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All About Eve is a 1950 American drama film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, based on the short story "The Wisdom of Eve," by Mary Orr.

The film stars Bette Davis as Margo Channing, a highly regarded but aging Broadwaymarker star. Anne Baxter plays Eve Harrington, a willingly helpful young fan who insinuates herself into Channing's life, ultimately threatening Channing's career and her personal relationships. George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe, Gary Merrill and Thelma Ritter also appear, and the film provided one of Marilyn Monroe's earliest important roles.

Praised by critics at the time of its release, All About Eve was nominated for 14 Academy Awards (a feat that was unmatched until the 1997 film, Titanic) and won six, including Best Picture. All About Eve was selected in 1990 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and was among the first 50 films to be registered. All About Eve appeared at #16 on AFI's 1998 list of the 100 best American films.

Plot



The film begins at an awards dinner, where the newest and brightest star on Broadway, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), is being presented the Sarah Siddons award for her breakout performance as Cora in Footsteps on the Ceiling. The droll newspaper critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) observes the proceedings and, in a sardonic voice over, recalls how Eve's star rose as quickly as it did.

The film flashes back a year. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is one of the biggest stars on Broadwaymarker, but despite her unmatched success, she is beginning to show her age. After a performance one night, Margo's close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of the play's author Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), meets a besotted fan, Eve Harrington, in the cold alley outside the stage door. Recognizing her from standing room (Eve claims to have seen every performance), Karen takes her backstage to meet Margo. Eve claims to be Margo's biggest fan who tells the group gathered in Margo's dressing room—Karen and Lloyd, Margo's lover Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), and Margo's maid Birdie (Thelma Ritter)—that she followed Margo's theatrical tour to New York after seeing her in a play in San Franciscomarker. Margo quickly befriends Eve, who willingly offers to assist Margo in small ways. Margo soon offers Eve a job as assistant, leaving Birdie, who dislikes Eve, feeling put out.

Eve begins working to supplant Margo, scheming to become her understudy and tricks Karen into sabotaging Margo's car, forcing her to miss a performance. Eve, knowing in advance she will go on, invites the city's theatre critics to the theatre that night. The night is a triumph. Eve makes a pass at Bill, but he rejects her. She then schemes to secure the role of Cora—despite the fact that Lloyd has written this new character for Margo—through blackmail, threatening to tell Margo of Karen's role in the car sabotage. Before she can put this plan in action, however, Margo announces to everyone's surprise that she will retire from the stage. Eve secures the role, and attempts to climb higher by using theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders). Just before the out-of-town opening of her play Eve faces DeWitt with her next plan—to marry Lloyd after he divorces his wife. DeWitt is infuriated that Eve has attempted to use him and reveals that he knows her back story is all lies. He blackmails her, forcing her to become his mistress in exchange for his silence.

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 besotted young fan Phoebe who had sneaked into her apartment. Phoebe begins to attend to Eve's needs. Phoebe answers the door to Addison 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 her award, brilliantly foreshadowing Eve's own demise. When Phoebe steps up to the mirrors, they are average, several-faced mirrors that you would find in a well-appointed hotel room. But as the scene concludes, we find the mirrors have multiplied a thousand-fold to reveal endless reflections of Phoebe's future, a striking cinematographic achievement.

Production

Origin

The story of All About Eve originated in an anecdote related to Mary Orr by actress Elisabeth Bergner. While performing in The Two Mrs. Carrolls during 1943 and 1944, Bergner allowed a young fan to become part of her household and employed her as an assistant, but later regretted her generosity when the woman attempted to undermine her. Referring to her only as "the terrible girl," Bergner related the events to Orr, who used it as the basis for her short story "The Wisdom of Eve." In the story, Orr gives the girl a more ruthless character and allows her to succeed in stealing the career of the older actress. Bergner later confirmed the basis of the story in her autobiography Bewundert viel, und viel gescholten (Greatly Admired and Greatly Scolded).

In 1949, Mankiewicz was considering a story about an aging actress and, upon reading "The Wisdom of Eve," felt the conniving girl would be a useful added element. He sent a memo to Darryl F. Zanuck saying it "fits in with an original idea [of mine] and can be combined. Superb starring role for Susan Hayward." Mankiewicz presented a film treatment of the combined stories under the title Best Performance. He changed the main character's name from Margola Cranston to Margo Channing and retained several of Orr's characters, Eve Harrington, Lloyd and Karen Richards, and Miss Caswell, while removing Margo Channing's husband completely and replacing him with a new character, Bill Sampson. The intention was to depict Channing in a new relationship and allow Eve Harrington to threaten both Channing's professional and personal lives. Mankiewicz also added the characters Addison DeWitt, Birdie Coonan, Max Fabian, and Phoebe.

