This blog entry concentrates on the latter one solely because of a gaffe that I was surprised to hear fairly early on in Mr. Stagg’s commentary.
All About Eve follows age-obsessed theater star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) who believes that her life is being usurped by a newcomer. The film begins by showing principal characters at a dreary theater awards ceremony, narrated in voiceover by theater columnist Addison deWitt (George Sanders).
Here is what Mr. Staggs has to say about the first shot of Margo [4:00 - 4:31]:
“Notice this look that Bette Davis is about to give to a waiter. It says so much without ever saying anything. When he offers to pour her more champagne and she gives him a look and a brush off, it rather defines Bette Davis as Margo Channing - the scornful down-turned mouth, the world-weary eyes, the heaviness of it all, the been-there-done-that quality. And yet you always love her no matter how jaded she comes across as Margo.”Mr. Staggs understands what the scene is saying in general about the character, but he inadvertently cuts down his own comment when he misidentifies the beverage.
What leads me to believe Mr. Staggs is mistaken about the drink?
1. Margo pours her drink from a bottle that looks closer to something like a Scotch bottle, not a champagne bottle.
So what? Why is this beverage important?
Since this is the first shot of a principal character and it is pantomimed, we are made to concentrate on Margo’s look, her clothes, her movements and her props, all of which are deliberate and establish this decided, no nonsense character . Margo seems bored with the long-winded speaker at this awards ceremony and is refusing to have her strong drink diluted. It’s a common joke that does not work with champagne since people do not generally dilute champagne with anything.
Also, champagne is for celebrating. Margo would certainly have no reason to celebrate here. As we discover after the flashback has revealed everyone‘s journey to this ceremony, there are numerous reasons why our star would want hard liquor, including the fact that the theater is awarding the nemesis who is taking over Margo's spotlight. Champagne for Margo here would make no sense at all.
Oh yes. And the script says it hard liquor :
“The CAMERA follows … MARGO CHANNING. She sits at…. [Addison] deWitt's right. An attractive, strong face. She is childish, adult, reasonable, unreasonable - usually one whenMy observations may seem picky - it’s a stiff drink instead of champagne, big deal. It is a big deal for accuracy's sake and because this published author and cinema historian is indirectly making a living from the sales of this particular film but makes mistakes about pertinent establishing details of a principal character.
she should be the other, but always positive. She pours a stiff drink.
Addison holds out the soda bottle to her. She looks at it, and at him, as if it were a tarantula and he had gone mad. He smiles ….. ”
[By the way, it also matters that it is not a waiter who passes the soda, but Addison deWitt, since at this point deWitt is our guide - the camera sometimes follows his gaze, and what not, as he introduces the characters. But I do find this mistake secondary to the above mentioned Margo gaffe.]