Friday, August 21, 2009
Favorite All-Time Film Performances...#94
94. Thelma Ritter, All About Eve (Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, 1950)
Birdie took no shit from anyone. Even though she was only Margo Channing’s dresser/maid, she would always call her out on her bullshit. So it comes as no surprise that Birdie was the first to figure out what Eve was trying to pull off by befriending the celebrated actress (“what a story…everything but the bloodhound snapping at her rear end”). When Margo finally asks her why she doesn’t like Eve, Birdie tells her that Eve seems to be “studying” her. At first dismissive, Margo realizes that Birdie may be on to something, when Eve mentions that she called Bill pretending to be Margo. Clearly, Birdie is a maid that shouldn’t be taken for granted.
Thelma Ritter may always be remembered for this role, but it’s deserved. Mankiewicz expressly wrote the part for Ritter, fully knowing what she would bring to the role. Ritter was not the first to play the sarcastic employee of a diva, but she is the one that is most remembered (and all in 11 minutes). She pretty much set up the ruler by which all “maid performances” are measured. Though only her seventh film role, Ritter established her reputation as a consummate character actress with this performances. The only complaint is that she’s barely in the film (an extended cameo, even?) and we never get any closure on her character. And while she might not been a winner with the Academy (a record six losses in the supporting actress category), she will always be one with us.