All About Eve (1950)
Release Date: November 9th, 1950 MPAA Rating: Not Rated
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz Actors: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe, Thelma Ritter, Randy Stuart
n a stuffy room of elderly actors and pompous industry workers, the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement is presented to Miss Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Unimpressed, monotonic theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) narrates his thoughts on the ceremony and the participants, the minor technical awards and the acting category highlights, the money-grubbing producers and the desperate artists, the women who have married into the spotlight and the true stars that will never be anything more or less. Regardless of the class of people and his skepticism of such gatherings, DeWitt is vaingloriously certain that his role is essential to the theater.
In a rare storytelling maneuver, a second narrator is introduced: Karen (Celeste Holm), the wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). She takes the audience into a flashback of the previous year, during the New York run of the play “Aged in Wood,” starring much-revered talent Margo Channing (Bette Davis) – one of the true stars Addison writes about. When shy young Eve introduces herself to Karen, explaining of her extreme infatuation with Margo and her record of having seen every single performance of the play, Karen takes her backstage to meet the celebrity. Although Margo despises clamoring fans in general, she changes her attitude when Eve regales her with the history of her Wisconsin childhood, full of acting and make-believe, her relationship with air force pilot Eddie and his death in the war, and a stint with a small San Francisco theater group that led her to one of Margo’s shows.
Meanwhile, famed director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) drops in to say goodbye to lover Margo before he flies to Hollywood for a one-picture deal. He’s eight years her junior – and Channing allows that gap to eat away at her confidence. Margo invites Eve to stay with her, and she assumes the role of assistant and friend, hovering around the star’s every action to get even closer to the stage. Though she attempts to be as helpful as possible, it’s painfully obvious that Eve is edging in on Margo’s relationships, connections, and career.
Eve is labeled an idealistically dreamy-eyed kid, a lamb lost in a stone jungle, and a naïvely stage-struck admirer with a striking lack of pretense. But Eve is far more string-pulling and cunning than anyone takes her for, as she calculatingly insinuates her way into Channing’s circle of influential acquaintances. Her quiet graciousness is, in fact, a façade to conceal razor-sharp fangs and the honed skills of an experienced seductress, which only distrusting, inherently bitter maid Birdie (Thelma Ritter) seems to notice at first. Baxter’s performance doesn’t contain any subtlety, however, bubbling over with evident suspiciousness and disingenuousness. She steadily replaces Davis like an extraterrestrial body snatcher. Meanwhile, Bette Davis is excellently cast and perfectly at home in a role seemingly written with her in mind.
“All About Eve” boasts a supremely sardonic, biting script, full of clever insults, commentary on gender qualities and inequalities, and references to the crippling component of age – the defining factor that limits stardom, especially for women. Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz pens what could have been a screwball comedy, with its speed and wit, were it not for the darkly dramatic substance, lamentable love story, and tragic characters. The famously funereal birthday party scene is outstanding (“Fasten your seatbelts … it’s going to be a bumpy night!”), combining all the most calamitous themes: jealousy, backstabbing, drunken rage, wicked feigning, false modesty, and paranoiac outbursts. And it also has an early appearance by Marilyn Monroe as a hopelessly ditzy blonde.
A monumental satire about moviemakers (and the stage), it encompasses all the insincerity, envy, betrayals, lies, dealmaking, the deterioration of friendships, and feeble loyalties involved with stereotypical limelight endeavors. Acridly cynical (realizing Addison’s self-proclaimed contempt for humanity, coupled with insatiable ambition) and somewhat unpleasant, yet highly influential, “All About Eve” went on to win, ironically, six Oscars, including the statue for Best Picture. It also features an unforgettably twisty conclusion, like something out of “The Twilight Zone,” though its sheer entertainment value diminishes as the film progresses, heaping on one despicable manipulation after another.
– Mike Massie