All the World’s a Stage
From the snarky opening scene, I knew I was gonna love All About Eve. Written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, this is perhaps the first film with an attitude we today would call modern.
The film opens with a ceremony honoring actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), with voiceover commentary from theater critic Addison Dewitt (George Sanders), his snide take on actors, playwrights, theater, Eve Harrington, and the distinguished award she’s winning. Also at the ceremony, scowling their displeasure, are actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), wife of the playwright who wrote the role that won Eve her award.
All About Eve then flashes back to tell us, well, all about Eve. She’s a starstruck fan who hangs around the stage door after every performance of Aged in Wood, dying to meet her heroine, Margo. Karen runs into sweet little Eve one night and, charmed by her, brings her backstage to meet Margo. And that’s where the trouble starts. Today we’d consider Eve a bit of a stalker: she’s seen Margo’s every performance of Aged in Wood, even followed Margo across the country from San Francisco to New York, where she’d seen Margo in every performance of another play. Margo and Karen are oblivious, and they sort of adopt Eve — she moves in with Margo and becomes her becomes her assistant, friend, and confidante. She’s desperate to become an actress, and wants to learn all she can from Margo. Eve seems modest, innocent, self-effacing, wide-eyed, loyal, fresh, uncynical — she has a “quiet graciousness,” says one character. But is it all an act?
Only in the world of theater, with its temperamental and insecure personalities and actors who don’t know when to stop acting, is such a story of pretense and fantasy so delicious. Margo, stuck in the trap of fame, almost has no choice but to accept young Eve’s adoration. Margo is worried about getting old, and she needs the worship and approval of her fans even as it annoys her. Eve understands this, too, rhapsodizing on applause, likening it to “waves of love coming over the footlights and wrapping you up.”
Just as we gradually learn that the manipulative Eve has been having Margo and Karen on, we come to realize that the filmmakers are having the audience on as well. All About Eve is a film that you see completely differently once you know what’s going to happen. Go back and watch it again, once you’re in on the secret, and it’s practically a new film. It would be more than another 20 years, with 1973’s The Sting (another Best Picture), before the audience would be so delighted by such hoaxing.
Oscars Best Motion Picture 1950
AFI 100 (1998 list): #28
unforgettable movie moment:
As a cocktail party heads for disaster, Margo snipes, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”
previous AFI 100 film:
27: High Noon
next AFI 100 film:
29: Double Indemnity