In our celebrity-obsessed culture, it’s possible that All About Eve is more important than ever. Scratch that. How about it’s more entertaining than ever? It’s debatable whether Eve has ever been an important movie, at least outside of its place in film history, but the one thing it’s always been is entertaining. That this 60-year-old film can still amuse, enlighten, move and make us cackle in our living rooms all these years later isn’t something to be dismissed, nor is its Oscar track record for that matter. Until the release of Titanic, it held the record for the most Academy Award nominations with 14; now the two films are tied in that department. All About Eve went on to win six of those awards, including Best Picture, Best Director and Best Screenplay. More on Eve and the Oscars later.
The movie traces the calculated theatrical rise of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), as she lies, backstabs and claws her way to the top. She starts out claiming to be nothing more than a fanatic for celebrated stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), whose life she quietly insinuates herself into, but soon she becomes Margo’s personal assistant, and she doesn’t stop there. No, not Eve; she’ll do whatever it takes to become Margo, or at least someone very much like her. There are obstacles in Eve’s way, however – theatre folk she must navigate her way through in order to attain her goals.
She must gain the trust of Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), the playwright who pens the productions Margo stars in; Lloyd she must merely impress. Then there’s Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill), the director and Margo’s steady. Bill’s a little trickier than some of the others. He isn’t wowed by Eve in the same way everyone else seems to be. And finally, there’s Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), the acerbic theatre critic who knows and sees all. In one of the film’s most powerful scenes, DeWitt steadily unloads on Eve: “Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on? That you have the same contempt for me as you have for them? Look closely, Eve. It's time you did. I am Addison DeWitt. I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.”
All About Eve is loaded with some of the most incredible dialogue ever written for a film. Were it all broken up and used in little chunks in 30 other screenplays, they’d all be elevated from average to memorable. Instead, it’s all here in this one movie, and nary a line is wasted on words trivial. The actors chew on the English language and spit it back out for our pleasure. It’s fitting that a movie about people who devote their lives to the craft of theatre should be such an actor’s piece. While nobody can accuse writer/director Joe Mankiewicz of not knowing his way around a camera, he’s clearly not obsessed with creating fanciful shots that distract from the real star of the film, which is his screenplay.
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