In an attempt to become a movie buff, I'm watching every Best Picture winner ever. A daunting task for someone who hasn't even seen Jaws. To save you a ton of time, I’ll document my adventure here, and we can become movie buffs together.
All About Eve picked up six Oscars and was nominated for 14 (!), winning Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (also Joey), Best Sound Recording, and Best Costume Design for a Black and White Film (this was really a category). Though she didn’t win the Oscar, I was also really pumped to check out a movie with the legendary Bette Davis in it.
All About Eve follows Margo Channing (Bette Davis), an aging Broadway starlet who, at 40 and still playing characters in their 20s, is running on borrowed time. Margo’s entourage consists of her husband and director Bill (Gary Merrill), her friend Karen (Celeste Holm), and Karen’s husband and playwright Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe). One day, the group adds a sweet, charming young super-fan named Eve (Anne Baxter) who, at first, all the aforementioned characters adore.
What ensues is really two films.
The first half of the film is Margo Channing winging one snarling comment after another. To say Bette Davis’ performance is superb would be an undersell. She’s brash, sarcastic, hilarious and stings every character including herself. The film has the sharp, screwball-comedy dialogue of It Happened One Night, plus about 100 pounds of bitchiness. One line that endures is the classic, “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.” (This scene contains Marilyn Monroe’s first film appearance.) However, I felt at least a dozen lines easily topped that one. Today it plays even better. That early 20th-century, mid-Atlantic, “dah-ling” accent takes the pretentiousness to the top.
The second half of the film, is — warning, spoiler city — Eve being as conniving and manipulative as one could imagine. She uses every single person to catapult herself to stardom. Caught in the middle is Karen, who tries to be friends with both and winds up a pawn in Eve’s master plan. It’s delicious.
I could gush about the combination of punchy dialogue and deception that made this a Best Picture winner, but let’s talk about the legendary Bette Davis.
As mentioned, Margo is a fading actress, but Bette Davis actually was a fading actress. Sometimes it feels like she was playing Bette Davis, not Margo Channing. One monologue jumped out at me, especially after learning Bette Davis had a crumbling marriage to pair with her rocky career:
“Funny business, a woman's career — the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted.”
Insecurity is a huge part of her character, and here she lets her guard down just enough.
Another thing I couldn't help but notice is she really is about 40 in the film, but she looks 55.
But maybe she looks how you're supposed to look at 40, and we're just not used to that in these plastic surgery days.
Of course, there’s one aging truth that apparently hasn’t changed. I’ve heard many women say it, but not quite as wonderfully as Joseph Mankiewicz writes it and Bette Davis delivers it: “Bill's 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago, he'll look it 20 years from now ... I hate men.”
My only criticism of this film, and it's shared with all the films I’ve reviewed, is that the first half drags. Fun dialogue is great, and the story does build, but about 45 minutes in I found myself wondering when things were going to get moving. It’s not until the 1:20 mark that you get the feeling Eve’s up to something. Today’s movies try to drum up more drama early on. It’s probably a reflection of our generation’s impatience, and it’s tough to get used to that and then go backwards.
On the flip side, just when Eve is at her deceptive, turncoat best, the movie ends. It was getting all Hitchcock-y, and I wanted so much more. Anne Baxter’s performance should not be overlooked either, and both her and Davis were nominated for Best Actress.
If Baxter had been nominated for Best Supporting Actress, I can’t imagine her losing. She starts off almost painfully sweet and genuine, only to transforms all her body language into that of an evil genius. Her eyes in particular go from innocent to diabolic in one blink. She then proceeds to steamroll every character in the movie.
In 2013, does it hold up? Absolutely. The writing is tight. There’s a ton of drama, and just enough plot twists to keep you on your toes. The one-two punch of Bette Davis’s attitude and Anne Baxter’s deception couldn’t complement each other better. So far, it’s my favorite of the Best Picture winners. Just watch it, dah-ling.