Last time a woman named Eve got her way, it didn’t work out so well for mankind. Academy Award winners Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders and Celeste Holm star in All About Eve.
Cast of Characters:
Margo Channing – Bette Davis
Eve Harrington – Anne Baxter
Addison DeWitt – George Sanders
Karen Richards – Celeste Holm
Bill Sampson – Gary Merrill
Lloyd Richards – Hugh Marlowe
Birdie – Thelma Ritter
Miss Casswell – Marilyn Monroe
Max Fabian – Gregory Ratoff
Phoebe – Barbara Bates
Aged Actor – Walter Hampden
Director – Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay – Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Based on the short story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr
Producer – Darryl F. Zanuck
Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is the newest and brightest star on Broadway. When she’s first introduced, she’s being presented the Sarah Siddons Award for her breakout performance as Cora in Footsteps on the Ceiling, but how did she get there? Through cynical voice-over narration, theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) explains.
One year prior, the brightest star in all of Broadway was Margo Channing (Bette Davis); however, having just turned forty, Margo knows what this means for her career. This, in spite of the success she still receives. After a particular show, Margo is introduced to Eve by one of her close friends, Karen Richards (Celeste Holm). Having seen all of her plays, Eve tells Margo how she became her biggest fan, a life story that includes growing up poor and losing her husband in the war.
Quickly befriending Eve, Margo takes her in and hires her as an assistant. Eve has bigger aspirations, though, hoping one day to become Margo’s understudy. That’s when Eve’s true colors begin to show.
All About Eve is a cinematic masterpiece about jealousy, betrayal, backstabbing and all the little devious details that happen backstage when the curtain closes. It features two actresses from Hollywood’s golden age going head to head: Bette Davis (whose famous “Fasten your seat belts…” line has become immortal) and Anne Baxter.
Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz (whose brother Herman wrote the great Citizen Kane) with great wit and biting humor, All About Eve tells the story of an aging starlet that feels the sun is setting on her great career and her young, starry-eyed fan that will do anything to reach the heights her idol had once achieved. Mankiewicz’s direction is understated here, but it’s the type of film that’s carried solely by the writing and the performances (him drawing out five acting nominations from his cast is a pretty strong case for Best Director anyway, which he won). There are moments where the shot lingers, the camera rarely moves, yet the dialogue is so sharp and the performances behind it sizzle with life, you wanna cling to every word coming out of the four leads.
When you think of acting royalty from the classic era, certainly names like Ingrid Bergman, Barbara Stanwyck, Katherine Hepburn, and Vivien Leigh come to mind. Bette Davis is another. The look, talent, attitude: Davis had it all, and you see it all on display in her best performance as Margo Channing, a comeback role for Davis after a period of setbacks. Margo’s self-indulgent, insecure and even a bitch at times, yet Davis plays her unlikeable traits just right, never letting them take complete control of the character. She allows room for the viewer to empathize with her situation, particularly when she realizes she’s being played.
As the title character, Anne Baxter proves to be one of the best villainous leads in film. She’s not a flashy villain or anything, it’s the qualities within her that make her an effective antagonist. Eve’s willing to lie, backstab, betray, manipulate and commit many other dubious acts that I’ll leave for you to find out upon watching. She personifies the Proverb, “Charm is deceitful and beauty is vain.”, and the ending for her, without giving anything away, is quite karmic. Some have criticized Baxter for coming off melodramatic, but that’s what I find great about her performance. She’s a diva. That’s the point. Diva’s define melodrama. Does Baxter give the best performance in the film? Well, no, but it’s hard to top Davis here. That said, Baxter still sells it and her moments with Davis and Sanders are great.
George Sanders (who won Best Supporting Actor for this role) provides most of the film’s wit as the theater critic who’s one of the few to see through Eve’s facade (he has his motives too for holding out ’til the end). It’s not a showy performance, but his sardonically toned narrative is one of the many highlights of the film. Even better are the few scenes he shares with a young Marilyn Monroe as the aspiring bubble-headed actress Miss Casswell.
“That is not a waiter, my dear. That is a butler.”, corrects DeWitt.
“Well, I can’t yell, ‘Oh butler!’, can I?”, asks Miss Casswell.
“You have a point… An idiotic one, but a point.”, replies DeWitt.
Another standout supporting performance, albeit one of the smaller ones, is from Thelma Ritter as Margo’s acid-tongued assistant Birdie, who’s the first to instantly see through Eve’s lies. “What a story!”, she sarcastically replies after Eve explains her background to Margo. “Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.” It’s a great little gem of a performance that adds an extra dose of sharp humor to accompany Sanders’s DeWitt. It’s not just Ritter’s appearance but also her attitude that made me think of Rhea Perlman’s Carla from Cheers.
It’s hard to imagine how this film would’ve looked had Claudette Colbert taken the role of Margo Channing instead of Bette Davis considering Davis is Margo Channing. Boasting a terrifically penned script by Mankiewicz and four great lead performances from Davis, Baxter, Sanders and Holm, All About Eve is a smart and funny look at the dirty side of show business. Plus, despite being released in 1950, when you look at our celebrity-obsessed culture today, this film’s never been any more relevant than it appears to be now.