Zanuck was enthusiastic and provided numerous suggestions for improving the screenplay. In some sections he felt Mankiewicz's writing lacked subtlety or provided excessive detail. He suggested diluting Birdie Coonan's jealousy of Eve so the audience would not recognize Eve as a villain until much later in the story. Zanuck reduced the screenplay by about 50 pages and chose the title All About Eve from the opening scenes in which Addison DeWitt says he will soon tell "more of Eve ... All about Eve, in fact."Staggs, Sam: All About "All About Eve". St Martin's Press, 2001. ISBN 0-312-27315-0


Casting and characters

Bette Davis was cast as Margo Channing after Claudette Colbert severely injured her back and was forced to withdraw shortly before filming began.

Davis, who had recently ended a 19-year association with Warner Brothers after several poorly received films, later commented she had read the script in one sitting and immediately accepted the role after realizing it was one of the best she had ever read. Channing had originally been conceived as genteel and knowingly humorous, but with the casting of Davis, Mankiewicz revised the character to be more abrasive. Among other actresses considered before Colbert were Mankiewicz's original inspiration, Susan Hayward, rejected by Zanuck as "too young," Marlene Dietrich, dismissed as "too Germanmarker," and Gertrude Lawrence, who was ruled out of contention when her agent suggested, "Wouldn't it be nice if Gertie sat by the piano and sang?" Zanuck favored Barbara Stanwyck, but she was not available. Mankiewicz praised Davis for both her professionalism and the calibre of her performance, but in later years continued to discuss how Colbert would have played the role.

Anne Baxter had spent a decade in supporting roles and had won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for The Razor's Edge in 1947. She got the role of Eve Harrington after the first choice, Jeanne Crain, became pregnant. Crain was at the height of her popularity and had established a career playing likable heroines; Zanuck believed she lacked the "bitch virtuosity" required by the part, and audiences would not accept her as a deceitful character.

The role of Bill Sampson was originally intended for John Garfield or Ronald Reagan. Reagan's future wife Nancy Davis was considered for Karen Richards and Jose Ferrer for Addison DeWitt. Zsa Zsa Gabor actively sought the role of Phoebe without realizing the producers were considering her, along with Angela Lansbury, for Miss Caswell.


Mankiewicz greatly admired Thelma Ritter and wrote the character of Birdie Coonan for her after working with her on A Letter to Three Wives in 1949. As Coonan was the only one immediately suspicious of Eve Harrington, he was confident Ritter would contribute a shrewd characterisation casting doubt on Harrington and providing a counterpoint to the more "theatrical" personalities of the other characters. Marilyn Monroe, relatively unknown at the time, was cast as Miss Caswell, referred to by DeWitt as a "graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art." Monroe got the part despite Zanuck's initial antipathy and belief she was better suited to comedy. Smaller roles were filled by Gregory Ratoff as the producer Max Fabian, Barbara Bates as Phoebe, a young fan of Eve Harrington, and Walter Hampden as the master of ceremonies at an award presentation.

Cast



Response

Critical reaction

All About Eve received overwhelmingly positive reviews from critics upon its release on October 13, 1950 at a New York Citymarker premiere. The film's competitor, Sunset Boulevard, released the same year, drew similar praise, and the two were often favorably compared. Roger Ebert of the Chicago Sun Times says of Davis that "veteran actress Margo Channing in All About Eve was her greatest role". A collection of reviews from the film's release are stored on the website Rottentomatoes.com, and All About Eve has garnered 100% positive reviews there, making it "Certified fresh." Boxoffice.com stated that it "is a classic of the American cinema -- to this day the quintessential depiction of ruthless ambition in the entertainment industry, with legendary performances from Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and George Sanders anchoring one of the very best films from one of Hollywood's very best Golden Era filmmakers: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. It is a film that belongs on every collector's shelf - whether on video or DVD. It is a classic that deserves better than what Fox has given it."

