Thursday, March 20, 2014



Director/Screenplay: Joseph L. Mankiewicz

In 1950, “All About Eve,” set the record with 14 Oscar nominations, winning Best Picture, Score, Director, Writing, and Supporting Actor for George Sanders. “Titanic,” tied the record in 1997. Coming out ironically, the same year as “Sunset Boulevard,” which also stars an aging screen legend playing an aging screen legend, “All About Eve,” is now a verb, referencing any up-and-comer, usually female, who’s is able to use passive-aggressive admiration and gratitude along with two-faced cunning to advance her career, a practice not uncommon in Hollywood, or in the film’s case, the New York theatre scene. 

It also resurrected and reinvented the career of Bette Davis. It isn’t even close in my opinion, Margo Channing is her best performance, certainly her most famous, playing a role not that different from Bette Davis at the time. She had won two Oscars, but had just turned 40, and like Margo, was quickly losing parts and the increasing perception that she’d gotten too old to be a star. (She also constantly complained that the studios were purposefully giving her too many bad scripts [Which the were]) This film immortalized her as one of the best actresses of all-time. The script is considered one of the greatest of all-time, and one of the most innovative. Joseph Mankiewicz, used alternating point-of-views, flashbacks and voiceover to carefully construct a manipulative fake in Eve Harrington (Oscar-nominee Anne Archer) within a bitchy, cutthroat, and all-too real world of entertainment. 

It’s also Mankiewicz’s best film by a longshot. I personally think “Sunset Boulevard,” the film it beat out for Oscar, is better, and over time is a more cinematic picture stretching realism into absurdity and into ridiculousness, but that also was a Billy Wilder film, who is way out of Mankiewicz’s league. Mankiewicz’s strengths are his characters and the subtleness of behaviors among them, more like a stage play, and this makes Mankiewicz’s films more rewarding as realism, even when the movie and characters are at their most absurd. It is also more than probably any other movie in recent years, the eeriest example of life imitating art imitating life imitating art. 

As Eve flatters her way into Margo’s world, Davis and Archer would compete with each other in the Best Actress category, the first time two actresses from the same movie competed in the category, and according to legend Davis, Archer and Gloria Swanson all leaned forward when the Award was announced. (In a shocking upset, Judy Holliday won for “Born Yesterday,” a rare comic performance to win Best Actress.) Davis, like Channing, would also marry Gary Merrill, who played Playwright Bill Simpson, a younger man Channing would marry in the film. 

I realized how little I’ve described the film; I’ve told more about its effect and backstage repartee than the actual onscreen film except in a few generalities. The on-film repartee is itself amazing, there's some great dialogue here, and this movie denotes one of the first onscreen appearances of a pre-fame Marilyn Monroe, but narratively this film is often nothing but generics that aren’t impressive to discuss until the entirety is revealed, except for one famous party scene on a particularly, bumpy night. Still though, this is one of those movies where the way the story is revealed and told that matters, and arguably the most influential part of the movie. Outside of Billy Wilder and Orson Welles, there weren't too many Hollywood Writer/Director who would play with the form and structure of screenplays much and rarely so successfully as "All About Eve".  

Still, the film isn’t so much about the specificities as it is about the minutia of the character’s behaviors and how they react.  The movie is subtlety disguised as melodrama, but it’s not melodrama however, it’s truly a sly high drama filled with biting wit, laced with agendas and where everything and everybody is playing at an extra angle that they think only they know but everybody can clearly see. It’s like a chess game, where everybody knows how everybody’s moves are setting up their next ones, but can’t stop and defend against it anyway. 

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