“The American Film Institute’s list of the 100 Greatest Movies was selected by AFI’s blue-ribbon panel of more than 1,500 leaders of the American movie community to commemorate 100 Years of Movies”. Every weekend(ish) during 2015, I’ll review two(ish), counting them down from 100 to 1.
“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 again when you get back to being a woman.”
Bette Davis is an iconic Hollywood name. And while I’m sure someone with even the slightest knowledge of classic Hollywood would dispute this, I think she’s most famous for two roles. The deranged, paranoid, former child star in What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? And the justifiably paranoid, on her way down Broadway star in All About Eve.
It’s an awards dinner, and Eve Darrington (Anne Baxter) is the brightest young thing on Broadway, about to walk away with a major award. But this isn’t the story of Eve’s success, this is the story of how she attained it. Flash back to a year earlier, when the mousy, nobody Eve is standing outside a Broadway theatre after watching Margo Channing (Bette Davis) star in her latest hit play. Eve has watched the show dozens of times and is in awe of the star. Margo is happy to accept the adoration, and soon, Eve is working as Margo’s personal assistant, and eventually, understudy.
Within Margo’s tightknit world, before it’s infiltrated by Eve, are friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) and her husband, the writer of Margo’s latest hit play, Lloyd (Hugh Marlow). As they ride the success of their current play, and prep their next inevitable hit, Eve becomes more and more a part of their professional and personal lives. It’s not long before Margo recognises Eve’s ambition as ruthlessness. And while others aren’t quite as quick to pick up on it, Eve’s actions mean they get on board soon enough.
The other major character in All About Eve is the delightfully snooty theatre critic, Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). DeWitt has been covering the theatre world forever and knows its ins and outs better than anyone. He serves as a guide and advisor to Eve, as well as the audience. He also serves as the bullshit detector, calling Eve on her crap in a way that Margo never can. Because when Margo has a problem with Eve, everyone around her is quick to blame it on jealousy or paranoia.
All About Eve is a rare movie that perfectly balances humour with pitch black cynicism. There are good guys in this movie, like Karen and DeWitt, but they’re never really rewarded for their goodness. And while the not so good guys get plenty of quick rewards and reach what they think are their goals, All About Eve is quick to show that the price of reaching those goals is a whole lot steeper than the benefits. And it does this while being really, darkly funny all along the way.
Even with all of that, I think what really makes All About Eve work is its ensemble. Not just the actors and their characters, but the way the script services them all. This is a movie with upwards of five main characters. And they all feel like they’re fleshed out, real people. It’s the kind of perfect script that even makes a Marilyn Monroe cameo one of her best, most believable characters ever. And she only appears in one scene. The performances are amazing, but it’s the writing behind those performances that I liked the most.
Best Director – Mankiewicz
Best Actress (Davis and Baxter nominated, lost to Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday)
Best Supporting Actor – Saunders