Eve Harrington (Ann Baxter) is a seemingly sweet fan who insinuates herself into a Broadway star’s life and ultimately usurps her career.
This is the cautionary tale of an aging but highly regarded actress (a fierce Bette Davis as Margo Channing) who allows a lonely theatergoer to infiltrate her daily affairs. At first Eve seems demure and supportive when she’s allowed to move into Margo’s apartment and become her personal assistant. Only shrewd housekeeper Birdie (the wonderful Thelma Ritter) questions Eve’s too good to be true persona. Margo doubts Birdie’s qualms though, as her fiancé (Gary Merrill as Bill Sampson) and best friends (Hugh Marlowe as Lloyd Richards and Celeste Holm as Karen Richards) enthusiastically sweep Eve into their tight knit group. Margo soon regrets the decision when it becomes clear that Eve has ulterior motives, for both her fiancé and the lead role in her latest play. Theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Saunders, who won Best Supporting Actor for the role) narrates the proceedings with a staunch and viperous tone.
All About Eve garnered 14 Oscar nominations and ended up taking home six statues, including Best Picture – and it deserved every one of them. The ladies dominated the awards with Bette Davis and Ann Baxter up for Best Actress, while Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter vied for Best Supporting Actress. Ultimately the big winner was director and screenwriter Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who swept both his categories. (Talent ran amok in the Mankiewicz family – his brother, Herman, co-wrote a little film called Citizen Kane, which nabbed its own Academy Award for Best Original Screenplay.)
I hope the award was worth it, sweetheart!
Joseph Mankiewicz deserves special mention here. Though the film is overflowing with star power, it’s Mankiewicz’s biting, insightful script that makes this plot the timeless treasure it’s become. Of course it doesn’t hurt that the unparallel Bette Davis delivers the majority of his lines. What other actress could deliver the classic zinger, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night,” with such aplomb?
The movie is also noted for its gorgeous cinematography. You won’t miss color with the sharply captured black and white sets. There’s also a special treat with the cameo of a young Marilyn Monroe as ditzy starlet Miss Caswell. It’s one of Monroe’s first roles and it’s reported that the newbie Marilyn was so intimidated by Bette that it took 11 takes for her to complete a simple scene with the acting legend.
Speaking of Davis, she had a pretty interesting time with her costar, Gary Merrill. Gary left his wife for Bette immediately after the film wrapped and the couple ended up being wed for a decade. Their chemistry is obvious and imbibes the film with an additional layer of reality. Also Davis was an aging actress playing an aging actress and she does a beautiful job of allowing the audience to glimpse at the doubt and vulnerability beneath her iron exterior.
One of my favorite shots in the film. Man, they just don’t make ’em like they used to!
I could go on and on about the history and the accolades, but my words can’t do it justice. It’s simply one of the best films of all time and you owe it to yourself to see it.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: Every time an outfit blows you away. The legendary Edith Head was up for one of the 14 Oscar nominations in the category of Best Costume Design – and it shows.
Take a Drink: whenever the delightful Thelma Ritter is onscreen. The Broadway-trained character actor is a hoot.
Take a Drink: when you spot Miss Casswell. There’s just something about that girl that makes me think she’s gonna be big!
Do a Shot: when Margo gets her comeuppance.
Do Another Shot: when Eve finally gets her comeuppance. Even better!
This was long before movies employed the trick of additional scenes to keep butts in seats throughout the credits, but it’s worth it to try and get your hands on a DVD with the extras, as there is a rich back-story to accompany the film.