Wednesday, March 21, 2012

All About Eve (1950)

All About Eve is a movie about "the theatre," so appropriately it begins by introducing us to its players. Narrated by the esteemed theatre critic, Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), we meet the star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), the playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), the playwright's wife Karen (Celeste Holm), the producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff) and the director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill.) The quintet are seated around a table at the then-fictional yet prestigious award ceremony, the Sarah Siddons Society. But, moments later, we learn that the special honoree isn't any of the aforementioned characters. It's all about Eve.

Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is the one being honored, and she stands graciously and accepts the award, looking every bit like a star who has already received more glitz and glamour that one should receive in a lifetime. But the story isn't about Eve's award, but how she got to that award.

You notice my use of quotations around the word 'theatre,' and that is because the movie makes a point to glorify the concept of the theatre. Whenever the word is mentioned in the film, it is carefully enunciated, and spoken about as if it is some magical place that only a privileged few ever get to experience. Conversely, the word "Hollywood" is given the same connotation in the movie as if one was speaking about a junkyard.

And quickly, I wrote "then-fictional Sarah Siddon's Society" because, although Sarah Siddons was indeed a real actress, at the time the movie was made, no such society existed. However, two years later, the society was formed by prominent Chicago theatre patrons, stemming from the fictional society created in All About Eve.

But let's get back to to the movie. All About Eve centers around Bette Davis, who, as Margo Channing, represents an aging star. She's experienced nothing but success her entire life, but now she is 40-years-old and still playing roles of women who are almost 10 years her junior. She is very cognizant of this fact, but her closest friends -- who are also the coworkers I listed as her tablemates in the opening paragraph -- tell her of otherwise. Bill is her lover, and also her director. Lloyd writes the plays, and his wife, Karen, is also Margo's best friend.

But then one day, Karen meets Eve, and is immediately drawn to Eve's seemingly starstruck, humble and kind demeanor. When Eve says that she idolizes Margo, Karen arranges a meeting between the two. Right away, Eve allures Margo with a tragic tale that involves her late husband, and how Margo's play is the only thing that soothes her.

Bette Davis as Margo Channing in All ABout Eve.
Eve gives every indication that she is a pleasant, good-hearted and polite individual, and sensing this, Margo agrees to hire her as her personal assistant. However, it's a decision she soon comes to regret. Rather than an asset, Eve begins to turn into a parasite in Margo's mind. At first it's for subtle reasons; Eve is too organized, she's too likable. Things then take a turn for the worst when Eve worms her way into becoming Margo's understudy for her next play, and as it turns out, she's every bit just as good as Margo - only younger.

The true splendor of All About Eve resides in writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz's script. As far as screenwriting goes, it really doesn't get any better. The dialogue is so profound and poetic, that even though it not the typical dialogue you would ever hear any normal person utter, it's still succinct and forthcoming enough that you know exactly what the characters are saying -- and possibly even better. Mankiewicz's use of metaphors and deep sarcasm only help get his points across.

For example, with his script, you get lines like this one, from critic Addison DeWitt as he is describing his profession: "For those of you who do not read, attend the theatre, or listen to unsponsored radio programs or know anything of the world in which you live, it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and a commentator. I am essential to the theatre."

But for a script to excel, you need the actors to deliver it to perfection, and they do. As much as I lauded the script, you can say the same thing about the ensemble cast of Davis, Baxter, Morrell, Sanders, Marlowe and Merrill. The group was a large part of the film's 14 Academy Award nominations (five of which were for acting), the most ever, now tied with Titanic, which also received 14 in 1998.

Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders
Like Billy Wilder's Sunset Blvd., a film that was released the very same year as All About Eve, the film is about an aging actress trying to stay out of actor purgatory. That's Bette Davis, and she plays the part spectacularly. The movie also touches upon the poisonous combination of ambition and greed, and the lengths one will go to achieve stardom, which I have no doubt still relates today.

One may also note another cast-member, a 23-year-old Marilyn Monroe, playing a young actress who is trying to break into the business. This was a few years before she hit big time, and actually represented the first important role in her career. Unsurprisingly, she is gorgeous in the role, and it's interesting to see what she looked like so young in her career. Though her part is small, she holds up very well among her bigger-named colleagues, and ironically, ended up becoming the biggest star out of all of them.

But, what does that matter? Because that's in real life, and we are discussing the fictional -- yet very real -- depiction of the theatre that is presented to us in All About Eve. In a quarter over two hours, the film touches upon many subjects, but right from the opening scene, you know who the film is all about, and you'll remain interested until you see how it culminates.

~ Review by Ddubbs

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