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All About Eve

A Dish of Meow Mix with Marilyn Monroe on the Side

About.com Rating 4.5 Star Rating

By

Great cat fight!

All About Eve DVD

20th Century Fox
The greatest cat fight ever committed to celluloid, All About Eve pits a fiery Bette Davis as aging Broadway star Margo Channing against doe-eyed “fan” Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an ambitious schemer ready to claw her way to the top. All About Eve allows Davis to utter her famously over-the-top line as a disastrous cocktail party begins: “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to a bumpy night.”

Splendid performances, a witty, biting script, assured direction and a small but inspired comic role for a young Marilyn Monroe highlight this enduring film, winner of the Best Picture Oscar in 1950.

The Plot

Davis’s Margo Channing is a blazing Broadway star, with one of the Great White Way’s most gifted playwrights crafting roles just for her, and her true love just happens to be one of the theater’s great directors. The only problem is, her true love is nearly a decade younger, she’s already playing roles she’s a bit too old for and the inevitable ravages of time are creeping up on the star.

Enter Eve Harrington, the die-hard fan who never misses a performance, and whose dewy-eyed devotion to her idol is just a little too good to be true. She manages to worm her way into an introduction, and skillfully manipulates the actress and all the people around her in an attempt to methodically take over Margo’s career, her fame, and even her personal life if she can.

It’s a deliciously bitchy story about backstage betrayal that occasionally gets a little talky in its high-handed discussions of the “the-ah-tur,” but moves smartly along. The movie begins at a ceremony where Eve is being honored with one of Broadway’s highest awards, but as it turns out we don’t know everything about how she got there. It’s a great trip.

The Cast of 'All About Eve'

Davis gives a bravura performance, with full-scale diva rants, flights of insecurity and a very convincing drunk scene (she seems so close to passing out that it’s hard not to rush the screen to catch her.) So small in stature, yet somehow she’s simply majestic. She sails through her scenes like some great, glamorous ocean liner, every once in a while coming in to port to relax and show a more appealing, human side. It’s a courageous performance as well. Her wardrobe and hair are fabulous throughout, but she plays a key scene in cold cream and a bathrobe, doing little to hide her age.

The supporting cast is marvelous. Thelma Ritter stars as Margo’s faithful, down-to-earth dresser. She sees through Eve’s act from the start, greeting her touching tale of poverty and lost love with a snorting “What a story! Everything but the German shepherds snapping at her heels!”

Star-making critic Addison DeWitt, played to urbane, acid-etched perfection by George Sanders, sees through Eve as well, but he’s got his own agenda. The critic narrates the film with cynical reflections on the theater and its denizens, and provides writer/director Joseph L. Mankewicz with a vehicle for his own commentary.

Monroe appears in the famous party scene as DeWitt’s date, a stunning blonde who may be a touch unsophisticated, but by no means dumb. She walks away with her few scenes.

Celeste Holm is lovely as the best friend, wife of Margo’s personal playwright, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). No matter how irritating Margo can be, it’s a little hard to believe Holm’s character is gullible enough to let Eve talk her into a betrayal – but she does.

The believability isn’t helped by Baxter’s performance, the weakest in the film. It has a single-note quality of faux, pleading purity that wouldn’t deceive anyone with a brain for long. And the scenes where she shows her true nature aren’t quite as fierce as we’d like them to be, although they may have been constrained by the film mores of the day. Eve’s youthful sexuality is clearly supposed to be her most potent weapon, and 1950s Hollywood wouldn’t allow the steamy scenes that would have made the point.

The Backstory

The part was originally supposed to go to the even older star Claudette Colbert, who was forced to step aside when she injured her back. Davis’s career was fading, and she was badly in need of a comeback when All About Eve came along. The wildly successful movie allowed her to come roaring back, and she continued to make films, good, bad and indifferent, for most of the rest of her life.

In a bit of life imitating art, the 30-something boy toy who plays Davis’s love in the film, Gary Merrill, became her lover in real life. They were married for ten years.

'All About Eve' - the Bottom Line

A classic story of the American stage, and a classic American movie. All About Eve is a must-see.

Recommended for You:

If you like All About Eve, you may also like Sunset Boulevard, Dark Victory, Now Voyager, Jezebel and The Little Foxes.

'All About Eve' at a Glance:

Year: 1950, Black and White
Director:: Joseph Mankewicz
Running Time:: 138 minutes
Studio:: 20th Century Fox
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