Friday, December 6, 2013

All About Eve (Best Picture 1950)

All About Eve is probably the quintessential drama from the golden age of Hollywood. It has wonderfully scripted characters, a terrific plot, and an engrossing narrative. It stars Bette Davis in one of her best-known roles, as Margo Channing, reigning diva of Broadway. Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington, an ingenue who is brought into the heady realm of Broadway and ends up causing all sorts of waves. 
The film begins with Eve about to win an award for acting, and George Sanders as critic Addison DeWitt begins to tell us "all about eve." Then the narration is picked up by Celeste Holm, who plays Margo's best friend, Karen Richards. She is married to Margo's favorite playwright, Lloyd Richards (played by Hugh Marlowe.) The last main character is a producer, Bill, played by Gary Merrill. Bill is not producing the play that Margo is currently in, but he is her boyfriend slash fiance. Karen brings Eve backstage to meet Margo one night after a performance. They all take an immediate liking to star-struck, bright-eyed and bushy-tailed Eve, and Margo ends up hiring Eve as her secretary. She becomes Margo's confidante and constant companion. However, when Eve starts wearing Margo's older dresses and calling Bill "on behalf" of Margo, Margo gets angry. The last straw is when Bill and Eve spend too much time together to suit Margo's jealousy. The two women have a falling out, even as the producer of the play makes Eve Margo's under-study. Karen innocently helps Eve actually go on-stage by creating a reason for Eve to be late to the theatre. Eve gets a taste of adulation from an audience, and she begins to fight for more.
Part of the charm of the film is in the way the story unfolds, literally. One character's action causes an unimagined re-action from someone else until we eventually go full circle and see Eve win the award from the first scene. You can watch a different character each time you watch it and notice something new. I don't want to spoil too much of the story for you if you have not seen it, but I will try to give you an example of what I mean. At the awards ceremony we only see Karen, Addison, and Margo as we wait for Eve to win her award. As the flashback is shown, there is a possibility that Margo and Bill have broken up, and Karen and Lloyd have gotten a divorce. Is this why we don't see them at the beginning? This is a nice touch that you wouldn't notice the first time you watch it. 
One of the themes of the film is "What price fame?" Margo has it, yet seems on the verge of losing it; Eve doesn't have it at the beginning, but wants it and seems willing to do almost anything to get it. The flip side of this is "What is happiness?" At the beginning Margo believes "fame = happiness", but by the end of the movie she no longer thinks this (as I am sure you would guess!). Another theme is femininity, and how it affects relationships. Bill is several years younger than Margo, who is in all aspects a diva. With the addition of the younger, more beautiful Eve to the group Margo begins to lose her self-confidence regarding her beauty. Margo believes that Bill is interested when Eve throws herself at him; Bill, however, tells her in no uncertain terms that Eve is not his type. He and Margo fight, but it's clear to everyone (except maybe Eve and  Margo) that he really does love her, not Eve, in spite of Margo not being as beautiful or classically attractive as Eve is! Similarly, Karen and Lloyd fight, but it's clearly a mature and loving relationship that Eve absolutely cannot understand.
The film is famous for several reasons, not least of which is Bette Davis. She seems to be portraying herself in several scenes; her cattiness and self-confidence was, or atleast became, a huge part of who "Bette Davis" was as a celebrity. Plus she really was married to Gary Merrill, so it was fun to watch them interact on screen, too. (They married after making this film together.) Although the film is called All About Eve, it really should have been called All About Margo, as she is the soul of the film and everything revolves around her.
All About Eve is also famous for getting a record-setting 14 Academy Award nominations, of which it won six, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders). Both of its main actresses (Davis and Baxter) were nominated, as were both of its supporting actresses (Holm, and Thelma Ritter as Margo's dresser). This is the second year for Joseph Mankiewicz to win for both Best Screenplay and for Best Director. This is the only time the same man won both awards two years in a row.  
Bette Davis and Thelma Ritter

If you're interested in a slice of life of actors and Broadway, you will enjoy this film. Even if you are not interested in that subject matter, the story and acting are enough to keep your interest. By the way, Marilyn Monroe makes a very striking appearance as an up-and-coming starlet in this film. So if you're a Marilyn fan, you should see this film. Really, if you like movies, this is one of those films that you should see, just because.
All About Eve
*Academy Award Best Picture of 1950*
Produced by Darryl F. Zanuck
Directed  by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Here's the trailer for the Blue-Ray release.
Funny how Marilyn Monroe gets top billing over Gary Merrill and Celeste Holm,
who are both on screen MUCH longer than Marilyn is! 

Also Nominated:
(in alphabetical order)
Born Yesterday
Father of the Bride
King Solomon's Mines
Sunset Boulevard
Well I have seen *most* of these films. I haven't seen Father of the Bride or King Solomon's Mines. Bride stars Spencer Tracy and Elizabeth Taylor. It was remade recently with Steve Martin; I didn't see that one, either. Solomon stars Deborah Kerr and Stewart Granger; I went to borrow this at the library but it was not available. Born Yesterday won Judy Holliday the Best Actress Oscar for her role as Broderick Crawford's ditzy girl-friend who smartens up via William Holden's tutoring. Holden also was hanging out on Sunset Boulevard, being a gigolo to Gloria Swanson. They were both nominated, but neither won. Also worth mentioning is Harvey, which won Josephine Hull the Best Supporting Actress Oscar for her role as James Stewart's aunt. You may also recognize her as one of Cary Grant's murderous aunts in Arsenic And Old Lace.

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