- Rated NR
- Buy the Blu-ray
All photos © 20th Century Fox
Reviewed by Ross Ruediger
n our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s possible that “All About Eve” is more important than ever. Scratch that. How about it’s more entertaining than ever? It’s debatable whether “Eve” has ever been an important movie, at least outside of its place in film history, but the one thing it’s always been is entertaining. That this 60-year-old film can still amuse, enlighten, move and make us cackle in our living rooms all these years later isn’t something to be dismissed, nor is its Oscar track record for that matter. Until the release of “Titanic,” it held the record for the most Academy Award nominations with 14; now the two films are tied in that department. “All About Eve” went on to win six of those awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. More on “Eve” and the Oscars later.
The movie traces the calculated theatrical rise of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), as she lies, backstabs and claws her way to the top. She starts out claiming to be nothing more than a fanatic for celebrated stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), whose life she quietly insinuates herself into, but soon she becomes Margo’s personal assistant, and she doesn’t stop there. No, not Eve; she’ll do whatever it takes to become Margo, or at least someone very much like her. There are obstacles in Eve’s way, however – theatre folk she must navigate her way through in order to attain her goals.
She must gain the trust of Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), the playwright who pens the productions Margo stars in; Lloyd she must merely impress. Then there’s Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), the director and Margo’s steady. Bill’s a little trickier than some of the others. He isn’t wowed by Eve in the same way everyone else seems to be. And finally, there’s Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), the acerbic theatre critic who knows and sees all. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, DeWitt steadily unloads on Eve: “Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on? That you have the same contempt for me as you have for them? Look closely, Eve. It's time you did. I am Addison DeWitt. I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.”
“All About Eve” is loaded with some of the most incredible dialogue ever written for a film. Were it all broken up and used in little chunks in 30 other screenplays, they’d all be elevated from average to memorable. Instead, it’s all here in this one movie, and nary a line is wasted on words trivial. The actors chew on the English language and spit it back out for our pleasure. It’s fitting that a movie about people who devote their lives to the craft of theatre should be such an actor’s piece. While nobody can accuse writer/director Joe Mankiewicz of not knowing his way around a camera, he’s clearly not obsessed with creating fanciful shots that distract from the real star of the film, which is his screenplay.
Of course, a screenplay like this one is still just a screenplay without the right talent to pull it off, and Mankiewicz assembled an exceptional cast. Nobody gives a weak performance, although there’s no question that the picture pretty much belongs to Bette Davis, who was over 40 and found herself in a situation very much like Margo’s when the part came her way: the aging, insecure talent, unsure of what lies ahead. “Eve” reignited her sagging career and was probably responsible for 30 more years worth of Bette Davis at the movies. Anne Baxter as the titular Eve has probably the toughest job in the movie, as so much of her performance demands an immense amount of restraint. It isn’t until the last half hour that we see the real Eve, and that’s assuming there’s even a real Eve to see.
All of the ladies in the movie were nominated for Oscars; Davis and Baxter for Best Actress, and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Supporting Actress, yet the only actor to walk away with a statue was George Sanders for Supporting Actor, and deservedly so, as in the final scenes he instantly transforms himself into the pulse of the film. It’s easy to say that Baxter’s placement in the Best Actress category cost Davis the Oscar, and indeed, it may well have. But Gloria Swanson was also up for “Sunset Boulevard,” and she was equally deserving. In the end, the Oscar inexplicably went to Judy Holliday for “Born Yesterday,” and 60 years later film buffs still sit around scratching their heads wondering what went wrong. (In the interest of full disclosure, I’ve never been able to bring myself to sit down and watch “Born Yesterday.” It would hurt too much.)
It seems like sacrilege to talk about “Eve” and not make some mention of Marilyn Monroe, who appears in a couple scenes as a rising star (which, as with Davis, feels very much like a case of art imitating life) named Miss Casswell. It’s not a huge role, but it’s hugely memorable, and Monroe makes the very most of what she has to work with. You can just tell looking at her here that she was destined for greatness. In a short amount of time, she brings ample doses of bubble-headed humor to a movie in which every other character is whip-smart. It’s one of the great instances of someone embracing the old theatre standby, “There are no small parts, only small actors.”
“All About Eve” is one of the great movies. We live in a day and age of Oscars being given out for all the wrong reasons, and often times to all the wrong films. This was not one of those cases, although I’m admittedly a “Sunset Boulevard” freak, and prefer it to “Eve,” mostly because I relate to its characters and situations on a deeper level. But that’s strictly a personal call, and in no way reflects any sort of imperfection in this film. All that said, I refuse to take anyone involved in the theatre seriously if they’ve never seen “All About Eve.” And if they’ve seen it and didn’t love it, they’re to be taken even less seriously, probably because they take themselves too seriously. This is one of those flicks where “it’s” at.
Single-Disc Blu-ray Review:
The single most important thing about this Blu-ray is that its image and sound are as perfect as I’ve ever seen and heard the film. I can only hope that “Sunset Boulevard” someday looks and sounds as good as this does on Blu-ray (which, given how nice the last DVD release was, should hopefully not be a problem). The disc is housed in one of those sweet little hardcover booklet type jobs that Fox has been doing lately, and it must be said that they really know how to class up their catalogue titles.
The numerous extras that are on here have, near as I can tell, all been available before. I don’t think there’s anything new, although since I missed the two-disc “Eve” that came out on DVD a few years ago, what was on here was new to me. There are two commentary tracks. The first features Celeste Holm, who unfortunately does not sound as if she’s in the best of health, so she sure must have been a trooper to show up and record this. Also present are Ken Geist (Mankiewicz’s biographer) and Christopher Mankiewicz (his son). The second track features Sam Staggs, the author of All About All About Eve, flying solo.
Five exceptionally entertaining and informative featurettes dominate the extras. “Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz” is all about the man’s films, while “Joseph L. Mankiewicz: A Personal Journey” is all about the man himself. Both are frank looks featuring numerous talking heads including both of his sons and his widow. “The Real Eve” is utterly fascinating, as it traces the genesis of the story, which started life as a short story in Cosmopolitan and ended in the craziest of places. This particular extra practically made my head explode; gotta see it to appreciate it. “The Secret of Sarah Siddons” is a look at the real-life Chicago theatre awards that were inspired by the fake awards Mankiewicz created for the film. “AMC Backstory: ‘All About Eve’” is obviously a piece from the AMC movie channel, but again, it was new to me, and I found it quite enjoyable. The rest of the extras are made up of vintage promotional material from when the film came out, and after it started winning awards, and it’s always reassuring to know that even 60 years ago the studios knew how to create puff pieces to promote their films. Finally, there’s a theatrical trailer and the ability to listen to Alfred Newman’s score on an isolated track.