Bette Davis in All About Eve.
In 1950, after nearly twenty years in Hollywood, Bette Davis needed a hit movie badly. She had recently left her long time studio Warner Brothers and had reached the age when most actresses began playing supporting character roles. You can imagine her delight when she was offered the role of Margo Channing in Joseph L. Mankiewicz's backstage melodrama All About Eve. This would be the fifty-ninth and most celebrated movie of her legendary career, and with good reason. Not the least of which being the superb cast and the undeniable fact that All About Eve has the greatest dialogue ever written for a screenplay.
Poor Eve Harrington waits outside the theater hoping to catch a glimpse of her idol Margo Channing after every performance of 'Aged In Wood'. One day she is taken in to meet the star by the wife of the playwright. She quickly weasels her way into Margo's life becoming a trusted companion and all around girl Friday. Soon it becomes clear that Eve is far more ambitious and far less innocent than she pretends. By the time Margo realizes Eve's true nature she has already maneuvered her way into being hired as Margo's understudy. When Margo misses a matinee, Eve gives the performance of a lifetime, becoming the newest glittering star on the Great White Way.
The incredibly witty, highly theatrical dialogue works so well because the story takes place in the incredibly witty, highly theatrical world of the New York stage. The scene that best demonstrates this is the cocktail party. It features the best lines in the movie including Margo's iconic statement, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!" Later when she is in a drunken depression after too many martinis, acerbic theater critic Addison DeWitt tells her, "You're maudlin and full of self-pity. You're magnificent!" When playwright Lloyd Richards suggests they call it a night Margo snaps, "And you pose as a playwright. A situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of is everybody go to sleep." They just don't write dialogue like that anymore.
A young luminescent Marilyn Monroe adds to the luster of this screen gem. She plays an aspiring actress named Miss Caswell who also happens to be a bubble-headed blond. When she calls for a waiter during the cocktail party scene Addison corrects her saying, "That is not a waiter, my dear, that is a butler." Miss Caswell responds, "Well, I can't yell 'Oh butler!' can I? Maybe somebody's name is Butler." Without raising an eyebrow Addison replies, "You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point."
Like the stars, the supporting characters in All About Eve are all fully realized people demonstrating both good and bad qualities. Thelma Ritter is a stitch as Birdie, Margo's loyal servant and the only one able to see through Eve from the beginning. Gary Merrill plays director Bill Sampson. He also happens to be Margo's eight-years-younger boyfriend. Celeste Holm is perfectly charming as Margo's best friend Karen and the wife of playwright Lloyd Richards. She is in fact the one responsible for Eve's big break when she purposely strands Margo in a car that mysteriously runs out of gas, in an attempt to teach her sharp-tongued friend a lesson.
The fine acting, direction and script all add up to make this one of the few genuinely perfect movies. But in the final analysis the real credit for the enduring success of All About Eve is due Bette Davis. She IS Margo Channing. The way she holds a cocktail, smokes a cigarette and struts about commanding everyone's attention, and that inimitable hoarse voice she possessed all come together to make this a performance for the ages.
Marilyn Monroe and Addison DeWitt in All About Eve.
Patrick is exactly right. (Did I just write that?) This movie is filled with some of the greatest dialogue. My favorite line is when Eve wins an award and Margo tells her she can 'put it where your heart ought to be.'
Margo Channing is the greatest film diva, except for maybe Norma Desmond. She spouts lines with articulate arrogance. She is self assured and self centered. However, the genius of this movie is that even though Margo Channing is far from being a saint, it is Eve who is the real 'bitch' in the movie.
Monroe's career was both lucky and cursed to be in this movie. This would be her only film that ever had Oscar nominations in it. None of course for her. The role she plays in this movie is that of a starlet flirting and sleeping her way to stardom. This image would carry over to her real life. Whether she was really like that or not, this movie helped cement that image.
This is definitely a chick flick. All the good strong character's in the movie are women. The men are all secondary.
Of the few Bette Davis movies I have seen, this is the one I will always remember her the most from. Whenever someone mentions her name, I can see her standing there spouting her 'bumpy night' line or her sitting back stage with Celeste Holm eating up every one of Eve's lies.
Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in All About Eve.
This movie is a four star movie, there's no doubt about that, but only for one reason. As both Eric and Patrick mentioned, Bette Davis is fabulous in this role.
Where I disagree with them is in the dialogue. While there are some great lines, it's Davis' delivery that makes them so great. No one talks like that in real life and it takes a special talent to be able to say those lines and give them feeling. Davis brings all the experience of those 58 movies that came before this one, into the role of Margo, and makes them believable. In the hands of Anne Baxter however, the lines come out so monstrously melodramatic that it's unbelievable to me that so many people fall for her lies. Or as Addison DeWitt says in reference to Eve, "That I should want you at all suddenly strikes me as the height of improbability." To my mind, only Davis and George Sanders as DeWitt are capable enough of making this highly charged dialogue really work.
This is why I also feel the ending (the epilogue after the awards ceremony) of the movie is a bit weak. Without Bette in the final ten minutes or so, the movie lags. And the new ingénue, coming to Eve, as Eve came to Margo, is just a little too pat. Although it does lead to a nice shot of the ingénue standing in front of the mirrors that reflect her image into infinite, signifying all those girls who are standing in the wings ready to step on stage at any price.
Photos © Copyright 20th Century Fox (1950)