All About Eve won the Oscar for Best Motion Picture of 1950, and was nominated in a total of fourteen categories, a feat which remained unequalled until Titanic in 1997 and still has not been beaten. It won five other Oscars: George Sanders won Best Supporting Actor, Joseph L. Mankiewicz won for both Best Director and Best Screenplay, and it also got Best Costume Design – Black and White and Best Sound Recording. All four female leads were nominated (the only time this has ever happened), Anne Baxter and Bette Davis for Best Actress and Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter for Best Supporting Actress, but none of them won. The other contenders for Best Motion Picture were Born Yesterday, Father of the Bride, King Solomon’s Mines and Sunset Boulevard.
All About Eve is actually top of the IMDB popularity vote for films of 1950, and is fourth on the number of votes metric after Sunset Boulevard, Rashomon and Disney’s Cinderella. Cinderella, which got three Oscar nominations but no awards, was the only other film from that year that I had seen before this, though I have since also watched Destination Moon (which comes in 32nd on both IMDB metrics). All About Eve is one of the few Best Picture winners that also has a 100% score on Rotten Tomatoes (the other two that I’ve seen so far are Rebecca and All Quiet on the Western Front). Here’s a modern trailer:
This is another one of those films I had not heard of before starting this project. It’s the story of an aging actress who is flattered by attention from a young fan, but then alarmed when the younger woman starts to infiltrate her professional and personal life. I liked it immensely, and it’s going near the top of my list, ahead of Hamlet from two years ago and just behind The Best Years of Our Lives from two years before that.
Whitewashing: To start with the negative, and it’s the usual story, there are only two or three black people visible in the entire film, a passer-by and two non-speaking cast members at the far end of a curtain call in a theatre scene (one of whom may be the same person as the passer-by, whose face we cannot see). This in a film set largely in New York theatre-land. (At least The Great Ziegfeld, back in 1936, actually had two black speaking parts even if they were rather awful; The Broadway Melody in 1929 was completely white.)
That’s the downside. There are lots of upsides. To start with, this was one of Marilyn Monroe’s first screen roles; she has only a small part, as an actress who is rising through the ranks, but already the camera loves her. George Sanders’ character, Addison DeWitt, actually says, “I can see your career rising in the East like the Sun”.
Although the film is dominated by the two leads, Bette Davis as Margo and Ann Baxter as Eve, there’s a good sense of ensemble from the cast and some nice camerawork pulling it together. I love the stairs set with Marilyn, above, and these two shots looking in different directions from the same scene in Margo’s dressing room, with first Gary Merrill as Margo’s boyfriend Bill, Celeste Holm as her friend Karen, Thelma Ritter as her maid Birdie (the two nominees for Best Supporting Actress) and Bette Davis as Margo all looking at Ann Baxter, out of shot as Eve; and the next shot shows us Thelma Ritter / Birdie and Bette Davis / Margo from behind, Ann Baxter / Eve facing them, and then Celeste Holm / Karen and Gary Merrill / Bill from vehind again. The message is that there is often more than one perspective from which to understand a story.
We saw Celeste Holm just three years ago in Gentleman’s Agreement, for which she did win an Oscar. Here she is again. So is George Sanders (on right of second pic below), who we met both in Rebecca ten years ago and in a more recent Retro Hugo diversion to Dorian Gray.
Anne Baxter really glows as Eve, muscling in on Margo’s life and then at the end discovering that she has a young female stalker of her own.
But the picture is totally owned – in a perfectly collegial way – by Bette Davis as the aging Margo, who gets most of the good scenes and most of the good lines.
Margo: Lloyd, honey, be a playwright with guts. Write me one about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband.
Margo: Bill’s thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.
Margo: Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.
Lloyd Richards: What makes you think either Miller or Sherwood would stand for the nonsense I take from you? You’d better stick to Beaumont and Fletcher! They’ve been dead for three hundred years!
Margo: ALL playwrights should be dead for three hundred years!
And of course,
Margo: Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!
