Some films are remembered as all-time greats because of their tightly woven plots or for how they changed the way we looked at effects, etc. Some established the archetypes and parameters of a genre, inventing the clichés that we now take for granted. Which leaves the casual viewer curious as to why All About Eve is afforded the same status as an all-time classic; it didn’t really do something a film like Star Wars or The Maltese Falcon did. At least on a surface level, that is. Otherwise it’d be just remembered for the small part that Marilyn Monroe had that would help her catapult to international fame.
It’s a fairly innocuous story about aging star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and the aforementioned titular character Eve (Anne Baxter), who usurps her role after presenting herself as a harmlessly obsessed fan. It’s a small story in that regard as we see the rise of one woman juxtaposed against the fall of another in the realm of the theater. As one rises the other shall fall, it seems, but this isn’t anything new in the world of cinema. It’s not the story that sucks you in to this film and keeps you there: it’s the characters.
That’s been the calling card of All About Eve that hasn’t gone away in the years since its initial release: the amazing dialogue and strong characters. This is a film that sucks you in from the beginning because of how strongly Joseph Mankiewicz writes the film. One of the handful of scripts that could be legitimately called the “best ever written,” All About Eve was one of Mankiewicz’s two Oscars for writing and also garnered him one of his two Oscars for directing. This was in the middle of his contract with 20th Century Fox where he spent most of his career. This is a tale of two women that could’ve easily been a forgettable melodrama if not for three people: Baxter, Davis and Mankiewicz. For all three the film represents something significant, albeit for different reasons.
For Davis it was a resurgence in a career that had been falling to that point and All About Eve. Much like the fictional star Channing, she was at a career crossroads at that point. This was a film that launched her back to the top, if only for a brief moment, and gave her career new legs that had been written off at the time. Margo is an actress who has had her time at the top and is now going the other direction but just hasn’t figured it out yet. She still has the arrogance of an untouchable actress on top of her game, in part because of the sycophants and yes-men and women surrounding her. She’s supremely talented but her shelf life is expiring; as she approaches 40, and the decline of her looks, Margo knows her time is ending and can’t bring herself to accept it just yet.
Baxter was in the prime of her career at this point, midway through and already an Oscar winner for The Razor’s Edge, and the film would have an odd affect on the rest of her career. She would replace Davis in the television show Hotel as well as play Margo Channing in the Broadway play version of the film. She would never hit this peak again but never carved out the work after Eve to do so. Her career can almost be defined up to Eve, with her best work leading up to Eve and then tailing off afterward.
Mankiewicz seemingly hit his peak with All About Eve, at least in retrospect. The film won the last of his four Oscars (he would be nominated two more times each in the Best Original Screenplay and Best Director categories, losing all four times) and he had a run of great films afterward but took on a bit too much with Cleopatra. An epic flop, he would walk away from film with Sleuth as his final piece. All About Eve may be one of a handful of films he made that are recognized as masterpieces of cinema for a reason, but it might be his best.
Presented in its original full frame format with a Dolby Digital surround, this is still the same transfer as the original DVD for the most part. It’s been cleaned up somewhat, as it’s clean and clear, but it’s otherwise unremarkable.
There is a 24 page Collectible Book built into the DVD packaging that sheds some light into the film.
Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz is a fairly in depth piece about Mankiewicz as a director, a four time Oscar winner who has been seemingly forgotten in the years since his death in 1993. It’s a 26 minute look back at his legacy and his work, mainly focusing on All About Eve but delving into his film legacy and body of work as well. It’s actually quite fascinating as it delves into the disaster that was Cleopatra and how it violated all his rules for making a film, from having a completed shooting script before rehearsals and having control on the set.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz: A Personal Journey is about the man himself, a relic of a time when a writer/director didn’t have to dumb it down to be successful. Mankiewicz came from a remarkably literate family and it inspired his films to aim higher and make the audience come with them. He was in his brother’s shadow for a while, as Herman Mankiewicz was equivalent to Aaron Sorkin or David Mamet of his time as a writer (he co-wrote Citizen Kane and plenty of Orson Welles’ “genius” came from Herman’s earlier drafts), but Joseph’s career was on the rise as his brother’s was falling. He wanted to be more than a writer and have control over the finished product.
The Real Eve focuses on the real women who inspired the film. Elizabeth Bergner of As You Like It was the inspiration for Alice, a foreign actress who didn’t find American film success as much as she found success on American stages. She had met a real life stalker-type in a gal named Martina Lawrence, who had tried to supplant Bergner in a similar way.
The Secret of Sarah Siddons is about the actress who inspired the award organization that the film revolves around. It’s an actual award for theatrical performances, designed by theatre goers of the time to recognize performances by women. It was created after the film, for which it exists as a parody of the awards given out.
There’s an AMC: Backstory about the film’s production, as well as vintage promotional materials and the film’s original theatrical trailer.
Some films warrant the transfer to Blu-Ray; All About Eve isn’t one because it doesn’t have the sort of a/v demanding it. But it does have the extras that do make it worth an updated release.
20th Century Fox presents All About Eve. Written and Directed by Joseph Mankiewicz. Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Bates. Running time: 138 minutes. Not Rated. Released on Blu-ray: February 1, 2011.
Tags: Bette Davis