April 23, 2017

Picture • All About Eve

All About Eve

All About Eve
When you have an Academy whose interests are perennially intrigued by machismo...by big, important, and/or bold prestige pictures which are traditionally driven by or starring men...or even lighter fare rooted by male characters...how refreshing when it occasionally deviates from the norm.

That's the first impression I have when I watch All About Eve; excellence notwithstanding, to hand the top prize over to a female-driven comedy about catty, backstabbing theatre divas makes for a memorable footnote in Academy history - that they opted to aggressively reward the flamboyant Eve over the more sinister Sunset Blvd. and the rugged The Asphalt Jungle says a lot about how impactful the film was.

What a dense screenplay; to not give the characters your full attention at all times is to risk missing an intelligently delivered quip. While All About Eve's photography leaves a bit to be desired (such as: Margo Channing's kitchen - seemed a little pedestrian to me, you'd think the top star on Broadway would be subjected to more comprehensively glamorous mise-en-scene), it's the words that serve as the film's ammo. What works so well with All About Eve is the way in which it remains compellingly charming in spite of being so verbose.

All About Eve
The film boasts a remarkable collection of actors, all ready to thesp the hell out of you; from the supporting characters (a lovely Celeste Holm, George Sanders, Gary Merrill, and a fine though curiously nominated Thelma Ritter) to the two leading ladies themselves, all actors involved do their damnedest to stand out against each other without getting lost in the shuffle.
All About Eve
Is the screenplay ever-so-slightly overpraised? I think so. It's not as flawless as many have implied; there are really random holes here and there (such as: what in the hell happened to Birdie? Lloyd's subplot involvement with Eve towards the end reads as hasty and undercooked? Karen's good natured sabotage of Margo seems...unrealistic?) but the film itself is otherwise too savvy and fun for me to care.

All About Eve

This speaks to the type of viewer that I am, but I love all the flamboyance and sass. Just as we don't get enough female-driven Best Picture contenders, we also don't often get fun comedies that purely rely on its characters as opposed to characters in precarious situations. Further, All About Eve's unadulterated brand of fun is the type that can only be delivered by women (see: The Women, one of my all-time favorites out of the 1930s).

An intelligent delight - I've revisited twice since my first viewing in January, and will likely do so again.


  1. I think my favorite moment is in the dressing room, after Eve's sneakily arranged substitute performance for a missing Margo.

    When Addison says "Where shall we dine, we must make tonight special?"

    Eve coyly sticks her head out the bathroom door, just a towel covering her breasts, "You take charge."

    Knowing so very well what is yet to come, Addison's deadly flat reply, "I believe I will.

    In movie history it immediately makes me think of both "We're going to need a bigger boat," or Vera Miles' impatient statement to John Gavin in Psycho: "I can handle a sick old woman!"

    Davis would say later, "I can think of no project that was so pleasing from the very outset to the conclusion." But all were aware too that the ease with which the screenplay would carry them might foster too much confidence, so all were on guard against any laziness. When the movie opened to such massive acceptance, Davis would tell Joseph L. Mankiewicz, "You resurrected me from the dead."

    Of course(!) this gets five of your statues, and let's dearly hope no fool ever tries to remake it.

  2. Amazing movie. What did you think of Holm, Sanders and Ritter?

    1. "That cynicism you refer to I acquired the day I learned I was different from little boys."

      "I know nothing of Lloyd and his loves, I leave those to Louisa May Alcott, but I do know you Eve."

      "What a story. Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end."

      "It's about time the piano realized it did not write the concerto."

      "One thing: what I want I go after, I don't want it coming after me."

      "Oh you won't bore him, honey. You won't even get a chance to talk."

      "Just a cab driver, Miss Harrington. You left your award in his car."

      Two or three rounds with this movie, and no one mistakes which lines belong to which characters. Yes, a salute to the writing, but no less one to the acting - all the way down the cast list - as you could wish.

  3. This has never been a favorite of mine though I do admire aspects of it. It's exceedingly well written and the dialog alone is reason enough for re-viewings. It's not so much funny as it is clever, which lends itself to revisits. Some of the acting, especially Holms, Sanders and Ritter, is sublimely understated and very effective.

    My issues are with the un-cinematic direction, which is rather flat at times, the 'backstage' plot line that I find a bit trite and, especially, the two leading performances. I realize Baxter and (especially) Davis have been endlessly lauded for their work but I am not a fan of either, which makes the film more of an ordeal for me than it would otherwise be. It's not the great film it's made out to be, certainly not in the same class as 'Sunset Boulevard', but it's an entertaining film that's unfortunately remembered primarily for Davis' campy mannerisms. There's more (and less) to the film than that.

    1. It's never been without its critics. More than one found it a long stretch that of jaded theater people, only Addison and Birdie would be doubtful of Eve's backstory and worth probing.

      The last Davis author I read suggested that Eve and Addison's phony walk through New Haven against an obvious rear-projection screen directly informed Robert Aldrich's decision to place Jane Hudson in a car with a cameraman on the hood, making the crazed recluse and 'real' 1962 Los Angeles have to confront one another.

    2. I've read that there was a 'hit-and-run' approach to filming 'Jane' due to budget constraints, which gives it an immediacy 'Eve' lacks. I also think it's one of Davis' best performances. She's fearless without being over-the-top (yes, that's what I said) and captures the slovenly pathos of Jane without apologies or artifice.

  4. I've been begging you for YEARS to see it! :D
    still a top 10 film alltime for me. And one of the best drama screenplays ever written (which is why I don't agree when you say it's overpraised :P ). But glad you liked it overall