All About Eve
(United States, 1950)
For some people, the perfect way to spend two hours in movie theater is to watch things blow up. For me, it's listening to words. (Observe my fondness for Eric Rohmer's films.) There's no easier way for a movie to captivate me than to provide a full plate of rich, witty dialogue. Physical battles are often boring, but verbal jousting matches, if written with flair, can be peerless. In the annals of motion picture history, few (if any) pictures can rightfully claim to offer better dialogue than All About Eve. Because of the script, this represents one of those movies I can watch repeatedly without ever becoming bored. And it doesn't hurt that the film also features the best performance of one of Hollywood's greatest screen personalities. Bette Davis is to All About Eve as Humphrey Bogart is to Casablanca (and neither of them was the director's first choice). In an era when dialogue has too often become a crutch to get us from one overproduced sequence to another, it's a pleasure to sit back and absorb what All About Eve has to offer. Joseph Mankiewicz may not be the most innovative director ever to make a motion picture, but the fruit of his efforts on this occasion is priceless.
Plot Summary (Spoilers Possible):
The storyline is simple, as befits a movie that's more about words, characters, and human motivation than about narrative. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is a Margo Channing (Bette Davis) groupie. She attends every one of Margo's Broadway appearances and hangs around outside of the theater in a trenchcoat. But she lacks the gumption to meet her idol until the day when Margo's friend, Karen Richard (Celeste Holm), brings her to Margo's dressing room. Margo takes an instant liking to younger woman, and a grateful Eve begins to act as an unofficial secretary for Margo. All goes well until Margo begins to suspect that Eve's ultimate goal isn't just to work for her, but to replace her. Margo's fears are justified when Eve makes a play for Margo's lover, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), and "steals" Margo's role in an upcoming play written by Karen's husband, Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe). Aside from Margo, the only one to see through Eve's façade is theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), but he has reasons of his own to keep silent.
All About Eve possesses one of the best screenplays ever to grace the silver screen. It also has one of the best performances by an actress in the history of Hollywood features. In fact, for nearly everyone involved in All About Eve (Marilyn Monroe excepted), this movie represented a career pinnacle. Writer/director Joseph Mankiewicz never came close to attaining this level again, and, while this was far from the final hurrah for Bette Davis, it was her last truly great role. However, considering how few people in Hollywood have been involved in a production this good, it's no shame to say they never again attained this kind of success. All About Eve is one of the '50s gems – a worthy holder of the 1951 Best Picture Oscar and a motion picture that, because of its priceless dialogue and unforgettable lead performance, will never lose its luster.
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