Friday, June 10, 2011

ALL ABOUT EVE: How Do You Like Those Apples, Eve?

The Antoinette Perry Awards, a.k.a. the Tony Awards, are taking place this coming Sunday, June 12th, 2011 (easy for me to remember, since the Tonys are always awarded sometime around my birthday :-))! What better film to write about this week than All About Eve (AAE)? Writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s wickedly witty, silkily cynical, sumptuously sophisticated comedy-drama, based on Mary Orr’s story and radio play “The Wisdom of Eve,” is one of the juiciest, most entertaining films about show business ever made. The movie begins with a close-up on an award trophy, described in voice-over by theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders, the King of Suave himself, at his droll, unflappable best in the role he was born to play) as the “highest honor our theater knows: the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement.” By the way, although Sarah Siddons was indeed a much-admired Welsh stage actress, Mankiewicz in fact created the award itself specifically for AAE. Life imitated art in 1952 when a group of eminent Chicago theater-goers began giving notable Chicago actors an award modeled on and named after the one in the film. Need I say that AAE stars Bette Davis and Celeste Holm were eventually among the Sarah Siddons recipients? I wonder why they didn't use the Tony for Eve’s triumph, though? After all, it had been around since 1947. Rights issues, maybe? But I digress….

In flashbacks, we see how well-meaning Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of Broadway playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), found young Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter, who’d won a Best Supporting Actress Oscar for 1946’s The Razor's Edge), a down-on-her-luck fan and hopeful ingénue, waiting outside the stage door night after night for a glimpse of her idol, Broadway diva Margo Channing (the one and only Bette Davis). Once Karen brings Eve inside Margo's dressing room after a performance of her current hit play, Aged in Wood, Eve is encouraged to relate her poignant story to them: she was an only child who loved acting and make-believe. She grew up to be a secretary in a Milwaukee brewery who fell in love and married a radio technician named Eddie, only to lose him as a casualty of World War 2. Since then, Eve’s only joy has been going from city to city to watch Margo’s plays from the cheap seats. In today’s stalker-centric age, many folks might find that kinda creepy, but in the innocent early 1950s, who could resist a sweet, lonely, self-deprecating waif who loves the theater so? Almost everyone in the room is moved to tears by Eve’s life story except Margo’s tart-tongued dresser Birdie (Thelma Ritter, one of Team Bartilucci’s faves from Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window and so many others), whose assessment comes off as a tad cynical: “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.” But even the jaded Margo is touched by Eve’s poignant tale, taking “the kid” under her wing and into her home as her assistant. Ah, but who’s really being taken in?

As theater diva Margo Channing stands next to a caricature of the Southern belle she plays in her current Broadway smash Aged in Wood, she’s stunned when theater critic Addison DeWitt informs her that her adoring young fan/assistant/protégée Eve Harrington has insinuated herself into yet another aspect of Margo’s life. It seems Eve has become Margo’s new understudy, and her line readings are, as Addison puts it, “full of fire and music.”  Oh, yeah, that’s just what an insecure Broadway diva of a certain age wants to hear!  
Margo and her Broadway pals shouldn’t have been so quick to scold Birdie. As AAE continues on its merrily jaundiced way, it becomes increasingly clear that fresh-faced ingénue is Eve is more like that tempting snake in the Garden of Eden. As New York Times film critic Bosley Crowther said in his 1950 review, “the self-seeking, ruthless Eve (makes) a black-widow spider look like a lady bug.” Baxter’s subtle transformation from seemingly selfless sweetheart to ruthless predator is magnificent, with that throb in her smoky voice and that figurative stiletto in her dainty hand.

