Lone Wolf Sullivan is a writer, songwriter, and studio musician.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

All About Eve (1950) * * *

ALL ABOUT EVE opens with the image of an award trophy described by an off-camera narrator: "The Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement is perhaps unknown to you. It has been spared the sensational and commercial publicity that attends such questionable honors as the Pulitzer Prize--and those awards presented annually by that film society."

We are told the elite of the theatrical world attend the annual presentation of the coveted Sarah Siddons Award for dramatic achievement in the theater: "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 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."

The cynical and acid-tongued New York drama critic Addison De Witt (George Sanders) introduces himself before going further: "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."

Narrator De Witt introduces the other main characters in the ceremony's audience at the same table, including Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe): "She is the wife of a playwright, therefore of the theater by marriage. Nothing in her background or breeding should have brought her any closer to the stage than Row E, Center. However, during her senior year at Radcliffe, Lloyd Richards lectured on the drama. The following year, Karen became Mrs. Lloyd Richards."

Next at the table to be introduced is Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), the theatrical producer of the play which has won the award for Eve: "There are in general two types of theatrical producers. One has a great many wealthier friends who will risk a tax deductible loss. This type is interested in art. The other is one to whom each production means potential ruin or fortune. This type is out to make a buck."

Finally there is Broadway actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis): "Margo Channing is a star of the Theater. She made her first stage appearance, at the age of four, in "Midsummer Night's Dream". She played a fairy and entered--quite unexpectedly--stark naked. She has been a star ever since. Margo is a great star. A true star. She never was or will be anything less or anything else."

Miss Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an actress who we soon learn all about in flashbacks, is being honored as the youngest recipient ever to win the Sarah Siddons Award as Best Actress: "Such a young lady, young in years, but whose heart is as old as the theater. Some of us are privileged to know her. We have seen beyond the beauty and artistry that have made her name resound through the nation." From the reactions of audience members who have been introduced--false smiles, unmoving faces, cynical looks, and unapplauding hands, we sense the sham of the awards ceremony for Eve: "We know her humility, her devotion, her loyalty to her art, her love, her deep and abiding love for us, for what we are and what we do, the theater. She has had one wish, one prayer, one dream--to belong to us. Tonight, her dream has come true. And henceforth, we shall dream the same of her."

As the glamorous Eve rises to triumphantly accept the award, the voice-over continues, but when she reaches out for the award, the shot freeze-frames: "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?"

For the rest of the movie, events from early October to June which led to the award ceremony are unfolded through the thoughts and actions of each important character in attendance. Margo Channing is one of the biggest and most successful stars on Broadway, but she is beginning to show her age. After a performance one night Karen Richards brings in infatuated fan Eve Harrington to meet Margo. Eve claims to be Margo's biggest fan and tells the group gathered in Margo's dressing room--Karen and Lloyd, Margo's lover Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), and Margo's maid Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter)--that she followed Margo's theatrical tour to New York after seeing her in a play in San Francisco. However, Eve actually has theatrical aspirations of her own to become a big star on Broadway.

Karen: You're talented, famous, wealthy, people waiting around night after night, just to see you, even in the wind and the rain.
Margo: Autograph fiends, they're not people. Those are little beasts that run around in packs like coyotes...They're nobody's fans. They're juvenile delinquent, they're mental defective, and nobody's audience. They never see a play or a movie even. They're never indoors long enough.

Margo quickly befriends Eve, who willingly offers to assist Margo, and soon she gives Eve a job as assistant. Eve's calculated, guileless manipulation of Margo's vanity and sentiments help her maneuver her way into Margo's life. Everyone is taken by lovely Eve's shy charm, helplessness, naivete, lack of pretension and passion. But Margo's maid, friend and companion Birdie reacts skeptically to Eve's fabricated, ingratiating "make-believe" image and stories, and says, "What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end." Margo stops her from criticizing Eve: "There are some human experiences, Birdie, that do not take place in a vaudeville house--and that even a fifth-rate vaudevillian should understand and respect!"

Supposedly Eve's father was a poor farmer, so to help out, she quit school, moved to Milwaukee, and became a secretary in a brewery. She says, "It's pretty hard to make believe you are anyone else. Everything is beer." There was a little theater group there--"like a drop of rain on the desert." Supposedly she married Eddie, a radio technician, and during the war, he flew in the Air Force in the South Pacific. She learned she was a war widow when she was in San Francisco. Stranded, she remained there, found a job, and lived off her deceased husband's insurance. She saved herself from devastation by attending Margo's performances: "And there were theaters in San Francisco. And then one night, Margo Channing came to play in "Remembrance" and I went to see it. Well, here I am."

Margo: Funny business, a woman's career---the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.

Eve begins working to replace Margo, scheming to become her understudy and take advantage of her, tricking her into missing a performance. Knowing in advance she will go on, Eve invites the city's theater critics to the theater that night. She makes a pass at Bill Sampson, but he rejects her. Eve then schemes to secure the role of Cora through blackmail, a role Lloyd Richards has written for Margo. In a classic scene, wet-eyed Eve uses her captivating acting abilities to tell her dressing room audience the hard-luck, melancholy tale of her life story which began in Wisconsin as an only child. "But somehow, acting and make believe began to fill up my life more and more. It got so I couldn't tell the real from the unreal. Except that the unreal seemed more real to me."

