All About Eve (1950)

The first time I watched All About Eve, it was the actual 35 mm movie version at summer camp.  I sat on the floor of the Fine Arts building at Interlochen Center for the Arts and when I stood up, my hands were covered in charcoal pencil dust from the figure drawing class earlier that day.  I remember talking about it while the reels were changed and being excited to see what happened next.  It was one of those films that gave the viewer a glimpse behind the curtain of the entertainment business into how things really are.  It was fascinating.  None of the actors are slouches, even a super new Marilyn Monroe is brilliant.  If you haven’t seen All About Eve lately, make a date to catch up with it, you won’t be disappointed.

Praised by critics at the time of its release, All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards (a feat unmatched until the 1997 film Titanic) and won six, including Best Picture. As of 2013, All About Eve is still the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Holm and Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). All About Eve was selected in 1990 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and was among the first 50 films to be registered. All About Eve appeared at #16 on AFI’s 1998 list of the 100 best American films.

Title: All About Eve
Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Based on: “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr
Produced by: Darryl F. Zanuck
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm
Cinematography: Milton R. Krasner
Edited by: Barbara McLean
Music by: Alfred Newman
Production Company: 20th Century Fox
Distributed by: 20th Century Fox
Release date: October 13, 1950 (NYC)
Running time: 138 minutes
Country: United States
Language: English
Budget: $1.4 million
Box office: $8.4 million

Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is one of the biggest stars on Broadway. But having just turned forty, she is worried about what her advancing age will mean for her career. After a performance of Margo’s latest play, Aged in Wood, Margo’s close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), wife of the play’s author Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), brings in a besotted fan, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), to meet Margo. Eve tells the group gathered in Margo’s dressing room – Karen, Lloyd and Margo’s maid Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter) – that she followed Margo’s last theatrical tour to New York City after seeing her perform in San Francisco. She tells an engrossing story of growing up poor in Wisconsin and losing her young husband Eddie in the South Pacific during World War II. Moved, Margo quickly befriends Eve, takes her into her home, and hires her as her assistant, leaving Birdie, who instinctively dislikes Eve, feeling put out.

Eve quickly manipulates her way into Margo’s life, acting as her secretary and adoring fan. She seems to anticipate Margo’s every need, including placing a long-distance phone call to Margo’s boyfriend, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), when Margo forgets his birthday. Margo becomes increasingly distrustful and bitter towards Eve, particularly after she catches Eve taking a bow to an empty theatre while pretending to wear Margo’s costume for Aged in Wood. Margo asks her producer, Max Fabian, to hire Eve at his office, but instead, Eve manages to become Margo’s understudy without Margo’s knowledge. As Margo’s irritation grows, Karen feels sorry for Eve. In hopes of humbling Margo, Karen arranges for her to miss a performance of Aged in Wood, so Eve will have to perform in her place. Eve invites the city’s theatre critics, including the acerbic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), to attend that evening’s performance, which is a triumph for her. After that evening’s performance, Eve tries to seduce Bill, but he rejects her. Instead, Addison takes her under his wing and interviews her for a column criticizing Margo for not making way for new talents like Eve. Margo and Karen are furious.

Margo and Bill announce their engagement at dinner with the Richardses in the Cub Room of the Stork Club. Eve, who was dining at a nearby table with Addison, calls Karen into the ladies’ room and, after first appearing regretful, gives her an ultimatum: either ask Lloyd to give Eve the part of Cora, the lead in Lloyd’s next play, Footsteps on the Ceiling, or she will reveal Karen’s role in Margo’s missed performance. Before Karen can talk with Lloyd, Margo announces to everyone’s surprise that she does not wish to play Cora and would prefer to continue in Aged in Wood.

Eve is cast as Cora. Just before the out-of-town premiere of Footsteps on the Ceiling at the Shubert in New Haven, Eve presents Addison with her next plan: to marry Lloyd, who, she claims, has come to her professing his love and his eagerness to leave Karen for her. Now, Eve exults, Lloyd will write brilliant plays showcasing her. Angered that Eve believes she can manipulate him as easily as she does everyone else, Addison reveals he knows that her back story is all lies. Her real name is Gertrude Slescynski, she was never married, and she had been paid to leave town over an affair with her boss. Addison blackmails Eve, informing her that she will not be marrying Lloyd or anyone else; in exchange for Addison’s silence, she now “belongs” to him.

Several months later, Eve is a shining Broadway star headed for Hollywood. At an awards banquet, she thanks Margo, Bill, Lloyd, and Karen with characteristic effusion, while all four stare back at her coldly. Eve skips a party in her honor and returns home alone, where she encounters Phoebe (Barbara Bates) – a high-school-aged fan – who has slipped into her apartment and fallen asleep. The young girl professes her adoration and begins at once to insinuate herself into Eve’s life, offering to pack Eve’s trunk for Hollywood. While Eve rests in the other room, Addison comes to the apartment door with Eve’s award, which she had forgotten. He assesses the situation and clearly sees that Phoebe will be playing the same role in Eve’s life that Eve had played in so many others’. After Addison leaves, Phoebe dons the elegant robe that Eve wore to the banquet and poses in front of a multi-paned mirror, bowing and holding the award.

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