Awards and honors

Academy Awards



Golden Globe Awards



NY Film Critics Circle Awards



Directors Guild of America Awards

  • Outstanding Directorial Achievement in a Motion Picture - Joseph L. Mankiewicz


Cannes Film Festival



British Academy of Film and Television Arts



Later recognition and rankings

In 1990, All About Eve was selected for preservation in the United States National Film Registry by the Library of Congressmarker as being "culturally, historically, or aesthetically significant." The film received in 1997 a placement on the Producers Guild of America Hall of Fame. The film also earns a 100% rating on Rotten Tomatoes.

American Film Institute recognition

When AFI named Bette Davis # 2 on its list of the greatest female American screen legends, All About Eve was the film selected to highlight Davis' legendary career. (Marilyn Monroe, who makes a brief appearance in Eve, ranked # 6 on the screen legends list.)

Sarah Siddons Award

The film opens with the image of a fictitious award trophy, described by DeWitt as the "highest honor our theater knows - the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement." In 1952, a small group of distinguished Chicagomarker theater-goers began to give an award with that name, which was sculpted to look like the one used in the film. It has been given annually, with past honorees including Bette Davis, Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm.

Adaptations

A radio version of All About Eve starring Tallulah Bankhead as Margo Channing was presented on NBC's The Big Show by the Theatre Guild of the Air on November 16, 1952. The production is notable in that Mary Orr, the writer of the original short story that formed the basis for the original film, played the role of Karen Richards. The cast also featured Alan Hewitt as Addison DeWitt (who narrated), Beatrice Pearson as Eve Harrington, Don Briggs as Lloyd Richards, Kevin McCarthy as Bill Samson, Florence Robinson as Birdie Koonan, and Stefan Schnabel as Max Fabian.

In 1970, All About Eve was the inspiration for the stage musical Applause, with book by Betty Comden and Adolph Green, lyrics by Lee Adams, and music by Charles Strouse. The original production starred Lauren Bacall as Margo Channing, and it won the Tony Award for Best Musical that season. It ran for four previews and 896 performances at the Palace Theatre on Broadwaymarker.

In popular culture

The plot of the film has been used numerous times (frequently as an outright homage to the film), with one famous example being a 1974 episode of The Mary Tyler Moore Show, "A New Sue Ann". In the episode, the character of Sue Ann Nivens (Betty White), hostess of a popular local cooking show, hires a young, pretty and very eager fan as her apprentice and assistant, but the neophyte quickly begins to sabotage her mentor, in an attempt to replace her as host of the show. (Sue Ann, however, unlike Margo Channing, prevails in the end, countering the young woman's attempts to steal her success and sending her on her way.)

A 2008 episode of The Simpsons, "All About Lisa", is influenced by this film. In the episode, Lisa becomes Krusty the Clown's assistant, eventually taking his place on television and receiving an entertainment award.

Pedro Almodovar's 1999 Academy Award-winning Spanish language film, Todo sobre mi madre (All About My Mother), has elements similar to those found in All About Eve. The title of the film itself is an homage to the 1950 film. In the first scene, the character of Manuela and her son, Esteban, are watching a dubbed version of the movie on television when the film is introduced as "Eve Unveiled." Esteban comments that the film should be called "Todo Sobre Eve" ("All About Eve"). Later in the scene, he begins writing about his mother in his notebook and calls the piece "Todo sobre mi madre." Also in All About My Mother, Manuela replaces Nina Cruz as Stella for a night in a production of A Streetcar Named Desire, leading a furious Nina to accuse her of learning the part "just like Eve Harrington!"

In a season 3 episode of Gossip Girl, titled Enough About Eve, Blair has a dream where she is Bette Davis in All About Eve.

Thematic interpretations

One of All About Eve's possible underlying themes is that the norm of heterosexuality, specifically in the form of marriage, must be upheld, in contrast to the social threat posed by independent career women and especially homosexuals. The nurturing familial relationships of Margo and Bill and of Karen and Lloyd contrast with the sterile means-to-an-end mentality of Eve and Addison, who some critics have stated are homosexual by inference and whose behavior is antagonistic. Eve uses her physical femininity as a weapon to try to break up the marriages of both couples, and the extreme cynicism of Addison serves as a model of Eve's future. Homosexuality was often linked to communism during the Cold War, and critics have written about the film containing a subtle Cold War narrative. The subtlety is seen as primarily being due to Production Code restrictions on the depiction of homosexuals in the media during this time. It has been noted that women, who had entered the workplace during World War II and had been the subject of propaganda such as Rosie the Riveter that promoted female agency, found themselves compelled by society to return to traditionally female roles, yielding disillusionment Betty Friedan referred to as the "problem that has no name".