Superb though Baxter is, I must admit I was particularly touched by Davis’s performance as Margo, whose imperiousness and diva demeanor mask her heartbreaking insecurity. Margo’s constantly worried that her lover, director Bill Sampson (played with no-nonsense charm and sympathy by Gary Merrill, who became Davis’s real-life husband for the next ten years), who happens to be eight years Margo’s junior, will leave her for a younger woman. Of course, Eve would be only too happy to fill Margo’s shoes in every aspect of her life! You want to smack Margo one minute for having temper tantrums and making cutting remarks that only make it easier for Eve to slither in with her soothing pseudo-sympathy and forward passes, yet you can’t help wanting to hug and comfort Margo once you remember all the cracks beneath her armor (shown here in a lovely scene where Margo lets her hair down). Davis has her signature delivery and gestures, yet her portrayal of Margo never turns into caricature. By turns, she’s poignant, powerful, and self-deprecatingly witty. Davis had always claimed she based her portrayal on the great Tallulah Bankhead, but I strongly suspect there’s plenty of Davis herself in there, too, and it works beautifully. Oh, and that actress playing stage hopeful Miss Caswell from “The Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts” who was reluctant to call the party waiter “butler…somebody’s name might be ‘Butler’” was quite the scene-stealer, too. Maybe you’ve heard of her—a cute blonde starlet named Marilyn Monroe? According to the IMDb, audiences got a taste of budding star Monroe in several films that year: AAE, The Asphalt Jungle, A Ticket to Tomahawk, Right Cross, and The Fireball—busy gal, and rightly so!

Watching AAE multiple times is just as fun as watching the film for the first time, if not more so! Once you’re onto Eve, AAE is like watching one of Alfred Hitchcock’s wittier thrillers, with a soupcon of Barbet Schroeder’s 1992 suspenser Single White Female. We see the calculated scheming hiding behind Eve’s gimlet eyes while those poor jaded theater folk are lulled into trusting this alleged innocent. Once we viewers realize the truth about Eve, we want to yell warnings to Margo: “Run, Margo! The little bitch is trying to kill your career, not to mention your happiness!” Wow, Hitchcock’s Stage Fright should have been like this!

Every character in this scintillating Broadway satire gets a chance to shine and a kick in the ego to one degree or another. Each line of dialogue sparkles, including Davis’s immortal “Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” In fact, it’s another one of those great movies in which writing down all of the stars’ best lines would result in me transcribing pretty much the whole damn script! AAE won six out of its record-setting 14 Oscar nominations, including Best Picture, Best Costume Design for the ever-awesome Edith Head (black-and-white division), Best Director and Best Screenplay for Mankiewicz, Best Sound, and last but far from least, Best Supporting Actor for George Sanders. (Fun Fact: The all-time Best Picture Oscar-nominee runners-up to date are 1939’s Gone with the Wind and 1953’s From Here to Eternity with 13 nominations each.)

I only wish everyone else nominated for acting awards in the film could have won, too, even if it would’ve meant ties for Best Actress nominees Davis and Baxter as well as Best Supporting Actress nominees Thelma Ritter and Celeste Holm. The Academy ought to institute some kind of Best Ensemble Cast Oscar, like they have at the Screen Actors Guild awards. To be fair, I can’t complain about the wonderful actors who did win: Best Actress Judy Holliday for Born Yesterday, and Best Supporting Actress Josephine Hull for Harvey. Tough choices that year, with other worthy Oscar nominees including Sunset Blvd., The Third Man, Adam’s Rib, Father of the Bride, and King Solomon’s Mines; we need more Oscar years like that!


  1. Fun Fact from the IMDb that should interest fellow theater fans on this Tony Awards weekend: In 1970, Team Bartilucci fave Lauren Bacall played Margo Channing in APPLAUSE, the Broadway musical version of ALL ABOUT EVE. A made-for-TV version of APPLAUSE aired in 1973. When Bacall eventually left the Broadway production, guess who stepped into the role? Anne Baxter, the original Eve herself!

  2. This is one of my favorite movies from Joseph L. Mankiewicz of course :) It's soooo good, and so well acted, I love the casting, from Bette to George Sanders. Great review, I loved the bit about the Sarah Siddons Award!

  3. Loved the review and the interesting trivia surrounding it. AAE is a timeless classic and one of my favorite movies. There never was, and there never will be, another like it!

