All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards, a record that has not been beaten to this day (Titanic and La La Land both tied it). It won six Oscars including Best Picture and Best Actor for George Sanders. Today, many critics feel that Bette Davis would have won had Anne Baxter not lobbied so hard to be included in the Best Actress category (instead of Best Supporting Actress), thus splitting the votes between them and causing Judy Holiday to win for Born Yesterday. It is generally considered one of the greatest backstage movies of all time and regularly appears in lists of the greatest movies ever made.
I’d not seen it until this weekend when Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies presented it in a limited run on the big screen. I was also not all that familiar with Bette Davis work. I’m sure I’ve seen her in a movie or two, and certainly I know her name (and can’t stop singing that song whenever I hear it). After watching All About Eve, she’s rocketed into my list of actresses to pay attention to.
Davis plays Margo Channing, an aging Broadway star (and by “aging” I mean she’s just turned 40, which is closer to death on the stage – and Hollywood – than life). She’s currently starring in a successful play, Aged in Wood, by Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). She’s getting rave reviews and packed crowds but is concerned that she won’t be able to play these younger roles much longer.
One night. Lloyd’s wife and Margo’s dear friend Karen (Celeste Holme) brings beautiful ingenue Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) to meet Margo. Eve is a huge fan of Margo, having seen every performance of Aged in Wood, and her glowing praise of the aging star earns her a place in Margo’s entourage. Soon, the two become close friends with Eve becoming intricate to Margo’s daily life.
All goes well for awhile with Eve becoming the perfect friend and assistant but soon Margo begins to suspect that Eve wants more from her than the love of a celebrity. She wants to be that celebrity. She wants to become Margo. The tension this causes makes for quite a movie.
Bette Davis is fantastic. The way she can throw knives with her eyes is a thing of rare beauty. Anne Baxter gives a slightly subtler performance as the little girl with a sweet exterior but who will stop at nothing to achieve her dreams. Going into the film, I knew George Sanders won an Oscar for his performance but I wasn’t really sure who he played. At first, I figured he was either the boyfriend or the playwright, but somewhere in the middle I started really noticing the character of Addison DeWitt as the cynical critic who helps Eve with her goals but always with the knowledge of who she really is. Of course, he is played by Sanders and he deserves his award but it was kind of wonderful to come into it not knowing who he was and being utterly won over by the performance.
All About Eve is the sort of old Hollywood movie they could never make today. There is a stiltedness to the acting that wouldn’t work for today’s audiences. It’s the sort of film where when Margo delivers her famous “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” line she says it climbing a set of stairs, pauses, turns around, and performs those lines. It’s utterly unnatural and absolutely perfect.
All About Eve is a great film It was such a treat to see if get the big screen treatment. Ben Mankiewicz often delivers the introductions to these films on TCM and their monthly big screen screenings, but it was especially nice to see him talking about this film as it was his great uncle, Joseph L. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed it.