All About Eve: One of the Greatest Films Ever Made

Anne Baxter as Eve, Bette Davis as Margo, Marilyn Monroe as Miss Caswell and George Sanders as DeWitt in All About Eve. Courtesy of 20th Century Studios.

All About Eve features a trio of powerhouse performances from Oscar winners Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and Celeste Holm.

“Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” – Margo Channing (Bette Davis)

While Joseph L. Mankiewicz bookends the film with the fictitious Sarah Siddons Society honoring Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the film quickly jumps into her backstory. Mankiewicz presents Eve’s climb through the eyes of three different characters. Anyway, Harrington was a big fan of Channing and happens to encounter Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), who invites her backstage to meet the actress. Karen just happens to be Margo’s friend as well as the wife of Aged in Wood playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). Anyway, Eve tells them her story, which would move anyone. Margo decides to take her on as an assistant, much to Birdie Coonan’s (Thelma Ritter) dismay.

Margo becomes bitter towards Eve rather quickly. It doesn’t help that Eve is the one who telegrams and places a call to Margo’s boyfriend, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). If Margo had her way, producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff) would not have hired Eve as her understudy. Eve’s scene every performance after following Margo on tour from San Francisco all the way to New York. Outside of the show’s playwright and the cast, she knows this play like the back of her head. As Karen watches all of this happen, she comes up with a plan to give Margo the night off so Eve can perform in her place. One can argue that this is the inciting incident that would destroy friendships across the board.

Margo decides she’s too old for Lloyd’s next play so Eve ends up with the part. Meanwhile, Eve tells venomous critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) of her plan to marry Lloyd but this just results in the critic blackmailing the actress. He knows all about her lies. DeWitt is a a character that is as close to Mankiewicz as anyone in the film. He is basically standing in for the filmmaker and his views on theater. Meanwhile, Sanders went on to win an Oscar for his performance.

I love the reaction shots during the ceremony when Eve thanks Margo, Bill, Lloyd, and Karen at the end of the film. They are priceless! Imagine watching any awards ceremony where someone is not happy at being on camera. This is how sour Eve’s relationship has come by this point in time. Sure, she’s about to embark to Hollywood but she hurt the people who led her to this point. It’s also a reminder of why Mankiewicz is one of the greatest screenwriters of his time.

The icing on the cake, of course, is Phoebe (Barbara Bates) making her way into Eve’s apartment. Does Eve not realize that Phoebe is the new Eve? We’ll never truly know the answer because the film comes to an end. One could only imagine that Phoebe ends up becoming a bigger star and the cycle just continues on.

This film has just about everything anyone would want in a motion picture. Bette Davis needed this film at the exact moment that it came along in her career. If not for Claudette Colbert injuring her back shortly before filming, the eighteen-year Warner Bros. veteran might have never found herself in the role. She was only 41 at the time and despite her not talking to producer Darryl Zanuck for several years, Davis saved the film. In any event, Davis was playing a character who wasn’t much of a stretch from herself. In previous roles, Davis might have changed lines here and there but that didn’t happen here. It speaks to how perfect a screenplay that Joseph L. Mankiewicz had written.

Outside of Davis, Marilyn Monroe is another actress in the film playing a character, Claudia Casswell, in which art imitates life. Monroe’s character is a young starlet and seeks to advance her career by way of befriending powerful men in show business. The actress shows sparks of her talent even though she appears in minimal scenes.

Mankiewicz adapted the script from a 1946 Cosmopolitan short story, “The Wisdom of Eve,” by Mary Orr. In doing so, he draws from his own experiences and inserts them into the script. One such experience led to Bill reciting the following line, “Remember when I looked through the wrong end of a lens finder.” This happened to the filmmaker on the set of Dragonwyck per The Brothers Mankiewicz by Sydney Ladensohn Stern. It was his first time directing a film, too.

Then-Fox music director Alfred Newman handles scoring duties. His work would earn a nomination but he would lose to Franz Waxman’s score for the Billy Wilder film. In any event, Mankiewicz sent over a five-page memo to Zanuck and Newman about the score and what ideas he had for the film. Take Eve’s theme, for instance. There are several variations throughout the film. However, it comes through at the end of the film when Phoebe becomes the next version of Eve.

All About Eve won six Oscars out of a record 14 nominations. Since 1951, only two films have tied the film for nominations: Titanic and La La Land. There was a lot of drama during that year’s Best Actress race. It didn’t help the film that both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter were splitting the vote in the race. In theory, Baxter should have been submitted for Supporting Actress. Both actresses had to go up against Gloria Swanson, a silent star nominated for her comeback vehicle, Sunset Boulevard. Davis and Swanson went into Oscar night as the two leading favorites to win but it was Judy Holliday surprising everyone with her Born Yesterday win. To this date, no one else has matched Mankiewicz with consecutive wins for both writing and directing.

I make no apologies for being as late to All About Eve as I am. It’s been on my list going back to 2007, when I made my first AFI 100 Years spreadsheet. I meant to watch the film in 2020 but it didn’t happen. However, it’s airing tonight on TCM during their 31 Days of Oscar programming so I figured it was better late than never. Plus, there was the flash sale offered the other day through The Criterion Collection. Better late than never but what a bumpy night it was!

All About Eve proved to Hollywood that Bette Davis wasn’t ready to quit and it remains one of the greatest films ever made. When it comes to films about the entertainment industry, you won’t find ambition depicted any better than in All About Eve. And yet, both Sunset Boulevard and All About Eve will be intertwined forever.

CAST: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, with Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Walter Hampden

20th Century Fox released All About Eve in theaters on October 13, 1950. Grade: 5/5

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Danielle Solzman

Danielle Solzman is native of Louisville, KY, and holds a BA in Public Relations from Northern Kentucky University and a MA in Media Communications from Webster University. She roots for her beloved Kentucky Wildcats, St. Louis Cardinals, Indianapolis Colts, and Boston Celtics. Living less than a mile away from Wrigley Field in Chicago, she is an active reader (sports/entertainment/history/biographies/select fiction) and involved with the Chicago improv scene. She also sees many movies and reviews them. She has previously written for Redbird Rants, Wildcat Blue Nation, and Hidden Remote/Flicksided. From April 2016 through May 2017, her film reviews can be found on Creators.