“All About Eve”: Classic Satirical Comedy of Manners, 1950

(lots of extras on this remastered version)

There is a lot to like, admire, and appreciate about this classic offering written and directed by Joe Mankiewicz. Winner of 6 AAs and Best Picture of the year, Eve continues as the definitive film about backstabbing, manipulation, and blackmailing in the (Broadway) theatre world. Ah, the subtle and not-so-subtle nasty things people will do to get to the top and be the centre of attention!

Margot, an aging sarcastic actress, is masterly played by Bette Davis in her best-ever role : “Fasten your seat-belts; it’s going to be a bumpy night”. Simultaneously nominated for Best Actress was Anne Baxter, who plays the innocent-surfaced, but treacherous understudy. (Both nominations cancelled each other out; Davis ought to have won methinks.)

George Sanders, in his personal best role, plays a witty, cynical, selfish, untrustworthy critic to a T. His scenes and narration are exceptional and he, deservedly, won a Best Supporting Actor AA.

Celeste Holm gives her best-ever performance as Karen, the continually meddlesome friend of Margot who also gets her own just deserts, deceived by Eve from beginning to end. She was nominated for Best Supporting Actress along with sharp-witted Thelma Ritter as Margot’s dresser. Two great performances which also cancelled each other out when the award was passed out.

The men in this film–Hugh Marlowe as the hot property playwright being wooed and Gary Merrill as Margot’s director-boyfriend–are equally outstanding and effective. This is truly an actors’ film with each star delivering quality performances they were never able to equal to top or even equal later in their careers. Only Marilyn Monroe in a funny perfectly-cast bimbo bit-part would go on to greater glory.

But none of this glorious acting and memorable cast would have been possible without Mankiewicz’s great lines and scenes. His skewering of the theatre world was spot-on and a concise social commentary on the many uses of people to get what they want. (He easily won for writing and directing that year.)

If I was to name a movie that shows how ‘mannerly’ and smoothly people can be to get what they want, I’d pick All About Eve. Nothing is what people say and do and there is a polite Macbethian quality to everything that unfolds in this plot. Sophisticated ‘snakes’ and gulled ones, indeed.

All About Eve still stands up in 2020 and is highly recommended. The most totally integrated, witty character study flick I can think of about ego and manipulation.

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