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All About Eve (1950)
Droll, hilarious, edgy drama with an ensemble cast to die for
The sophisticated, witty, jaded, champagne-dripping world of All About Eve is implied even in the first words, drolly intoned by that deep voice of George Saunders, who plays a very lofty theater critic. As you might hope from such smart people, the repartee is sharp and fast, and the delivery is sharp and fast. Those are two different things--the writing, which is brilliant throughout, and which can afford to be overly flashy because we expect these sorts of actors and writers to be flashy, and the acting, led by Bette Davis.
Director and writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz is at the top of his game, and you have a feeling he is dealing with the types of people he knows very well. The plot is actually fairly simple, made complicated by all this great dialog, and a series of small turns of event that never upends the single-mindedness of the young woman played by Celeste Holm. But there is a nuance to it all that you feel in the restraint of Holm's devious character, and in the acknowledgement in others of what they really want in their lives (love), and in the final moments, where bitterness never quite unfolds, and where we see that all the seeming backstabbing is normal somehow, and that if you are being stabbed it is probably because you stabbed someone else. All if fair in the world of theater, as in life at large.
If this whole affair sounds like a play, it is played out as one, in a limited number of sets, and often with a handful of actors bouncing retorts and observations around like a volleyball. The one scene out of New York that I remember is actually shot with clumsy backprojection, the single technical flaw of the film, which is otherwise a typical product of the finely oiled Hollywood system of the time. Mankiewicz of course is one of those expert, underrated directors who was less interested in becoming an auteur and more interested in making films in the conventional way, but very very well. All About Eve is a perfect introduction to him, and to Bette Davis, for that matter, in a smaller lead role than many of her films where she looms larger than life. And he often gathers top talent around him, like cinematographer Milton Krasner and music director Alfred Newman.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
From Oscar winning, and Golden Globe nominated director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Guys and Dolls, Cleopatra), I didn't know much about this classic drama, but with a good cast list, I was willing to try it. Basically ambitious Eve Harrington (Oscar nominated Anne Baxter) is very fond of actress Margo Channing (Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Bette Davis), and manages to get close to her boyfriend, and her friends Karen Richards (Oscar nominated Celeste Holm) and her play writer husband Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) and producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff). All the big shots, except for cynical critic Addison DeWitt (Oscar winning, and Golden Globe nominated George Sanders), believing she is only a naive and obsessive fan of Margo's, but Eve is much more cynical, manipulative and conniving than that. Using the lives of Margo and her friends, all along she planned to become an actress, and she achieves her goal of Broadway stardom, leaving a trail of unhappiness for everyone behind her. The end sees her accepting the highest award for any stage performer, and another fan wanting to see the now famous Eve, and it seems, this naive girl may have the same sneaky plans. Also starring Barbara Bates as Phoebe, then rising star Marilyn Monroe as Miss Casswell and Oscar and Golden Globe nominated Thelma Ritter as Birdie. Baxter may not be the conventional wicked witch/bunny boiler/psychopathic bitch villain, in fact, she may not even by the right person for the role, yet even with a few appearances, she is a good light villain. Davis is very good as the emotionally wrecked actress, then little known Monroe makes the most of her few minutes, same goes for Ritter. I can see why critics complained about it being too chatty, and yet it is this, being witty and cynical, that makes the film very watchable. It won the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Costume Design, Best Sound and Best Writing, Screenplay for Mankiewicz, and it was nominated for Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, Best Cinematography, Best Film Editing and Best Music for Alfred Newman, it won the BAFTA for Best Film from any Source, and it won the Golden Globe for Best Screenplay, and it was nominated for Best Motion Picture - Drama. Eve Harrington was number 23 on 100 Years, 100 Heroes & Villains, Bette Davis was number 45 on The 100 Greatest Movie Stars, she was number 2 on 100 Years, 100 Stars - Women, and she was number 17 on The World's Greatest Actor, she was also number 2 on 100 Years, 100 Stars - Womem, "Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night." was number 9 on 100 Years, 100 Quotes, the film was number 30 on Film 4's 50 Films You Must See Before You Die, and it was number 16 on 100 Years, 100 Movies. Very good!
I have watched this movie a hundred times and never get tired of it. I wish there were more movies today with the kind of witty dialog and classy actors and actresses that pepper this film. Bette Davis is superb. She IS Margo Channing. It's one of those movies that somehow brought together the perfect ensemble cast. I always see or hear something new every time I watch it. I just watched it the other night and heard Addison DeWitt call "Miss Caswell" (Marilyn Monroe) by her first name: it's Claudia! It's easy to miss and I don't believe many people catch that. It's at Bill Samson's party when people are gathering, right before he sends her over to meet Max Fabian.
