Thursday, May 20, 2010

1950 - All About Eve

There is a discussion among two characters in the film I have reviewed below about "blowing one's own horn" and I trust you will forgive me as I do just that. Yesterday, just under a year after arriving in the country, I am proud to say I officially became a member of the Screen Actors Guild, the distinguished union representing actors working in film and television. Quite a milestone, I assure you. Even though I have been a member of the Australian performers' union for almost 20 years, joining SAG still feels like an accomplishment. Of course, in Australia, there is only one union covering actors in all areas of their careers. Americans like to do things bigger, so there are at least three unions that an actor can join here - SAG for film & TV, Equity for theatre and AFTRA for TV & radio. One down, two to go...

Today, I watched another classic Best Picture nominee from 1950...

All About Eve
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe
Academy Awards:
14 nominations
6 wins, including Best Picture and Best Director

Eve Harrington (Baxter) is a seemingly sweet, innocent yet strangely obsessed fan of Broadway star Margo Channing (Davis). After hanging out at the stage door one night, Margo's best friend Karen (Holm) invites Eve inside to meet her idol. Soon, Eve is working as Margo's assistant and buddying up to the playwright (Marlowe) and the director (Merrill), who also happens to be Margo's beau. Those close to her don't seem to recognise Eve's manipulative ways, and with the help of consummate theatre critic Addison DeWitt (Sanders), Eve slyly wheedles her way up the ladder of success.

Despite intriguing opening narration (by two separate narrators!), All About Eve's first act is just short of bland. It is only when we receive the first indication of Eve's sneakiness - she arranges a birthday party for Margo's lover without her knowledge - that things really start to get interesting. From that point on, what once we saw as sweet and lovely becomes annoyingly coy. Eve's false modesty and sly tricks, subtle as they are, make for some delicious anticipation. I kept waiting to see Eve secretly allow a suspiciously evil smile to cross her face. But all credit to Anne Baxter as she keeps the facade going almost to the very end.

Like Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve features an aging actress at the forefront of its story, but that's where the similarity ends. Although Margo Channing succumbs to several prima donna moments, she is nowhere near as maladjusted as Norma Desmond. That role is taken up by Eve. Still, it could be argued that Margo's jealousy and paranoia, justified though they may be, allowed Eve's cunning tactics to succeed. But at least Margo learns her lesson, graciously bowing out of competition at the film's conclusion.

Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz must be commended on his clever script, despite the disarming nature of the double narration - both Karen and Addison alternately act as narrator throughout the length of the film. All of the performances are superb, five of them receiving Oscar nominations. The only winner was George Sanders for his supporting performance as the sharp-tongued critic, but Bette Davis (pictured) is particularly excellent here as Margo. I also enjoyed Thelma Ritter's performance as Margo's cynical maid. Plus, as a wannabe actress, relative unknown Marilyn Monroe comes into her own, giving us a peek at the persona that would make her famous.

All About Eve set a new record by garnering fourteen nominations at the 1950 Academy Awards, tied only by Titanic 47 years later. It also shares the record (with eight other films) for the most acting nominations.


  1. I LOVE this movie! My pick right now for this year! Bette Davis was brilliant!

  2. Matt, I expect some intriguing insight into next year's SAG Awards - within the bounds of any confidentiality agreements. You will be able to vote, won't you?

    I've already watched Father of the Bride and will wait until your post to comment. I plan on re-watching Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve back to back this weekend, to make my decision between the two front runners.

    Oscarwise, while All About Eve is tied with other films for some very big Oscar records, it still holds the single record for having four female performances nominated. Also, Joseph L. Mankiewicz remains the only Director to win consecutive Academy Awards for both Directing and Writing (A Letter to Three Wives, 1949 and All About Eve, 1950)

  3. Yes, quite the Oscar darling, our All About Eve. I hadn't thought of the most female acting nominations record. And Mankiewicz's consecutive double Oscar wins, the first to do so, followed only by Alan Menken in 1991 & 1992 in the Best Song and Best Score categories for Beauty & the Beast and Alladin.

    And yep, I'll be able to vote at the SAG Awards. Although, their nominations are decided by the voting from a smaller subset of the membership, chosen at random. I suspect, though, that there is probably a pre-requisite that states one must have been a member for a certain length of time before they can be selected for that. Either way, I'll still get to vote for the winners.

  4. My favorite female performance Ever :) enough said.

  5. I can't honestly say that All About Eve is anywhere near the list of my all time favorites, but can unequivocally say that it has one of the best screenplays ever captured on celluloid. It is talky, bitchy and presented in an overly theatrical way. Mankiewicz was not a cinematic director. He didn't want the camera to detract from the performances. It works for this film, but wouldn't serve him well in some others.

    The commentary offers some nice supplemental tidbits, one of which:

    Mankiewicz felt that Anne Baxter deserved her nomination in the Best Actress Category, mentioning that her part was actually harder than Bette Davis's. Certainly, the second half of the movie belonged as much to Baxter as it did Davis. Still, Davis gives such a raw, naked performance, it should be ranked among the best ever.

    Celeste Holm is the catalyst in the movie and she's terrific. Likewise is George Sanders, who must have loved the words that Mankiewicz gave him to say.

    Thelma Ritter is at her sarcastic best, but what happened to her? She was the only one to see through Eve from the beginning. Did Eve lock her in a trunk? - she wasn't seen or heard from for the last half of the picture.

    Tonight I'll watch the even more cynical Sunset Boulevard and see if its mean-spiritedness is still a turn-off to me.