to say I’ve finally found the bravery to admit in public that Sunset is the better flick. It’s darker, deeper, more surprising, and more trenchantly insightful. And it’s based on an original screenplay, not an adaptation, with dark cinematic flourishes (it opens with William Holden narrating, though he’s dead in the pool), whereas Eve is all talk, without all that many visual swirls to it, aside from a juicy appearance by a rising star named Marilyn Monroe.
What’s more, Swanson should have won Best Actress for her brilliant array of slithery neuroses, making Norma Desmond both monstrous and seductively appealing as she slides hands first into cuckooland. Instead, she and Davis canceled each other out and Judy Holliday grabbed the prize for the pleasant and way more innocuous Born Yesterday. She must have felt like Eve Harrington winning the award!
Of course the battle between these two classics doesn’t end there. Both of them inspired a mid-level Broadway musical, so which of THOSE do you prefer–Applause or Sunset Boulevard?