This is movie-making at its best. The performances are just incredible. Ann Baxter's impersonation of Eve Harrington is so convincing that you end up hating Baxter for the rest of your life! Bette Davis and George Sanders are superb. However, the real strength of the film lies its script. It is so well written, full of one-liners that stick to your mind forever. Here is a movie to be watched many times over, a movie to be studied by every director. Along with Sunset Boulevard, this is probably the best American film of the fifties.
After 17 years under contract to Warner Brothers, Bette Davis' first film as a freelance (for 20th Century Fox) is generally considered by many to be her all time greatest performance. Davis superbly shines in her role as Margo Channing, an aging Broadway star who tries to keep a close watch on her new secretary, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a young stage newcomer who is willing to use and abuse anybody in her path through her ambitions to be a breakout star. Great acting by all involved (even Marilyn Monroe in a bit part and early film appearance). This film is one of the last gems of the studio system and it also has one of the best screenplays of any film made during the 1950's.
I recently watched this movie again and there are some things that bother
about it. Without giving away the ending it's hard to make my point, but
I'll try. Eve and Margo reveal their true selves slowly to viewers and to
the other characters, but they become less believable to me as the movie
draws to its end. I don't blame the actors: they are consistently
excellent. The writing is good and enjoyable to follow. It's the
development that is weak. Eve, Margo, and the others are sharply defined
the beginning of the film even though as viewers we have to wait for
motivations to become apparent. Unfortunately, the basic dynamics of the
characters don't remain true through the film.
So even though I admire the acting, this film is not one that I will want to return to again and again.
All About Eve is written with a consistent attention to stylization and
lyrical perfection given to its dialogue. Whether it is truly realistic
or blatantly theatrical is not a decision between a flaw and a pro, but
between the nature of dialogue that is normally striven for by a
logical writer and what could be beyond that nature and perhaps some
new, inventive little flare, something to keep the audience
determinedly on their toes. The film is loaded, and neatly limited
modestly at the brim, with powerhouse scenes of dialogue, be they fiery
arguments between infamous flamethrower Bette Davis and a co-star who
dares to match her or dangerous, hardly predictable scenes tossed with
threats and lies between others. To me, beyond the cast, beyond the
direction, beyond the atmosphere of the scenery and cinematography,
director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's script is what makes this movie the
powerful light-refracting gem that it is.
I will admit that this is my first Bette Davis film. I had never seen a performance by her before this film. I believe she has a mixture that always turns me on to an actor actress, a mesh of an extroverted, active, dynamic quality that allows them to act upon people and surroundings extremely quickly and with no inhibition and an intuitive, deeply emotional characteristic that may even negate the shallow emotional characteristic of the aforementioned quality, revealing a penetrating insight into people. Davis conveys this in the least challenging and most entertaining way, which is by playing herself, which is perfectly fine by those who judge that sort of thing because that is truly what was required of the role. She is not the light-refracting beauty one expected from a star actress in the silver screen era, but I believe she was still an untouchable star not only because of pure confidence but confidence so solid that one like Joan Crawford who would attempt to tamper with it would be thrown back as if it were a forcefield. What presence she has.
Anne Baxter plays the title character, a character who is supposed to be Bette's match. As an actress, Baxter could never match Bette. Where Bette is completely natural in every way on screen, Baxter is not at all. Baxter looks and feels staged to us, because she endlessly stares off into nothing whenever she is speaking, and no matter how interesting she makes her monologue, she still unrealistically stares, and sometimes leans, into space. However, her saving grace is how beautifully she executed the very difficult and tricky role she played. Eve is a person who can never appear to be doing what other characters suspect that she's doing, and even more, she can never appear to be the sort of person that would ever feel inclined to do what they suspect that she is doing. She is the most secretive sort of mysterious personality, quite insightfully captured by the screenplay, which I once again complement, and also fleshed out very effectively by Anne Baxter, who despite her hopeless overtheatrical habits completely becomes Eve.
The cast is consistently great. Celeste Holm as a playwright's housewife, a very honestly written character, is very effective in her fleshing it out. Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, and Gregory Ratoff are all very entertaining and likable. The doosie is Marilyn Monroe, who even with her few minutes on screen is very wooden. The outstanding man in the film is George Sanders, who plays theater critic Addison De Witt, one of the most intelligent and refreshingly practical and analytical characters I've seen in a movie. He is introduced as simply another one of the many people we will be seeing in the social circle of the film's main characters, even through the story he is partially narrating. Yet he slowly grows to be something more, and we are surprised to see the full extent of what his character is significant for. Sanders has a scene where he is disturbing and vindicating to us at the same time.
