The first Academy Awards were handed out way back in 1929, and in the ensuing 86 years myriad films have contended in various categories for that coveted golden statuette of Oscar. Each year when the nominations are announced, one of the big questions to be answered is which film garners the highest number of them. The record stands at 14, and only two films have the distinction of earning that many nominations. They are “Titanic” (1997) and “All About Eve” (1950), inarguably one of the finest motion pictures ever made, and it’s this week’s entry from The 10 File.
If there is such a thing as a perfect movie, this definitely is one of them. The acting, direction, and screenplay are all absolutely brilliant, and Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) are two of the most memorable characters in the history of cinema. This film is a prime example of how violence, sex, car, chases, explosions, and gun battles, need not be present to make a great film. This is the epitome of a character study, and nothing but stellar acting and an exceptional script completely carry the movie.
“All About Eve,” based upon the short story and radio play titled “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, centers around Margo Channing (Davis), a brilliant but aging Broadway actress, and her relationship with the people around her. As the film begins, we find ourselves in a banquet hall with the elite members and guests of the New York theater, and a voice-over by theater critic Addison De Witt (George Sanders) tells us why we are there.
“This is the dining hall of the Sarah Siddons Society. The occasion is its annual banquet and presentation of the highest honor our theater knows — the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement. The minor awards, as you can see, have already been presented. Minor awards are for such things as the writer and director since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. And no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington. Eve. But more of Eve later, all about Eve, in fact.”
Before going on to introduce some of the key characters in attendance at the event, De Witt tells us about himself.
“To those of you who do not read, attend the theater, listen to unsponsored radio programs, or know anything of the world in which you live — it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison De Witt. My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater.”
Finally the big moment arrives, the presenter calls Eve’s name, she approaches the podium, she reaches out for the award, the frame freezes, and De Witt’s voice-over resumes.
“Eve. Eve the Golden Girl, the Cover Girl, the Girl Next Door, the Girl on the Moon. Time has been good to Eve. Life goes where she goes. She’s the profiled, covered, revealed, reported. What she eats and what she wears and whom she knows and where she was, and when and where she’s going. Eve. You all know all about Eve. What can there be to know that you don’t know?”
From this point on the film is a flashback recounting how Eve began hanging around outside the theater where Margo was starring in a play until finally one night Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), Margo’s best friend and wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), discovers her and takes her to meet Margo.
After Margo hears Eve’s sad story, she decides to take the poor girl under her wing and give her job as her assistant. As the relationship between the two progresses however, things turn sour when Margo discovers that Eve is not who she appears to be. The result is a movie filled with riveting scenes made all the more memorable by the terrific acting in them. You will not find one weak link in this outstanding cast. Marlowe’s portrayal of Margo’s often frustrated playwright is consistently strong, and Merrill is superb as her usually exasperated boyfriend. (Incidentally, Davis and Merrill began an affair during the filming of the movie, and it culminated in a 10-year marriage.) The electricity between Merrill and Davis is incredible as you can see in the clip below.
The male actor who steals the show, however, is Sanders, who deservedly won the Oscar for best supporting actor. Addison’s outward poise and charm are a front for his real personality of a rattlesnake, and Sanders plays him perfectly. In the following clip, Addison crashes one of Margo’s parties, and note that his date, Miss Casswell, is Marilyn Monroe in one of her very early roles.
Like all the other actors in the film, Holm was perfectly cast as Karen, who is actually the nicest person in the entire movie and who is genuinely taken aback when she finally learns the truth about Eve.
This brings us to Baxter and Davis, both of whom are so exceptional in this movie that sufficient superlatives to describe them do not exist. Many believed Davis could not miss winning the Academy award for her portrayal of Margo, but it just so happened that Baxter also was nominated for best actress. What apparently happened is that the two of them canceled each other out in the voting, and so neither of them won. Actually they both should have received the honor. The clip below is an interview in which Davis spoke about playing Margo.
I cannot really recall how many times I have watched “All About Eve,” but I never get tired of it. And every time I watch it, I discover something new. If you’ve never seen it, treat yourself and watch it on Netflix. I guarantee that you want to see it again and again and that’s why it has a well-deserved place in The 10 File.