As a timeless classic, All About Eve strikes at the core of the entertainment industry.
In a time when classic films are becoming more and more available to us through blu-rays or streaming services, it’s hard to say why I took this long to view film. Now, in what seems like near obsession, my mind cannot think of watching anything else. I don’t simply view this film anymore, but rather I am consumed by it. Yes, I am obsessed with All About Eve.
The movie begins at a theatrical awards dinner, narrated by none other than a theatre critic, Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). As DeWitt takes us through the various people sitting and smoking their way through the presentation of Eve Harrington’s award, the camera pans to a group of unhappy individuals. One by one, Eve thanks the people who guided her to such success: her playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), her director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), and her close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm). As each of these characters are shown, we can’t help but laugh at their look of pure hatred towards Eve. At this point, we hardly know what to think as these grim individuals look on as Ms. Harrington collects her award. Soon Karen picks up the narration from DeWitt, and there begins this wonderful film.
Our main character, Margo Channing, is played by the talented Bette Davis. Davis, who at the time, was becoming box-office poison. With three movies flopping on release, Davis found her career coming to an almost screeching halt. It’s hard to believe that there will be another success in your future when the future seems so bleak. But All About Eve marks Davis’ best performance of her career. Davis made remarks about how Joseph L. Mankiewicz single handedly saved her career. But this was a film meant for Davis, as a star getting older in a career that has eyes for only the young. All About Eve seems rather autobiographical on one hand as the story of Margo’s competition with an upcoming actress seems to overshadow her career.
Margo takes Eve under her wing and teaches her the ropes of acting, while Eve takes care of business tasks for Margo. But as Eve’s confidence builds, she is no longer Margo’s friend. Little by little Margo distances herself from Eve, as Margo becomes suspicious of Eve’s true intentions. The other characters take longer to convince, but they realize the true Eve sooner rather than later.
This film would be nothing without the writing and direction of Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Mankiewicz, who comes from a famous circle of writers, provides dialogue that will leave you in awe. One of the best sequences is not the lines so familiar to us, but rather the sequence of Margo’s speech after she finds out that Eve is now her new understudy. I call this her “fire and music” scene, as she repeats this phrase over and over. “You may change this star any time you want for a new and fresh and exciting one, fully equipped with fire and music. Anytime you like, starting with tonight’s performance!” The scene is brilliant with Davis’ performance dripping with grit and hatred. Only she could deliver a speech such as this. Mankiewicz earned both writing and directing Oscars for this film, beating out men such as, John Huston, George Cukor, and Billy Wilder.
All About Eve earned a total of 14 Oscar nominations in 1951, and winning Best Picture. However, there would be no Oscar for Davis’ performance that year, which was in part due to the fact that Baxter was also nominated in the Best Actress category, thus splitting the vote and losing to Judy Holliday.
It’s hard to say whether a film will live on through the test of time. But as time has moved on, All About Eve is almost as true now as it was when it was first released. With mounds of wit and drama, this film is a true testament to life in the entertainment industry. Out with the old and in with the new. However, in reference to All About Eve, this film is too good to move on from, and be replaced with a “fresh and new and exciting” film.
All About Eve
Written & Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill, and Celeste Holm