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  All About Eve Theatre Of The Mind
Year: 1950
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe, Thelma Ritter, Walter Hampden, Randy Stuart, Craig Hill, Leland Harris, Barbara White, Claude Stroud, Steven Geray
Genre: DramaBuy from Amazon
Rating:  8 (from 2 votes)
Review: Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is tonight the youngest recipient of the prestigious Sarah Siddons Award, a theatrical gong that goes to the best stage performance of the year. All the great and good of the theatre world are present, including Margo Channing (Bette Davis) who knows Eve from when she was an obscure up-and-comer, and notably does not applaud when everyone else does as Eve walks up to collect the prize. Neither does Karen (Celeste Holm), wife of the playwright who penned the play that she is being rewarded for her role in, why, it's almost as if they know something everyone else in the room does not...

It's little wonder All About Eve won such great reviews, since it featured one of the greatest portrayals of a critic of all time. A theatre critic, not a film critic, that was true, but George Sanders as the impossibly witty Addison de Witt (named for a reason, one supposed) was in effect the hero of the piece, a man who has the measure of all those around him and can sum them up in a biting bon mot, something the rest of the characters have a damn good try at, but are unable to match. Joseph L. Mankiewicz was the man at the typewriter and the man in the director's chair, proof if your dialogue sparkles and you cast correctly, that's most of the battle won.

It was perhaps also worth mentioning that theatre is regarded as a medium on an elevated level, unlike movies where often the impression they wish to give is that any slob off the street could be doing that job, no matter how inaccurate and unfair that was. But the Oscars garlanded around All About Eve were a safe bet, if nothing else, the little brother poking fun at the big brother while still paying his respects: obviously theatre in America was a different business in 1950, and things were changing even there, but it remained the medium of Shakespeare and for that reason the movies were a little daunted by the attempts to match it in achievements and thespian quality.

Here was a film whose dialogue was good enough for a rewarding night out at the theatre, and didn't it know it, with the barbs aimed with surgical precision among a cast of backbiters and backstabbers, of which Eve is the prime mover. When she appears at the stage door of one of Margo's long-running triumphs, she is merely creepy in her adulation, but later when Addison reveals the depths of her cunning she is actively villainous. And for what? We are supposed to take for granted that getting a serious theatre career is the apex a woman can aspire to, and be unsurprised that Eve will use any weapon in her considerable arsenal to get her way - Baxter had one of her best roles here, though it was Davis who would receive most of the plaudits as far as the actresses went. After all, she had that line.

Davis was well aware this was a role that could reverse her box office poison status, and played it to the hilt, which in her case was like seeing Yehudi Menuhin taking out his Stradivarius for an expertly played concerto. Some say Margo did to her predecessors what Eve was doing to her, but that doesn't ring true: Margo has genuine insight into her soul, and an integrity with it, so she doesn't come across like someone who burned her bridges in the sisterhood of acting (unlike Davis herself, who entertained a real jealousy of having to share the screen with other women). It's a fantastic performance of self-pity and wounded pride, but Sanders, an actor with far narrower range, though he excelled within it, has the funniest quips, and he's going out with Marilyn Monroe. He also has the final takedown of Eve which nobody else in the film could manage, such is the power of the critic, or rather, such is the power the critic would like to believe they had, hence those glowing reviews. Not that it matters as the cycle begins anew, a perfectly cynical conclusion to a perfectly cynical film. Music by Alfred Newman.

[The Criterion Collection release this on Blu-ray with the following features over two discs:

4K digital restoration, with uncompressed monaural soundtrack on the Blu-ray
Two audio commentaries from 2010, one featuring actor Celeste Holm, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz's son Christopher Mankiewicz, and author Kenneth L. Geist; the other featuring author Sam Staggs
All About Mankiewicz, a feature-length documentary from 1983 about the director
Episodes of The Dick Cavett Show from 1969 and 1980 featuring actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill
New interview with costume historian Larry McQueen
Hollywood Backstories: "All About Eve," a 2001 documentary featuring interviews with Davis and others about the making of the film
Documentaries from 2010 about Mankiewicz’s life and career; "The Wisdom of Eve," the 1946 short story on which the film is based, and its real-world inspiration; and a real-life Sarah Siddons Society based on the film’s fictional organization
Radio adaptation of the film from 1951
Promotion for the film featuring Davis
English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing
Plus: An essay by critic Terrence Rafferty and "The Wisdom of Eve".]
Reviewer: Graeme Clark


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