31 Days, 31 Movies 12/21: All About Eve
It is insane to me that the most famous person today from the cast of this film is Marilyn Monroe. In a movie with Anne Baxter, George Sanders, and quite literally a generational talent in Bette Davis the most successful career 67 years later belongs to a woman who could barely play a bad actor well. The on screen partnership for Bette Davis that has gone down in the history books is her performance alongside Joan Crawford in the infamous What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (not for nothing Feud is a great watch). But her performance across Anne Baxter in All About Eve is definitely deserving of a mention in the conversation.
Released right at the height of the studio system era All About Eve is a textbook golden age success story. A screenplay by accomplished writer Joseph Mankiewicz, based on a short story by Mary Orr, “The Wisdom of Eve.” At this point Mankiewicz, who also directed the film, had cut his teeth on some decent scripts. But it was his success on All About Eve that would that really jump started his career, he would go on to write and direct Julius Caesar, The Barefoot Contessa, and Guys and Dolls. But as All About Eve tells us in its opening monologue, the golden age of Hollywood is built on stars and nothing else, and Bette Davis is nothing if not a star. Her performance as Margo Channing, a successful stage actress who alienates her friends and loved ones when she grows paranoid about the young ambitious actress. Davis plays the role perfectly, watching her descend slowly into a madness brought about by being the only one who sees the insidious ambition in Eve Harrington until it’s too late. Anne Baxter plays the innocent girl turned villain well also, the scene when she tries to seduce Bill after her performance is impossible to look away from in the best way.
Few films from 1950 can claim to have aged as well as All About Eve. The script is just as witty today as it was over a half decade ago. “Read my column the minutes will move like hours,” is an incredible piece of writing that surpasses many movies even today. Margo Channing’s character remains a great satire and comedic figure and at times is even a poignant commentary on the way that aging actresses are treated and how women in Hollywood are pitted against each other and abused by the men around them. Even if I had to bet that most of the social commentary is more an addition of hindsight than it was an intentional choice by Mankiewicz. The final scene between Eve and Addison has a much different significance in 2017 than it would have in 1950.
Witty, funny, and culturally significant, All About Eve is a classic that holds up to the label. An amazing cast given an expertly written script leads to some career performances across the board especially from Anne Baxter who gives Bette Davis a run for her money. Mankiewicz’s work behind the camera is nothing remarkable but it is competent enough to allow space for his stars to craft this movie into something special.