I don’t usually subscribe to the view that things were better in the old days. Some things undoubtedly were (house prices, mammoths), yet many things certainly were not (painkillers, Batman films). But this weekend, a combination of crummy weather and an unusually adhesive sofa pushed me into my annual re-watch of All About Eve. Then yesterday came the sad news that its sole surviving star, Celeste Holm, had died. And I couldn’t avoid thinking that they really don’t make them like that anymore.
Because they just don’t. Virtually every line of All About Eve zings out of the screen and thwacks you right in the solar plexus; the most innocent question is weighed down with subtext. ‘What would you like to drink?’ Bill asks Eve, the ingénue working for his wife. ‘A milkshake?’ purrs Bette Davis, just to be sure that Bill, Eve and we know that she is feeling every day of her age – and Eve’s youth.
I have long believed that a person could learn everything they need to know about the arts, friendship, rivalry, ageing, acting, and the opposing claims of love and a career from All About Eve. Joseph L Mankiewicz’s classic won 6 Academy Awards, though neither Davis in the lead role of Margo Channing, nor Anne Baxter, in the title role of Eve, won: in a pleasing instance of life imitating art, Baxter demanded that she be nominated in the Best Actress category, which neatly split the vote between her and Davis, allowing Judy Holliday to win for Born Yesterday.
I watch an alarmingly large number of films in a year, and I can’t imagine a movie like Eve being made now: smart-mouthed men and women smacking one-liners at each other as though their lives depended on winning that particular argument at this particular moment. And no-one is likeable, either. Margo is a monster, Lloyd is an adulterer, Karen a schemer, and the glorious Addison De Witt (on whom almost every theatre critic since has based both his writing style and his bitchiness) is so Machiavellian that even Eve is outwitted by him.
Crucially, no-one is goofy, incompetent and lovable, which is the besetting sin of comedies made now. Niceness is the primary requirement for a comic hero, and that is redoubled for a comic heroine. Sure Kristen Wiig’s character in Bridesmaids gets a little bitchy when she’s drunk, but that’s because she’s failed in her cupcake business, which makes a woman bitter-sweet apparently. Or maybe bitter-saccharine.
So, here’s my plea – in honour of Celeste Holm, could we have a comedy for grown-ups, in which no-one is adorable at all? And everyone is clever and good at stuff? Don’t worry about sales, I’ll come twice, at least.
The charity, Family Action, has discovered that 54% of mothers are planning to cut back on day trips, because of the expense. They reckon a day out costs about £80, which I find extremely easy to believe, given how high ticket prices are for amusement parks, zoos and aquariums. And heck, I’m only buying two tickets, rather than four or five.
So this seems like the right time to mention that plenty of art galleries and museums are still free to enter, for adults and children. Museum staff have worked like demons to make sure there’s plenty of stuff for kids to do, however young. And the days of museum fatigue are over, because free entry means you don’t have to go to every corner of every room to feel you’re getting your money’s worth. You can just come back another day if you get tired.
I see that travel is still not cheap, but you could take a packed lunch to save on cafeteria prices. I admit you will have to dodge the gift shop as you leave to avoid getting fleeced buying toys, but that is a small price to pay.