All About Eve

all about eve

PLOT (spoiler alert!!!):

At an awards dinner, Eve Harrington—the newest and brightest star on Broadway—is being presented the Sarah Siddons Award for her breakout performance as Cora in Footsteps on the Ceiling. Theatre critic Addison DeWitt observes the proceedings and, in a sardonic voiceover, recalls how Eve’s star rose as quickly as it did.

The film flashes back a year. Margo Channing is one of the biggest stars on Broadway, but despite her success she is bemoaning her age, having just turned forty and knowing what that will mean for her career. After a performance one night, Margo’s close friend Karen Richards, wife of the play’s author Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), meets besotted fan Eve Harrington in the cold alley outside the stage door. Recognizing her from having passed her many times in the alley (as Eve claims to have seen every performance of Margo’s current play, Aged in Wood), Karen takes her backstage to meet Margo. Eve tells the group gathered in Margo’s dressing room—Karen and Lloyd, Margo’s boyfriend Bill Sampson, a director who is eight years her junior, and Margo’s maid Birdie—that she followed Margo’s last theatrical tour to New York after seeing her in a play in San Francisco. She tells a moving story of growing up poor and losing her young husband in the recent war. Moved, Margo quickly befriends Eve, takes her into her home, and hires her as her assistant, leaving Birdie, who instinctively dislikes Eve, feeling put out.

Eve is gradually shown to be working to supplant Margo, scheming to become her understudy behind her back, driving wedges between her and Lloyd and Bill, and conspiring with an unsuspecting Karen to cause Margo to miss a performance. Eve, knowing in advance that she will be the one appearing that night, invites the city’s theatre critics to attend that evening’s performance, which is a triumph for her. Eve tries to seduce Bill, but he rejects her. Following a scathing newspaper column by Addison, Margo and Bill reconcile, dine with the Richardses, and decide to marry. That same night at the restaurant, Eve blackmails Karen into telling Lloyd to give her the part of Cora, by threatening to tell Margo of Karen’s role in Margo’s missed performance. Before Karen can talk with Lloyd, Margo announces to everyone’s surprise that she does not wish to play Cora and would prefer to continue in Aged in Wood. Eve secures the role and attempts to climb higher by using Addison, who is beginning to doubt her. Just before the premiere of her play at the Shubert in New Haven, Eve presents Addison with her next plan: to marry Lloyd, who, she claims, has come to her professing his love and his eagerness to leave his wife for her. Now, Eve exults, Lloyd will write brilliant plays showcasing her. Unseen but mentioned in dialogue, Karen has begun to suspect Eve as a threat to her own marriage to Lloyd, and so she and Addison meet for lunch and help each other put the pieces about Eve together. Addison is infuriated that Eve has attempted to use him and reveals that he knows that her back story is all lies. Her real name is Gertrude Slojinski, she was never married, and she had been paid to leave her hometown over an affair with her boss, a brewer in Wisconsin. Addison blackmails Eve, informing her that she will not be marrying Lloyd or anyone else; in exchange for Addison’s silence, she now “belongs” to him.

The film returns to the opening scene in which Eve, now a shining Broadway star headed for Hollywood, is presented with her award. In her speech, she thanks Margo and Bill and Lloyd and Karen with characteristic effusion, while all four stare back at her coldly. After the awards ceremony, Eve hands her award to Addison, skips a party in her honor, and returns home alone, where she encounters a young fan—a high-school girl—who has slipped into her apartment and fallen asleep. The young girl professes her adoration and begins at once to insinuate herself into Eve’s life, offering to pack Eve’s trunk for Hollywood and being accepted. “Phoebe”, as she calls herself, answers the door to find Addison returning with Eve’s award. In a revealing moment, the young girl flirts daringly with the older man. Addison hands over the award to Phoebe and leaves without entering. Phoebe then lies to Eve, telling her it was only a cab driver who dropped off the award. While Eve rests in the other room, Phoebe dons Eve’s elegant costume robe and poses in front of a multi-paned mirror, holding the award as if it were a crown. The mirrors transform Phoebe into multiple images of herself, and she bows regally, as if accepting the award to thunderous applause, while triumphant music plays.

REVIEW:

Every now and then, I get the chance to check out one of truly great films in cinema history. In this case, the film in question in All About Eve. Given the track record films of this nature tend to have with me, I wonder if this will actually be worth the watch, or a total bore.

What is this about?

Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s sharp script anchors this story about New York City theater life, with Bette Davis playing an aging Broadway diva who employs a starstruck fan (Anne Baxter) as her assistant, only to learn the woman is a conniving upstart.

What did I like?

Acting. In the early 80s, there was a song called “Bette Davis Eyes”. At the time, I knew nothing about Bette Davis, other than apparently she had very noticeable eyes. This may come as a surprise, but this is the first film I have seen with Davis in it. I have heard all the stories about how she is considered among the all-time greats, this character being a reflection of that, not to mention the fact that she was considered for the lead in Sunset Boulevard. If this is any indication of the kind of performances she gave on a regular basis, then wow…just wow! She commands the screen with her, shall we say unique, look and keeps the control with her grandiose acting chops. Man, why don’t we have actresses like this anymore (excluding the few that actually are good, of course)?

Not a villain? Hugh Marlowe is a guy who, at least in everything I’ve seen him in, has made a career as that guy who seems like he’s there to protect and defend his girl, but in actuality, he’s only out for himself. The best example of this would be his character in The Day the Earth Stool Still. Keeping that in mind, it is a nice change of pace to see him as a “good guy” for one.

Replacement. I’ve seen countless stories where the young, unsuspecting, struggling actress meets her idol and slowly supplants her, without anyone even realizing it. I imagine those are all based on this film, and with good reason. Anne Baxter does a great job portraying the metamorphosis her character goes through from the shy violet, so to speak, to the monstrous venus flytrap. As far as the plot is concerned, this isn’t one that will keep you on the edge of you seat wondering, but your interest is piqued.

What didn’t I like?

Motivation. What is it that motivates a person to take down someone successful, let alone ruin their personal life? I can understand wanting to be like your idol, but what was Eve’s motivation here? I don’t think it was ever mentioned. Was there some wrong that was done to her in the past? Is she just an evil person?

Is this your first time? Not yet a star, Marilyn Monroe shows up in a couple of scenes. She brings a ray of light to this surprisingly dark film and shows that she is on her way to be a star. So what is the problem, you ask? Her character could have just as easily been a cutting room floor casualty or a much bigger part. Is this the right amount of young Marilyn? Perhaps, especially as this is one of her first films, but I don’t think anyone would be offended if there was more of her.

Report. George Sanders has a voice for theater and narration…and animation (he is Shere Kahn in The Jungle Book for those that don’t know). This reporter character he plays is a mystery to me, though. What side is he on, if any? What are his intentions? Could it be that he’s the mastermind behind it all? Perhaps he’s just a lowly reporter who loves theater? Whatever the case may be, I felt he was put in there as an avatar for the audience, initially, and then the decision was made to put him into the main story.

All About Eve really is all about Eve. Every character has some sort of contact/interaction with her and it seems as if the world revolves around her, at least for time span this film covers. Is that good or bad? At this point in time, I can’t tell you, as I am still digesting what I just watched. Do I recommend this picture? Yes, very highly. There is a reason this is one the list of greatest films of all time. It is a bit slower than I would care for it to be, but not to the point of boredom. Give a shot when you can!

4 out of  5 stars

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