Armchair Cinephile 

TOUGH BROADS

Personal Velocity (MGM)
Gloria (Columbia/TriStar)
Mildred Pierce (Warner Bros.)
All About Eve (Fox)

Rebecca Miller's recent Personal Velocity, a three-segmented film adapted from her own novel, is a trio of character studies giving good actresses unusually great chances to shine. The most compelling segment is the first, starring Kyra Sedgwick as Delia, a woman with a trampy history and an abusive husband. When she leaves him, taking her

 
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children with her, Delia shamelessly begs favors from long-forgotten acquaintances and receives help without gratitude; Miller refuses to pull out any of the old tricks to soften Delia up, which makes it all the more impressive when Sedgwick, at the story's end, twists a potentially demeaning situation into one that displays her character's ability to get on with life.

Speaking of old tricks, one of the oldest is to saddle a tough lady with a little kid, so the audience can see that deep down the independent woman is all mushy maternal sentiment. But things could never be so simple with Gena Rowlands; John Cassavetes' Gloria allows the Mother of Independent Film to exercise her singular oddness (best seen in A Woman Under the Influence) in an otherwise generic Hollywood film. Here, a middle-aged loner sees her neighbor's family gunned down by mobsters and is forced to go on the run with the family's young boy. Compared to Cassavetes' other films, Gloria is goofy and unbelievable - but seeing Rowlands front an action flick is too good an opportunity for fans to miss. (And watching Sharon Stone try to fill her shoes in a 1999 remake was all the evidence needed to prove Stone was out of her mind.)

Maternal love's a virtue in Gloria, but it destroys an honest woman in Mildred Pierce, the classic film noir starring Joan Crawford. Putting a spin on noir conventions, where the suckers are usually men seduced by sex, Crawford's Mildred is a housewife who jettisons her conventional life and becomes an icy career gal, all to satisfy a spoiled daughter who (and here the noir reverts to form) is soulless and willing to do anything to get what she wants.

Which is an excellent description of Eve Harrington in All About Eve, an epic of backstabbing and Machiavellian mischief set in the self-important world of "the theatah." Anne Baxter is a mousy, earnest girl who idolizes Broadway star Bette Davis; her complete deference quickly earns her a job as Davis' personal assistant, where she gets a first-hand look at the life she secretly aspires to.

By the time Eve's ambitions become public knowledge, it's too late for anyone to do anything to stop her; she has covertly sabotaged careers, ambushed marriages, and (most heinous crime of all) buddied up to the press. Joseph Mankiewicz's screenplay is merciless in its depiction of showbiz fakery, beginning and ending with a lavish award banquet where all the victims of Eve's crimes are forced to sit and applaud politely as their nemesis is toasted, not even a year after her debut, as the savior of stage acting. Who wants to bet Eve is impossible to find on L.A. video store shelves every year around Oscar time? •


More by John DeFore

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