  4. Clara, I'm pleased that you enjoyed my ALL ABOUT EVE review and the accompanying trivia! Glad to you're a Joseph L. Mankiewicz fan; it's further proof that you're a young lady of great taste and breeding! :-) I enjoyed your DRAGONWYCK review over and left you feedback over at VIA MARGUTTA 51, too.

  5. Hey, GMen, great to see you dropping by TotED to weigh in on ALL ABOUT EVE! I'm delighted that you enjoyed my blog post as well as the movie itself. I agree with you wholeheartedly about this rare gem of a movie. Thanks for joining the conversation!

  6. Who doesn't love "All About Eve"? It's a 5-star platinum classic featuring one of the great Bette Davis's finest performances (for which, perhaps, she should've shared the Best Actress Oscar with fabulous Judy Holliday). But, among other things ...I'm also lovin' your lissome alliteration, luv!!!!

  7. Eve, thanks for your perky praise of my antic alliteration! I'm glad you're a nicer Eve than a certain Miss Harrington! :-) I agree, it would have been been wonderful if Bette Davis and Judy Holliday could have shared the Best Actress Oscar. So many talented people and great films up for Oscars that year, and only a finite amount of awards to go around -- ah, sometimes it's either feast or famine. It's always great to have you join in the conversation, Eve; feel free to drop by any time!

  8. We interrupt this TotED ALL ABOUT EVE blog post to bring you this special bulletin: I just returned from seeing Woody Allen's MIDNIGHT IN PARIS as part of my "birthday tour," and I must say it's vaulted into the Top 5 of my favorite Woody Allen comedies! Owen Wilson makes a delightful Woody manque, and his fellow DARJEELING LIMITED co-star Adrien Brody steals his scenes as young Salvador Dali Dali, trying to explain Surrealism to Wilson. Incidentally, Brody has the neat Continental-looking mustache here, not the wild-and-crazy looking 'stache Dali sported in later years. Brody looks yummy and has such a flair for comedy; it's nice to see him get to show off his funny side. Anyway, MIDNIGHT IN PARIS is a delight, and I strongly suggest it for Allen fans and date nights with a breezy yet smart romantic comedy!

  9. Dorian, a great review. (Are you getting bored hearing me say this week after week? Ha!)

    In truth I haven't seen this film in ages, but I do have fond memories of it. And your review has nudged me to put it on my Netlix queue for viewing in the near future. Yes, great cast, I agree. Even the stiff that is Hugh Marlow plays tolerable in this. That line Thelma Ritter delivers about Eve's waif routine is SO right on the money. Nothing gets by La Ritter. HA!

    Dorian I read your two part review from last year re, the 'homage' film STILL OF THE NIGHT starring Roy Scheider and Meryl Streep and since I'd never seen the film, I can't really add much to what you talked about except that yeah, I got the idea that the film was a somnambulist's 'dream' just from your take on it.

    Obviously I'm prepared to talk about a film I haven't seen, but what else is new? Look, I like Roy Scheider much as the next gal (or guy) but here's my take on him: He never connects with his leading ladies. Never did. (With a shark, maybe, but never with a breathing human woman.) Not that I can remember anyway. I only ever saw him in one movie in which he gave me that old 'black magic feeling that he did so well' - it was a film based on a book, something about the death and life of Sheila Levine - something or other like that. Can't remember. It was about a klutzy and unbeautiful, young Jewish woman who moves to NYC to make her way in the world and she falls instantly in love with Roy Scheider's character who is some glamorous sort of older man...jeez, wish I could remember. Maybe he played an actor? Anyway he was the smug beau of Sheila's way more beautiful friend. Any of this sound familiar? Anyway, that's the only film in which Scheider made me look at him with a wicked eye.

    So when I hear that he is less than sensational as a leading man with Meryl Streep who, much as I love her to pieces (she's my favorite actress then and always), I am very less than surprised.
    She needs a colorful leading man. Yeah, she does. She needs someone who'll give her a bit of pizzazz.

    Anyway, don't want to run on too long, but, you did bring up this film. :)

    Not much I can say about the direction since I'm not all that familiar enough with Benton and the rest, don't even think I ever saw KRAMER VS. KRAMER.