All About Eve is full of what so many people don't seem to realize can be the most satisfying and fascinating quality a movie can have, in its writing, in its actors, in its direction, in its detail, and that is a razor wit to wield. It has all different brands of smarts, and we need more films like it today.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
An amazing cast and script work together to achieve magic in 'All About
Eve'. This is one of the film legends that show what Hollywood
film-making is truly all about.
Davis gives one of her best performances ever as the ageing stage actress Margo Channing. Margot is pretty cosy in her nest with her circle of friends until an ambitious young woman, Eve, comes along. One might say that as Margo, Davis was simply playing herself. There is a lot of truth in that, as Margo's barbed sense of humour, neuroticism, warmth and professionalism are typical Davis qualities. Davis is simply brilliant in this role, as is Anne Baxter. A sorely underrated performer, Baxter definitely tops Davis for sweet cunning and measure as Eve.
And the supporting cast...how fabulous are they? We have the great George Sanders as Addison de Witt, the cynical theater critic. Addison's the only one not fooled by Eve's plans, and delivers most of the sharpest lines in the film. Sanders oozes both charm and venom in a role that won him a Best Supporting Actor Oscar. Celeste Holm is much better here than in Gentlemen's Agreement, as Margo's best friend Karen. Her warmth and understated performance works well with Davis' paranoid theatrics. Delightful Thelma Ritter is just priceless as Birdie, and Gary Merrill is fine too, as Davis' beau (they were married in real-life at the time of making the film). Maybe the only downer is Hugh Marlowe, who has about as much screen presence as a cardboard box.
Check out a young Marilyn Monroe in a small role as a would-be starlet who has been taken under Addison's wings. She gets some good lines as the dumb blonde she would be destined to play over and over again later years. Is it pure coincidence that Monroe gets the lines that parody Gable? Marilyn, as Norma Mortensen in younger years, idolised Gable as the perfect father figure. There's plenty of other occasion for name dropping in this film, with Fox stars Tyrone Power and Gregory Peck getting a mention, too. Smart marketing ploy, actually.
There is a never a dull moment or spare scene in this film. It is rather long for a comedy-drama, but that just means more wit and humour can be added. Perfectly directed, this is one of the best satires of the acting industry you'll ever see. It also deals with universal themes ; ageing, ambition, deceit, the abuse of trust etc.
Very entertaining 10/10.
The ultimate best film ever made about backstabbing individuals.
Broadway veteran pro Margo Channing is fooled into taking in Eve Harrington, who supposedly idolizes her. Channing's maid,Birdie Coonan, sees Harrington for what she is, but is unable to convince Margo that Eve is dangerous.
Eve is quite a character. In one movie, she nearly breaks up a friendship, destroys a marriage, and wins a major part in the Broadway production of "Footsteps on the Ceiling." That will be a memorable name always for me.
The cast is top rate. This film marked a comeback for Bette Davis, and what a performance she gave as Margo. Anne Baxter is memorable as the cunning Eve. Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm and George Sanders are all in top-form as characters revolving about Margo but fooled by Eve as well. It is only Sanders, who won the best supporting Oscar as the cynical writer, who is able to turn the tables on Eve.
Davis and Baxter were both up for best actress; a mistake, since Baxter belonged in the supporting division. Thanks to this divide, Judy Holliday won best actress for "Born Yesterday."
Celeste Holm, as the caring but duped friend, Karen, and Thelma Ritter, as maid Birdie, were up for best supporting actress.
The dialogue in this film is crisp.
By the end, though winning an acting award for "Footsteps," a young aspirant is hot on the heels of Eve. She no less is from Erasmus Hall High School in Brooklyn, my alma mater. A **** school in a **** film.
All About Eve A Triple-S movie (three suicides in the cast--Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Bates and George Sanders), All About Eve has enough dirt to satisfy even the heartiest appetite. A record 14 Oscar nominations for the cast and crew, it is as wicked and sophisticated as they come, with Bette Davis at her eye-popping, cigarette-swinging best as Margo Channing, Broadway's leading diva. Anne Baxter as Eve Harrington is deliciously calculating as the up-and-coming actress who moves in on Miss Channing, first ingratiating herself with Miss Channing, and eventually replacing her. The supporting cast is equally fine with George Sanders as "that venomous fishwife" Addison DeWitt, Celeste Holm as Margo's long-suffering best friend, Karen Richards, and an ethereally beautiful Marilyn Monroe as Miss Caswell, "a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts." Joseph Mankiewicz's script and direction are superb, with dialog so crisp and poisonous, it makes you wonder where script-driven movies have gone. Chock full of quotable lines, fabulous New Look costumes, and sheer irony. So thick and rich you'll be tempted to eat it with a fork but use a spoon to get every drop.
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