All About Eve (1950) 4.57/5 (1)
4.57/51

 

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Rating: The Good – 94.5
Genre: Drama
Duration: 138 mins
Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Stars: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders

One of the all time undisputed classics, All About Eve is a commanding achievement in acting, screenwriting, and direction. Joseph L. Mankiewicz builds a reflexive masterpiece of manipulation as everyone involved including the audience gets one put over them. The film opens with a near dreamlike introduction of the main players as the self-proclaimed esteemed theater critic, Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), begins narrating us through the who’s who of his beloved theater’s elite. Standing out is Bette Davis’ Margo Channing, the jewel in the crown of said elite and, of course, Ann Baxter’s Eve, the woman who has just usurped Margo’s position. From the inertia of this scene and the sardonic tone of DeWitt’s voice, Mankiewicz makes it clear to one and all that everything relevant to his story has already happened (well almost everything) and, therefore, the film must journey backwards to tell it. DeWitt is joined in his narration by Margo’s closest friend Karen (Celeste Holmes) who begins to recount her own part in this complicated tale and with it, we glide back to where it all began. Nine months earlier when Margo was on top of the world and when a lowly fan named Eve seemed to accidentally fall into her world. As the story unfolds we see how Margo, after initially developing a fondness for Eve, begins to suspect her of darker more competitive motives and how that realisation affects the relationships in her life.

There’s nothing about this film that isn’t operating on a sublime level. Introducing Eve with a simple but conspicuous shot of her gloved hands, we can tell that Mankiewicz has a powerful conviction as to how he wants to shoot this film and it never falters. This film has an immaculately polished feel which accentuates the otherworldly lives of society’s elite and, in its own way, explains how Margo’s world makes for such a powerful elixir to the likes of Eve. The sequence in which Margo takes the applause of her audience as the curtain comes down is the crowning moment of this approach thanks in no small way to Davis’ amazing awareness and ability to work with the camera. Of course, Davis is just a treat throughout the film and she seems to positively burst with personality regardless of whether her ego-maniacal Margo is on a charm offensive or just a plain old offensive. Baxter, on the other hand, trails a streak of poison through the picture, her character shifting from false deference and humility to ferocious self-promoter with a chilling menace. Mankiewicz gets the writing of Eve just right keeping the audience out of her plans for the first half of the film and, thereby, allowing the ruse to feel completely substantial. Only through Margo’s unraveling do we hone in on her Machiavellian plan and of course that puts us right in that same tense place which Margo occupies for the second half of the film. However, George Sander’s DeWitt comes off the most sinister and in one moment when he snaps Eve’s perspective into place, he delivers what must be one of most intimidating pieces of screen dialogue ever uttered and Sanders does it with an admirable if uncomfortable relish.

As good as its directing and acting are, its the dialogue made “of music and fire” and flush with double and triple meaning which is chiefly responsible for the success of All About Eve. It’s undeniably grandiose because it needs to be but, even still, it feels real and deeply revealing. Much of the film involves one character arguing with another and so intuitive are their words that we find ourselves drawn into these battles as if we’re sitting in the middle of it speechless and blushing. Such engagement is not the stuff of normal movies but of truly special film experiences.

With such technical and artistic power, All About Eve has earned a place in cinema history like only a few other films have. And like those films, it soars beyond those qualities and engages the audience in ways we are not normally treated to. All About Eve revels in the defiance of expectations as from scene one, Mankiewicz turns the tables on everything from the traditional introduction of his principal villain to his ultimate confirmation that there is always someone worse. He makes the audience part of that experience and with it part of the story and that’s about as magic as cinema gets.

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