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
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.