I recently participated in The Bishop Review’s Classic Movie Week segment (Which I highly recommend you check out whenever you get the chance), in which he had six other reviewers write guest reviews of films that are widely deemed as, you guessed it, classic. I chose All About Eve for my review, as I had not seen in in about eight years but remember enjoying it when I saw it. Now that I’ve seen it again, I can honestly say that I’ve never seen a film that earns the title of classic better than All About Eve does.
A successful theater actress takes on a young fan as an assistant and friend, only to realize that her motives are not as innocent or humble as it would appear. Over the course of several months, Eve (Anne Baxter) works her way into Margot Channing’s life, manipulating everyone around her until she is catapulted above Margot (Bette Davis) into stardom.
While the title might suggest that the film is “All About Eve”, it is anything but. Eve is surrouded by a cast of characters so rich and intriguing that the shy coquette is often overshadowed. Of that cast, it can be easily divided by the “normal” or “genuine” characters and the characters for which the entire affair is a game, with the normal characters being used as pawns to achieve victory. Of these normal characters, we have the central couple of Karen (Celeste Holme) and Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), the former of which is the most innocent pawn of them all. Less of a pawn is Margot’s lover; Hollywood director Bill Simpson. Bill’s relationship with Margot is one of the best representations of the struggle between reality and theater that the film so often attributes to the separation of actors and regular people. As a side note, Marilyn Monroe also appears in a glorified cameo that can’t help but feel like a crucial step in the evolution of the “dumb blonde” stereotype.
Then we come to the true players. While her awareness of the game is stronger than her ability to influence it, Bette Davis is absolutely spectacular. Apart from being given some of the best lines of the film (“Fasten your seatbelts, It’s going to be a bumpy night”), her descent into jealousy and paranoia is made all the more intriguing by the fact that her paranoia is absolutely deserved by Eve’s true intentions.
Eve herself is an absolutely fascinating character, and it’s a credit to Anne Baxter that she even made me believe her innocence for the first part of the movie. Every word that comes out of Eve’s mouth is poisoned honey, and when the sweetness is pulled back tor reveal the true deadly nature of her real self you can’t help but feel as impressed as you are hateful of her character.
Above all though, we have the shrewd, well-spoken BOSS that is Addison DeWitt (George Sanders, aka Shere Khan from The Jungle Book). DeWitt’s cultured speech and musings on the nature of theaterfolk in the voiceover of the film’s first scene makes it clear that he will end up being one of the most captivating characters of the film. However, it’s not until he makes Eve’s acquaintance that he really starts to assume that role, and by the final confrontation between he and Eve I found myself blown away by just how intelligently awesome his character is. There is very little that is more satisfying that watching a player get played, and DeWitt never lets you doubt that he is the strongest player of them all.
As a quick note, I’d just like to say how amazing the dialogue in this film is. Intelligent dialogue is something that thrived in movies from this time period, and while I know that some people might complain that normal people don’t talk that way and such intelligent dialogue detracts from the believability of a story, I would much rather watch smart, witty exchanges between characters than something that I might as well have heard on the street. The only people I can think of that continue this tradition today are the likes of Tony Kushner and Aaron Sorkin, the latter of which I am a huge fan of.
The Verdict: 5/5
+ Superb dialogue
+ Engrossing character dynamics
+ Great insight into the relationship between theater and real life
+ Just overall amazing