It was an amusing coincidence that several of the early scenes are about catching a flight to San Francisco, and I was actually on a flight to San Francisco as I watched.
Next in the sequence of Oscar winners is an old favourite of mine, An American In Paris – but I actually watched it just over a year ago, and wrote it up out of sequence, so I will be going straight on to The Greatest Show on Earth, of which I know nothing. Knowing that An American In Paris is in colour, I am wondering if All About Eve will be the last film I watch for these purposes in black and white?
I also read the original short story, “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, as so often first published in Cosmopolitan. The third paragraph is:
There was a crowd at the stage door. They were the usual autograph fans, all with little books open and fountain pens dripping ink. Some appeared to be intelligent theatergoers; they carried programs for Margola to sign and had obviously seen the play that evening. I could hear their enthusiastic comments through the tiny opening where I had lowered the car window to let my cigarette smoke escape. A few were boys in uniform with dreams of dating Margola—dreams that would not come true. There was only one person standing there I could not catalogue. She stood nearest the car, and I could see her face clearly in the light of the streetlamp.
It’s a nice character study, only a dozen or so pages long, which sets up the emotional dynamic just the same but has a very different ending – the narrator is Margo/Margola’s friend Karen, and Eve runs off with Lloyd, her playwright husband (as she threatens to but doesn’t in the film). It doesn’t add much to my appreciation of the film but I’m glad to have read it for completeness.
1920s: Wings (1927-28) | The Broadway Melody (1928-29)
1930s: All Quiet on the Western Front (1929-30) | Cimarron (1930-31) | Grand Hotel (1931-32) | Cavalcade (1932-33) | It Happened One Night (1934) | Mutiny on the Bounty (1935, and books) | The Great Ziegfeld (1936) | The Life of Emile Zola (1937) | You Can’t Take It with You (1938) | Gone with the Wind (1939, and book)
1940s: Rebecca (1940) | How Green Was My Valley (1941) | Mrs. Miniver (1942) | Casablanca (1943) | Going My Way (1944) | The Lost Weekend (1945) | The Best Years of Our Lives (1946) | Gentleman’s Agreement (1947) | Hamlet (1948) | All the King’s Men (1949)
1950s: All About Eve (1950) | An American in Paris (1951) | The Greatest Show on Earth (1952) | From Here to Eternity (1953) | On The Waterfront (1954, and book) | Marty (1955) | Around the World in Eighty Days (1956) | The Bridge on the River Kwai (1957) | Gigi (1958) | Ben-Hur (1959)
1960s: The Apartment (1960) | West Side Story (1961) | Lawrence of Arabia (1962) | Tom Jones (1963) | My Fair Lady (1964) | The Sound of Music (1965) | A Man for All Seasons (1966) | In the Heat of the Night (1967) | Oliver! (1968) | Midnight Cowboy (1969)
1970s: Patton (1970) | The French Connection (1971) | The Godfather (1972) | The Sting (1973) | The Godfather, Part II (1974) | One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest (1975) | Rocky (1976) | Annie Hall (1977) | The Deer Hunter (1978) | Kramer vs. Kramer (1979)
1980s: Ordinary People (1980) | Chariots of Fire (1981) | Gandhi (1982) | Terms of Endearment (1983) | Amadeus (1984) | Out of Africa (1985) | Platoon (1986) | The Last Emperor (1987) | Rain Man (1988) | Driving Miss Daisy (1989)
1990s: Dances With Wolves (1990) | The Silence of the Lambs (1991) | Unforgiven (1992) | Schindler’s List (1993) | Forrest Gump (1994) | Braveheart (1995) | The English Patient (1996) | Titanic (1997) | Shakespeare in Love (1998) | American Beauty (1999)
21st century: Gladiator (2000) | A Beautiful Mind (2001) | Chicago (2002) | The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (2003) | Million Dollar Baby (2004, and book) | Crash (2005) | The Departed (2006) | No Country for Old Men (2007) | Slumdog Millionaire (2008) | The Hurt Locker (2009)