Margo's fiance-to-be, theatrical director Bill Sampson, a show business veteran and one of Margo's inner circle, is on his way to Hollywood for a month-long stay and a one-picture deal: "Zanuck is impatient. He wants me, he needs me."

Margo: Don't let me kill the point. Or isn't it a story for grownups?
Bill Sampson: You've heard it--about the time I looked into the wrong end of the camera finder.
Margo: Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.
Eve Harrington: I'd like to hear it.
Margo: Some snowy night, in front of the fire.
Bill Sampson: We started talking--she wanted to know about Hollywood. She seemed so interested.
Margo: She's a girl of so many interests.
Bill Sampson: Pretty rare quality these days.
Margo: A girl of so many rare qualities.
Bill Sampson: So she seems.
Margo: So you've pointed out so often! So many qualities so often--her loyalty, efficiency, devotion, warmth, and affection, and so young! So young and so fair!
Bill Sampson: This is my cue to take you in my arms and reassure you. But I'm not going to--I'm too mad.
Margo: Guilty!
Bill Sampson: Mad! Darling, there are certain characteristics for which you are famous, on stage and off. I love you for some of them, in spite of others. I haven't let those become too important. They're part of your equipment for getting along in what is laughingly called our environment. You have to keep your teeth sharp--all right--but I will not have you sharpen them on me, or on Eve!
Margo: What about her teeth? What about her fangs?
Bill Sampson: She hasn't cut them yet, and you know it! So when you start judging an idealistic, dreamy-eyed kid by the barroom Benzedrine standards of this megalomaniac society, I won't have it! Eve Harrington has never, by word, look, thought, or suggestion indicated anything to me but her adoration for you and her happiness at our being in love. And to intimate anything else doesn't spell jealousy to me--it spells a paranoiac insecurity that you should be ashamed of!
Margo: Cut! Print it! What happens in the next reel? Do I get dragged off screaming to the snake pits?

Bill Sampson defines the word theater for Eve: "The theatuh, the theatuh--that book of rules says the theater exists only within some ugly buildings crowded into one square mile of New York City? Or London, Paris, or Vienna? Listen, junior. And learn. Want to know what the theater is? A flea circus. Also opera. Also rodeos, carnivals, ballets, Indian tribal dances, Punch and Judy, a one-man band--all theater. Wherever there's magic and make-believe and an audience--there's theater. Donald Duck, Ibsen, and the Lone Ranger. Sarah Bernhardt and Poodles Hanneford, Lunt and Fontanne, Betty Grable, Rex the Wild Horse, Eleanora Duse--they're all theater. You don't understand them, you don't like them all--why should you? The theater's for everybody--you included, but not exclusively--so don't approve or disapprove. It may not be your theater, but it's theater for somebody, somewhere...It's just that there's so much bourgeois in this ivory greenroom they call the theater. Sometimes it gets up around my chin."

Eve attempts to climb higher by using theater critic Addison DeWitt. Just before the out-of-town opening of her play, Eve faces DeWitt with her next plan: to marry playwright Lloyd Richards after he divorces his wife. DeWitt is infuriated that Eve has outwitted his own plans and reveals that he knows her background story is all lies.

Addison DeWitt: What do you take me for?
Eve: I don't know that I'd take you for anything.
Addison DeWitt: Is it possible, even conceivable, that you've confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on, that you have the same contempt for me as you have for them?
Eve: I'm sure you mean something by that, Addison, but I don't know what.
Addison DeWitt: Look closely, Eve. It's time you did. I am Addison DeWitt. I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.
Eve: I never intended you to be.
Addison DeWitt: Yes you did, and you still do.
Eve: I still don't know what you're getting at, but right now I want to take my nap. It's important...
Addison DeWitt: It's important right now that we talk, killer to killer.
Eve: Champion to champion.
Addison DeWitt: Not with me, you're no champion. You're stepping way up in class.
Eve: Addison, will you please say what you have to say, plainly and distinctly, and then get out, so I can take my nap?
Addison DeWitt: Very well--plainly and distinctly--though I consider it unnecessary because you know as well as I do what I'm going to say: Lloyd may leave Karen, but he will not leave Karen for you.
Eve: What do you mean by that?
Addison DeWitt: More plainly and more distinctly: I have not come to New Haven to see the play, discuss your dreams, or pull the ivy from the walls of Yale. I have come here to tell you that you will not marry Lloyd, or anyone else for that matter, because I will not permit it.
Eve: What have you got to do with it?
Addison DeWitt: Everything, because after tonight, you will belong to me.
Eve: Belong? To you? I can't believe my ears!
Addison DeWitt: What a dull cliché.
Eve: Belong to you--why, that sounds medieval, something out of an old melodrama!
Addison DeWitt: So does the history of the world for the past twenty years. I don't enjoy putting it as bluntly as this. Frankly, I'd hoped that somehow you would have known, that you would have taken it for granted that you and I...
Eve: Taken it for granted that you and I... (laughs)
Addison DeWitt: (slaps her) Now, remember, as long as you live, never to laugh at me--at anything or anyone else, but never at me.
Eve Harrington: (walks to the door and opens it) Get out!