The homosexual as an emotionally bereft predator is a recurrent theme in American film. The documentary The Celluloid Closet (which was produced in part as a film) notes that there are numerous examples from American cinema of the Production Code period, as does American Cold War Culture, which cites it.Despite what some critics have described as the film's homophobia, it has long had a gay audience, likely due to its campy overtones (in part due to the casting of Davis) and its general sophistication. Davis, who long had a strong gay fan base, expressed support for gay men in her 1972 interview with The Advocate.

Some critics have noted other primary themes in the film. Allmovie's review of the film by Rebecca Flint Marx notes the antagonism that existed between Broadway and Hollywood at the time, stating that the "script summoned into existence a whole array of painfully recognizable theatre types, from the aging, egomaniacal grand dame to the outwardly docile, inwardly scheming ingenue to the powerful critic who reeks of malignant charm." Roger Ebert, in his online review, says Eve Harrington is "a universal type", and focuses on the aging actress plot line, comparing the film to Sunset Boulevard. Similarly, Marc Lee's 2006 review of the film for The Daily Telegraph describes a subtext "into the darker corners of showbusiness, exposing its inherent ageism, especially when it comes to female stars." Kathleen Woodward's 1999 book, Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations (Theories of Contemporary Culture), also discusses themes that appeared in many of the "aging actress" films of the 1950s and 1960s, including All About Eve. She reasons that Margo has three options: "To continue to work, she can perform the role of a young woman, one she no longer seems that interested in. She can take up the position of the angry bitch, the drama queen who holds court (the deliberate camp that Sontag finds in this film). Or she can accept her culture's gendered discourse of aging which figures her as in her moment of fading. Margo ultimately chooses the latter option, accepting her position as one of loss."

Notes

  1. "America's Greatest Movies" AFI.com. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
  2. TCM Notes
  3. Roger Ebert "All About Eve (1950)" Chicago Sun-Times (11 June 2000)
  4. http://www.boxoffice.com/boxoffice_scr/boxoffice_dvd_result.asp?terms=12
  5. Ironically, Bette Davis played three roles that had been originated on Broadway by Tallulah Bankhead (in Dark Victory, Reflected Glory and The Little Foxes) — Bankhead and Davis were considered to be somewhat similar in style, with Davis a more disciplined performer who understood film better than Bankhead. Source: liner notes, All About Eve, Moving Finger LP MF002
  6. "A New Sue Ann" Starpulse.com
  7. The Simpsons on Fox TVGuide.com. Retrieved 18 April 2009.
  8. "American Cold War Culture", Ch. 2 – Gender and Sexuality – All about the Subversive Femme – Cold War Homophobia in All About Eve, Edinburgh University Press, 2005 ISBN 0748619232, 9780748619238
  9. "unInvited: Classical Hollywood Cinema and Lesbian Representability, A Star is Beaten, by Patricia White p. 202-12, Indiana University Press, 1999ISBN0253213452, 9780253213457
  10. "Cold War Femme", Lesbian Visibility In ... All About Eve, by Robert Corber, GLQ Journal of Duke University, 2005 11(1):1-22; DOI:10.1215/10642684-11-1-1
  11. What Happened To Rosie The Riveter?, Heather Hunt, University of Maryland, 1999
  12. The Celluloid Closet,, Vito Russo, Harper & Row, 1981 ISBN 0060908718, 9780060908713
  13. Hollywood's Monstrous Queen of Camp,, TimesOnline, Nov 2007
  14. Camp: Queer Aesthetics and the Performing Subject, University of Michigan Press 1999, ISBN 0472067222
  15. Dark Victory - The Life of Bette Davis, Macmillan, 2007, ISBN 0805075488
  16. All About Eve review AllMovie.com, Rebecca Flint Marx. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
  17. "All About Eve (1950)", Great Movies by Roger Ebert, rogerebert.com, 6-11-2000.
  18. "Must-have movies: All About Eve (1950)" The Daily Telegraph, Marc Lee, 7 July 2006. Retrieved 8 August 2009.
  19. Woodward, Kathleen M. Figuring Age: Women, Bodies, Generations (Theories of Contemporary Culture) Indiana University Press, 1999, p. 242. ISBN 0253334503.


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