“All About Eve” is a literate, adult film of the calibre that will do big league, big town business. In addition it has all the elements for the general runs.
The whyfore of the producer’s insistence for “scheduled performances” becomes obvious as the story unfolds from its banquet scene that honors a new Broadway legit great and the flashbacks which deal with the brittle, hard-bitten and frequently bitter saga that tells us “All About Eve.”
Anne Baxter, in the title role, is the radiant newcomer who has attained the thespic heights. And as she mounts the podium to receive the supreme accolade, the intimates who figured in her breathless success story project their own vignettes on what made this hammy glammy run.
Bette Davis is the established albeit somewhat aging star. Hugh Marlowe is her author; Celeste Holm the playwright’s wife; Gary Merrill the play’s director who yields to a quick call, and some easy money, from Hollywood but soon returns to Miss Davis, his major romance. Backgrounding are Gregory Ratoff, as the producer, and George Sanders as the debonair, machiavellian dramatic critic who knows the angles–plus.
Miss Baxter plays a starry-eyed would be actress who, by extraordinary design, finally meets Bette Davis, her histrionic idol (through the kind offices of Celeste Holm). She is taken into the household, machinates an understudy chore, apparently possesses the basic talent to click resoundingly once she engineers an opportunity – and in return is ruthless in her pitch for both the beau and the husband of the two women who most befriended her.
The basic story is garnished with exceedingly well-cast performances wherein Miss Davis does not spare herself, makeup-wise, in the aging star assignment. Miss Baxter gives the proper shading to her cool and calculating approach in the process of ingratiation and ultimate opportunities; and the other principals mouth dialog which is real and convincing. The intra-trade references to Zanuck (perhaps the first time a producer permitted his own name-dropping to further the plot), the William Morris agency, 21 and the Stork (both reproduced with authentic interiors) are plausible and not dragged in for any smartalecky reasons. The snide references to picture people, the plug for San Francisco (“an oasis of civilization in the California desert”) and the like are purposeful and manifest an intelligent reflex from a group of hyper-talented people towards the picture business. In itself it was courageous to retain these segments. It is typical of the general quality of the film, both as to the screenplay and the players.
It is obvious author-director Joe Mankiewicz knew what and how he wanted his cast to say and interpret. It comes out that way, even in the bitter ending with its suggestion that still another tyro, who had latched onto Miss Baxter, might well tread the same hard path.
It is cogent that a sharp Broadway play–at least a screenplay about Broadway people–was cradled and produced in Hollywood. The characterizations are composite prototypes, of course, although some may see in Miss Davis’ role a vivid counterpart. The ruthless critic is 100% fiction; any analogy, because of his debonair typecasting, ends there.
“All About Eve” has substance in virtually every dramatic and romantic mood, which have been given proper shading and projection by producer Darryl F. Zanuck and Mankiewicz. The segue from the commentary school of cinematurgy, to bridge the flashback sequences, into the vignettes is unobtrusive but an effective technique to tie up the entire package which ends with Miss Baxter hugging the coveted trophy–and a stranger to her friends.
The Zanuck production investiture is plush in every department.
1950: Best Picture, Director, Supp. Actor (George Sanders), Screenplay, Sound Recording, B&W Costume Design.
Nominations: Best Actress (Anne Baxter, Bette Davis), Supp. Actress (Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter), B&W Cinematography, Art Direction, Editing, Original Music Score