Eve becomes a Broadway star and is presented with an award for her performance in the role of Cora. She arrives home and encounters an apparently infatuated young fan Phoebe (Barbara Bates) who had sneaked into her apartment. Phoebe begins to attend to Eve's needs and answers the door to Addison DeWitt who has returned with Eve's forgotten award. While Eve rests in the other room Phoebe tries on Eve's gown and poses in front of the mirror with the award.

One of the best movies ever written, ALL ABOUT EVE (1950) brought Bette Davis "back from the dead" as an actress and became a feather in the cap of everyone involved. Bette Davis' leading role as Margo Channing is considered her greatest career performance and her most memorable role. Her part as an aging, 40 year old Broadway actress fit the 42 year old Davis perfectly, at a time when acting roles were drying up for her. Besides her signature cigarette smoking and smashing, ALL ABOUT EVE also showcased another Bette Davis trademark, her willingness to appear unattractive in scenes when the story demanded. Davis played opposite co-star Gary Merrill--with whom she had an affair during filming, and soon married after waiting for each other's divorce. It was her fourth and last marriage, that lasted from 1950 to 1960.

With a solid script, a strong cast, a beautiful music score, great production values, wonderful cinematography and a great director in peak form, ALL ABOUT EVE received the most Academy award nominations (14) in film history. Showered with 6 Oscars, this witty and bitchy comedy written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz won: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Sound Recording, and Best B & W Costume Design. Four actresses in the film were nominated, all lost, but the film holds the record for the most female acting nominees.

The cast also includes: Hugh Marlowe (Lloyd Richards), Marilyn Monroe (Miss Casswell), Walter Hampden (Aged Actor), Randy Stuart (Eve's friend on telephone), Craig Hill (Leading Man in "Footsteps on the Ceiling"), Leland Harris (Doorman), Barbara White (Autograph Seeker), Eddie Fisher (Stage Manager of Theatre), William Pullen (Clerk), Claude Stroud (Pianist), Eugene Borden (Frenchman), Helen Mowery (Reporter), Steven Geray (Captain of Waiters), Gertrude Astor, Ralph Brooks, Jack Chefe, James Conaty, Franklyn Farnum, Bess Flowers, Thomas Martin, Harold Miller, Stanley Orr, Marion Pierce, "Snub" Pollard, Larry Steers, and Robert Whitney. Alfred Newman composed the original music. Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote the screenplay from Mary Orr's story "The Wisdom of Eve" with dialogue by Erich Kästner. Joseph L. Mankiewicz directed.

The film was adapted and transformed into the Broadway play "Applause" in 1970, with Lauren Bacall, who was later replaced by Anne Baxter as Margo Channing. Eddie Fisher's sole scene was cut from the final movie version, although he still received screen credit as Stage Manager. The film is often noted as a "three suicide movie", for the deaths of George Sanders, Barbara Bates, and Marilyn Monroe--although it was probably a murder in her case.

Writer and director Joseph L. Mankiewicz based his script for the film on a short story entitled "The Wisdom of Eve" which appeared in the May 1946 issue of International Cosmopolitan Magazine. More than just a great script with excellent performances, ALL ABOUT EVE also showcases a number of first-rate actors and actresses in supporting roles, including Thelma Ritter as Birdie, Margo's housekeeper and confidant, and Celeste Holm as Karen Richards, Margo's best friend. This is a film dominated by women. It is the antagonism between them that moves the film, what they want and what they do.

The original DVD is OK, but the film deserves a better edition with some commentary or a brief documentary, production notes and other extras. There is only a trailer. In the newer DVD the video and audio have been restored from original source material with noticeable improvements over the previous DVD transfer. The picture has none of the scratches and dust that were present on the earlier version, and there is a Dolby stereo option as well as the original mono. The stereo soundtrack offers greater clarity and depth and there's no low-level hum or hiss. It also includes a good selection of extras. There's a 25 minute "Backstory" from AMC that is very informative and entertaining. Two separate commentary tracks are included, one with Celeste Holm, Christopher Mankiewicz (Joseph's son), and Kenneth Geist, the other with Sam Staggs, author of "All About 'All About Eve'". There are promotional interviews with Davis and Baxter, four newsreels, a trailer, and a restoration comparison. The comparison is very strange. Instead of an audio track explaining the problems and processes involved in the transfer, there's a series of screens with text printed on them, followed by a series of comparisons from various versions of the film.

Widely regarded as a classic in cinema history, ALL ABOUT EVE was selected in 1990 by the United States Library of Congress for preservation in the National Film Registry for being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant". It was among the first 50 films to be registered. ALL ABOUT EVE is listed at # 16 on the American Film Institute's definitive 1998 list of the 100 greatest American movies of all time, as determined by more than 1500 leaders from the American film community.

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