    The screenplay of SOTN as you describe it though, sounds just plain awful. I wonder though if Brian DePalma couldn't have made something of it. Knives and such sounds right up his dark alley.

    If you were put in charge of the film, Dorian, I know you would do a great job of it, but really, why would you want to? Wouldn't you rather write your own original film homage to Hitchcock? Let's face it, SOTN sounds like a flip flopping fish gasping its last on a rickety old dock.

    I'd vote for Adrien Brody at any rate. But then, I'd vote for Adrien Brody in just about anything. HA!

    Sorry I ran on so, but didn't know where else to post my comments re SOTN. ;)

  10. Meant to mention this interesting post by Robin, one of my favorite bloggers over at his blog, BETTER LIVING THROUGH BEOWULF. (Don't you love that title?)

    He talks about ALL ABOUT EVE and makes the comparison to John McCain and Sarah Palin - the Presidential race of recent memory. Don't know if it works or not, but it's a fun to read and ponder.

  11. Yvette, thanks for your recommendation of BETTER LIVING THROUGH BEOWULF -- the title alone makes me love it already, and I look forward to reading it!

    Thanks, too, for weighing in on my 2010 two-part blog post on STILL OF THE NIGHT! While I liked the late Roy Scheider more than you do, you were nevertheless on-target overall in your smart, witty response. To be fair, Scheider had a quirky kind of romantic chemistry with the equally quirky Janet Margolin in Jonathan Demme's 1979 Hitchcock homage LAST EMBRACE, though even I admit it had its flaws. Scheider sure looked dashing in that cream-colored suit, though! :-) Wanna know more? Here's a link:

  12. Sorry for running long on your comments page, Dorian. But you get me started on actors and movies and I just run amok. Apologies.

    I found the movie with Roy Scheider that had lapsed from my memory: SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (1975). From the book by Gail Parent. It starred Jeannie Berlin who, I think, is Elaine May's daughter. Anyway, I'm getting the urge to see this again to see if what I remember of Scheider as the 'impossible' love interest still works for me. He wears a dashing overcoat in this one as well. :)

    And yes, I was right, he does play an actor in this film.

    I remember this movie as being a sort of SEX AND THE CITY/Chick-Lit type thing.

    I will definitely check THE LAST EMBRACE, just to see what's what.

    Okay, stop me before I post on this topic again. HA!

  13. This was a very interesting film. It's fascinating to consider that this was only one of three films that were released the same year that dealt with Hollywood actresses past their prime. The other two were:

    -Hollywood Boulevard
    -Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?

    The last one is my personal favorite. It's chilling to watch, even by today's standards!

  14. Yvette, no apologies are necessary. I love it when you and other folks reading TotED get caught up in the excitement of talking about movies -- that's why we're all here! :-) Whatever you want to chat about, you go right ahead; your blog posts and responses are always smart and entertaining!

    Thanks for jogging my memory about the movie version of Gail Parent's novel SHEILA LEVINE IS DEAD AND LIVING IN NEW YORK (and yes, star Jeannie Berlin was indeed Elaine May's daughter). It was kinda the SEX AND THE CITY of its day, except that Sheila was more self-loathing. I remember my dear independent mom reading it and complaining about what a whiner Sheila was. :-) I look forward to any remarks you care to make regarding LAST EMBRACE!

  15. Nate, I agree that 1950 seemed to be the year of movies about actresses in crisis. I must confess I always have a hard time sitting through all of ...BABY JANE, well-acted and overall well-done though it is. It's both intense and darkly funny, but I'm always relieved when it's over. Maybe it works TOO well for me! :-) However, my husband Vinnie loves it. But, um, I think maybe you meant to say SUNSET BOULEVARD, not HOLLYWOOD BOULEVARD. Easy mistake to make, with so many memorable movies about Hollywood has-beens going around the bend mentally! :-)

  16. Gah! Of course, of course....

    Anyhow, those three films are towering classics. But I think that I appreciate Baby Jane the most because of its ability to thrill and startle with no blood or gore. The horror is all in the acting.

