Reviewed by Ivana Redwine
Tagline: "It's all about women ... and their men."
Length: 138 minutes
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and George Sanders star in "All About Eve" (1950), which was nominated for 14 Academy Awards and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (Mankiewicz again), and Best Supporting Actor (Sanders). In January, 2003, Fox released this great classic movie in a DVD version that contains lots of extras, including two feature-length commentary tracks.
The title character in the movie is Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an amoral, conniving young woman who is willing to do almost anything to become a star actress. I suppose it's possible to excuse a certain amount of Eve's lying and cheating because she must move in a world where everyone seems a little dirty, but I think her ruthless betrayals of people who help her are unforgivable. Anne Baxter is so persuasive in the role that I'm completely convinced the character would do such terrible things without a moment's remorse.
Why does Eve want so badly to become a star? She answers, "If there's nothing else, there's applause. I've listened backstage to people applaud. It's like … like waves of love coming over the footlights." It's to Baxter's credit that she silkily delivers these lines looking and sounding obsessed.
The most memorable character in the film is Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis in one of her very best performances. Margo is an established 40-year-old star who is going through a mid-life crisis. Her anxiety is partly due to the fact that playwrights are only writing good roles for 20-something actresses. But she's also uneasy because she's talking marriage with a director (Gary Merrill) who's eight years her junior. What I really liked about Davis' performance was the vulnerability that she revealed lurking just beneath her character's tough exterior.
I like the way Margo Channing develops as a character throughout the movie. She starts out as a driven actress, but eventually sees that she wants a more balanced life. Late in the film she says ruefully to her best friend (Celeste Holm), "Funny business, a woman's career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them when you get back to being a woman."
My favorite part of "All About Eve" is the tour-de-force party sequence. Margo is angry with her boyfriend and feeling sorry for herself, and she drinks too much. She tries to warn the party guests to expect rough going by sneeringly delivering the film's most famous line, "Fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night."
I love all the performances in the movie, including those of actors in supporting roles. George Sanders is particularly memorable as the venomous theater critic Addison DeWitt. At the party, he compliments Margo, "You're maudlin and full of self-pity. You're magnificent!" Marilyn Monroe is a standout as one of the party guests, a bimbo who has been brought there by DeWitt. He introduces her by saying, "Miss Casswell is an actress, a graduate of the Copacabaña School of Dramatic Art."
"All About Eve" is one of my favorites. A superb screenplay, arguably the sharpest dialogue in any movie, and richly developed characters make for one of the best of the classic Hollywood films.
Special Features of the DVD:
• Full-Screen (1.33:1)
• Feature Commentary by Celeste Holm, Christopher Mankiewicz, Biographer Ken Geist
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