The catfight of the century, with smiling understudy Anne Baxter flashing deadly epigrams at aging Broadway star Bette Davis (1950). Much of the fun of the film depends on a casting twist—making Baxter the bitch and Davis the doe-eyed victim. The dialogue is sharp and justly famous, though writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz has trouble putting it into the mouths of his actors: nothing sounds remotely natural, and the film is pervaded by the out-of-sync sense of staircase wit—this is a movie about what people wished they'd said. The hoped-for tone of Restoration comedy never quite materializes, perhaps because Mankiewicz's cynicism is only skin-deep, but the film's tinny brilliance still pleases. With George Sanders, Celeste Holm, and a just-hatched Marilyn Monroe.
By Dave Kehr