Eve (Anne Baxter) is waiting backstage to meet her idol, aging Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis). It seems innocent enough as Eve explains that she has seen Margo in EVERY performance of her current play. Only playwright/critic DeWitt (George Sanders) sees through Eve's evil plan, which is to take her parts and her fiancé, Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill). When the fiancé shows no interest, she tries for playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), but DeWitt stops her. After she accepts her award, she decides to skip the after-party and goes to her room, where a young woman named Phoebe has sneaked into her room and fallen asleep. This is where the "Circle of Life" now comes to fruition as Eve will get played like she played Margo.
What a movie! It's the cinematic ideal, the standard by which subsequent films are judged, at least in terms of acting and dialogue. Maybe the camera, which does nothing but sit there as the actors act, could have been made a little less static. But the story screams stage play, which implies lots of talk and not much "action". The film doesn't pretend to do all things. But what it does do, it does extremely well.
As Margo, Bette Davis gives what I would consider one of the best performances, if not the best performance, in any film I have ever seen. She truly becomes Margo, that "fixture of the theater", so beloved yet so insecure. And as Eve, "the mousy one, with the trench coat and the funny hat", breathy Anne Baxter proves adept at subtleties that allow her character to change gradually over time.
Then there's George Sanders who effortlessly slips into the role of witty, urbane, pompous Addison DeWitt, columnist magnifico, a man whose high opinion of himself allows him to declare to us, as viewers, that he is "essential to the theater". Celeste Holm and reliable Thelma Ritter give topnotch performances as well.
And the Mankiewicz script, which tells the story of a group of theater people, is heavy on dialogue, but it's totally believable, as characters talk shop and interrelate, by means of suitable verbal conflict and subtle subtext. Even more than that, the dialogue is witty and clever, with tons of theatrical metaphors, like when Bill (Gary Merrill) angrily tells Margo: "And to intimate anything else doesn't spell jealousy to me, it spells a paranoid insecurity that you should be ashamed of." To which Margo just as angrily spits out: "Cut, print it, what happens in the next reel? Do I get dragged off screaming to the snake pits?"
One of my favorite scenes has several people sitting on a stairway at a party. A curvaceous but bird-brained Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe), "from the Copacabana school of acting", desires another drink. "Oh waiter!", she yells out. Addison schools her: "That isn't a waiter, my dear; that's a butler." To which she fires back: "Well I can't yell 'Oh butler', can I? Maybe somebody's name is Butler". Addison then concedes: "You have a point, an idiotic one, but a point."
I'm not sure I really like the characters in this film. Generally, they're self-absorbed, vain, haughty, and backbiting. They're not all that likable. And that would be my only serious complaint.
Otherwise, "All About Eve" is a film that excels at great language and great acting. If ever there was a film that deserves the status of "classic", this is surely it.
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