    "It's time for your din-din!"

    If you've seen that film before, that line will give you CHILLS! It should be studied as a way to scare audiences WITHOUT relying on over-the-top violence.

  17. Great post (again!), Dorian, and amen. As far as I'm concerned, when it comes to movies about the theater, there is All About Eve...and everything else. But you know -- and I almost hate to say this -- the one performance that has never worked for me is Anne Baxter's. It's always seemed obvious to me from the word go that she's shoveling it on mighty thick. I am assured that this was not the case with audiences in 1950, and that when Eve showed her true colors (in the powder room scene with Celeste Holm) the gasp from the audience really sucked the air out of the auditorium. Still, I've always kinda wished Darryl Zanuck had put his foot down and insisted on Jeanne Crain (less of an actress, but a more artless waif). As for the best actress Oscar that year, (and like you, meaning no disrespect to Judy Holliday) I'm still waffling between Davis and Gloria S. in Sunset Blvd.; I guess it depends on which one I've seen most recently. Glad I didn't have to commit to a vote back then.

    Finally, just FYI, a couple of trivia notes: Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? also got 13 Oscar noms; and What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? didn't come out until 1962.

  18. Dorian,
    This film has gotten a lot of love lately and deservedly so. The film is fantastic from beginning to end. I adore George Sanders and he was at his best as the smarmy DeWitt. I loathed Ann's character so she did her part pefectly.

    Many years ago I read an interview in Vanity Fair I believe, of Celeste which was really interesting in that she shared how horrible her relationship was with Bette during filming and how badly she treated her behind the scenes. With all of the drama then Bette's relationship with Merrill I can only imagine the atmosphere.

    This was a really enjoyable review and the trivia was a nice bonus. My favorite scene is the one where Bette and George are at dinner and she's so mad she bites into that onion. Perfection!

    Well done as always,

  19. Jim, thanks for your praise of my ALL ABOUT EVE post! Thanks, too, for setting me right on your trivia notes; my head is so full of movie lore, even I lose track of the specifics after a while! :-)

    Your remarks about Anne Baxter's portrayal of Eve (SPOILER...or should we say "Gertrude"? ;-)...) put a smile on my face, because it reminded me of my late mom. You see, Mom was a beautiful woman inside and out, loved by all. Nevertheless, like Addison DeWitt, Mom was nobody's fool. She began working as a model in her teens to escape an abusive home life, so although she was a kind, loving person, she was no simpering pushover! Mom soon learned what a cutthroat business modeling could be, but she was smart enough to figure out how to triumph over the bad apples without becoming one herself. So when Mom went with a date to see ALL ABOUT EVE when it opened in 1950, she was the only one in the audience who WASN'T shocked to discover Eve's true colors; she just smiled and nodded knowingly! :-)

  20. Page, I'm delighted that you enjoyed my factoid-filled blog post about ALL ABOUT EVE -- thanks a million! I particularly remember that VANITY FAIR issue with the AAE piece because my dear late mom not only subscribed to it, she also took out a subscription for me because she knew I enjoyed the movie-related articles (not to turn this into a special "Mom" issue of TotED; it's just that she was a positive influence on me, as all moms should be! :-)). I'm tempted to start a new catchphrase here at Team Bartilucci H.Q.: "I'm so mad I could eat a whole raw onion!" :-)

  21. Dorian,
    Thanks for sharing that memory about your mom. If it weren't for my moms love of classic film and watching them with her as a little girl I would have never started collecting or have the love that I have for old cinema now. If only the younger generations would develop an interest so long after we are gone blogs like these will still flourish and TCM will continue to have an audience.

    I love your idea of a new catchphrase. It's perfect!

  22. Page, I agree wholeheartedly! We parents (and other fine influential grownups :-)) must teach kids not only about the major essentials of life, but also the smaller essentials that make life happier, like movies. Our family loves to share wonderful movies that our daughter and young cousins can grow up loving and eventually sharing with their own families. When I meet kids, teens, and young adults who've fallen in love with classic movies, it brightens my day -- there's hope for the world! :-)