Eve, the Golden Girl. The cover girl, the girl next door, the girl on the moon… Time has been good to Eve… So says Addison DeWitt, the supercilious writer and theatre critic of the latest star of Broadway, Eve Harrington at the beginning of the award-winning All About Eve, which swept the Oscars in 1950.
The opening setting is the annual gala night of the Sarah Siddons Society, where all the Theatrical elite gathers to celebrate Eve, the youngest ever winner of the award.
All the major characters are watching the proceedings, including Margo Channing, one of the biggest stars of Broadway; theatre director and Margo’s husband Bill Simpson; award-winning playwright Lloyd Richards; his wife Karen, who are two of Margo’s closest friends, all who are not looking pleased.
Also watching the proceedings is Addison DeWitt, who narrates what is happening at the gala. DeWitt and the various other characters narrate various moments during the film.
The narration is taken over by Karen, who reminisces about the times she had met Eve outside the theatre in the chance of meeting her idol, Margo Channing.
Margo is worried about her age and what turning forty will mean to her career. After her performance in Aged in Wood, Karen brings Eve backstage to meet her. Margo, her boyfriend Bill, her maid Birdie, and all her close friends greet Eve in the dressing room.
Eve captivates the group with her polite and kindly manner, revealing that she followed Margo’s tour from San Francisco to New York, and then fascinating the group with a story about her childhood poverty and losing her husband in the South Pacific during the war.
Margo instantly befriends Eve and hires her as her assistant.
Most of the group is easily won over by the young woman’s gentle manner and engrossing personal story, but not everybody is impressed. Birdie takes an instant dislike to Eve Carrington, and her reasons would soon be revealed to Margo.
Based on the short story by the uncredited Mary Orr, All About Eve is a splendid drama film that contains many memorable barbed one-liners especially “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night”, courtesy of Joseph L Mankiewicz who wrote the impressive screenplay, who also shines as director.
The performances are very impressive. Bette Davis is particularly outstanding in one of her most iconic roles as the aging and insecure Broadway star Margo Channing.
The introduction is perfect. The gala evening, in the beginning, allows the viewer to know that Eve Carrington is more than what she seems. Eve, convincingly played by the underrated Anne Baxter, may win over the hearts of her new friends, but the viewer has already doubted her sincerity.
The scornful tone of the film is set by George Sanders, marvelously sardonic as DeWitt, who is the principal narrator and conveys a continual menacing presence throughout. He is treated with suspicion and is not regarded favorably by Margo and her friends.
With Davis and Sanders producing arguably the best performances of their careers, it would a foolish to assume that the other players were somehow less memorable.
Celeste Holm as the kindly Karen, Gary Merrill as Margo’s boyfriend Bill and Hugh Marlowe as Karen’s husband Lloyd all provide sympathetic and convincing performances. Thelma Ritter is exceptionally good as Birdie and Marilyn Monroe’s star quality is evident in an early role as Miss Casswell.
Many critics have made comparisons between Margo Channing with Norma Desmond in Billy Wilder’s classic Sunset Boulevard which was also released in the same year. However, both characters could not be more different.
Norma Desmond, memorably played by Gloria Swanson, is a demented former film star, whilst Margo Channing is still a respected actress of the theatre and is a more sympathetic character. Unlike Norma, Margo is surrounded by people who love her and care for her.
All About Eve is widely considered to be one of the greatest movies ever made and was one of the first films selected for preservation by the National Film Registry in the United States Library of Congress as “culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant”.
Receiving a then-record 14 Academy Award nominations and winning six, including Best Picture, All About Eve is a dazzling and devastating picture that fully deserves the huge critical acclaim it has received throughout the years.
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