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With: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe, Thelma Ritter
Written by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr
Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
MPAA Rating: Unrated
Running Time: 138
Date: 10/13/1950

All About Eve (1950)

4 Stars (out of 4)

'About' Faces

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

Few Best Picture Oscar winners hold up over the years, and fewer still are as beloved as All About Eve (1950), which opens today at the Castro Theater and runs through Thursday in a sparkling new print. It's one of the few winners in that category that's not about war veterans, alcoholics or idiots. Instead, it's about the glory of acting.

Still, All About Eve has its detractors. Some critics reviled it, calling it nothing more than a stagy, talky theater piece. What's worse, writer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz rarely achieved its equal in his long Hollywood career (The Late George Apley anyone?). But seen today, All About Eve cannot fail to bring joy to anyone who watches it. It's too smart and too well made to brush off.

Bette Davis stars in her greatest role as Margo Channing, the queen of Broadway, playing the lead in Aged in Wood, directed by her beau Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) and written by Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). Margo's best friend is Lloyd's wife, Karen (Celeste Holm) and her dresser is the wise and wisecracking Birdie (beautifully played by the wonderful Thelma Ritter). Into this comfortable little circle wanders Eve (Anne Baxter), a stage-struck girl with stars in her eyes who idolizes Margo. Before long, Eve worms her way into Margo's life, siphoning Margo's star power onto herself like a parasite.

Mankiewicz keeps the material moving with his clever staging and subtle moods. Davis and Baxter overplay their roles ever so slightly, but in different directions. Margo is the diva, huge and uncontrollable, throwing tantrums and fits. Eve crawls inside herself, apologizing for her every move and overcompensating with grating politeness. These two performances bookend the film, while the other actors, including George Sanders and Marilyn Monroe (in a delicious tiny role), play it straight and level. Incidentally, Davis and Baxter were both nominated for Best Actress, but lost to Judy Holiday for Born Yesterday.

Mankiewicz' lovely dialogue rings so clearly that we barely even notice that the movie takes place on only a few sets. He moves his camera around, closing or opening up the space as needed. One conversation takes place on Margo's staircase, with five characters crammed together. Another great scene consists of a long argument between Margo and Bill on the stage of the theater. As the argument moves along, Mankiewicz guides them onto a prop bed and the rest of the stage practically melts away. When the time comes for Davis to utter her famous line, "Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night," Mankiewicz gets her alone, moving her away from the crowd of people she was talking to and elevating her in the room by having her stand on the staircase. It's the equivalent of a baseball player gesturing toward the back of the stadium just before slamming a home run.

All About Eve is a home run all the way. For those who consider the film "stagy" and not "visual" enough, feast your eyes upon that great final shot. As Eve returns to her apartment after winning her award, she finds an even younger, stage-struck girl (Barbara Bates) there. Without Eve's knowledge, the girl dons Eve's elegant cape, and holds the award in front of a multiple-way mirror, which Mankiewicz zooms in on and expands into infinity.

Fox's 2011 Blu-Ray release comes with a commentary track by Celeste Holm, Christopher Mankiewicz and Kenneth Geist (author of Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Times of Joseph L. Mankiewicz), a second audio commentary track by Sam Staggs (author of All About "All About Eve"), an episode of "AMC Backstory," vintage interviews with Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, 4 Movietone Newsreels, a restoration demonstration, a trailer and optional French and Spanish language tracks, optional English and Spanish subtitles, and more.

In 2019, the Criterion Collection released a glorious new Blu-ray, mostly similar to the Fox edition, but with many more extras (on a second disc). The Criterion disc includes the same two commentary tracks, but the second disc includes a feature-length documentary about director Mankiewicz, a new interview with costume historian Larry McQueen, episodes of The Dick Cavett Show from 1969 and 1980 featuring actors Bette Davis and Gary Merrill, other featurettes, a Bette Davis promo, and a radio adaptation. The liner notes booklet includes an essay by film critic Terrence Rafferty, as well as a copy of the original short story, The Wisdom of Eve. It doesn't include some of the extras from the Fox disc, so true fans will want to own both.

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