Tuesday, February 26, 2019
2019 Blind Spot Series: All About Eve
Based on the short story The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr, All About Eve is the story of an aging Broadway actress who takes in a fan only to become part of the woman’s life and her circle of friends. Written for the screen and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film is a study of ambition and fame where a young woman takes the place of her idol in every way only to create chaos around her. Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Gregory Ratoff, Marilyn Monroe, Barbara Bates, and Walter Hampden. All About Eve is a ravishing yet riveting film from Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
The film revolves around a young woman who is a fan of this revered Broadway actress as she would become her assistant and later her understudy who would later become a successful actress and usurp her idol. It’s a film that is a study of ambition and what a young woman would do to become successful where she becomes close to the woman she idolizes and then create chaos in that woman’s life. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s screenplay explores the idea of ambition as it relates to the titular character of Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) and how she would become part of the life of the aging theatre actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Yet the story begins in an award ceremony for Harrington with Margo, her best friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), Richards’ husband/playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), Margo’s lover/director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), and famed theatre critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders).
Much of the film’s narrative is told from the perspective of Karen and Addison as they look back on the time they met Eve to her unexpected rise culminating with this award ceremony. Though Eve starts off as this innocent fan that Karen had seen almost every night during a theatre performance from Channing. It is through her first meeting with Channing that would play into this idea of who Eve is as she claims to have lost her husband in World War II and is from a poor background. Margo takes Eve as a second assistant which doesn’t sit well with her personal assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter) who is suspicious about Eve as well as disliking her. Margo would also become annoyed by Eve’s presence as she asked producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff) to hire her as his secretary only to end up being Eve’s understudy as a party at Margo’s home has Margo being overwhelmed with everyone else being entranced by Eve except for Birdie while Karen starts to feel bad for Eve.
The script’s narrative isn’t just this study of ambition as well as having elements of character study in Eve and Margo but also feature some dialogue that is fierce and biting. Even as it would play into the second act where Karen begins to realize the things that Eve is doing to Margo during a confrontation as there’s some language that is intense for its time along with connotations that is far more suggestive. It would play into a lot of the troubles and paranoia that Margo would endure upon Eve usurping her where Margo would choose to focus on something else. The film’s third act is about Eve and her rise but also the suspicions about who she is where DeWitt is someone that knows everything and has done a lot to play into Eve’s rise to stardom. Yet, the narrative would return to the film’s opening scene at the award ceremony with a more disturbing aftermath.
Mankiewicz’s direction is largely simple in terms of the compositions he creates where even though there aren’t a lot of wide shots for many of the film’s locations that is shot largely in various theatres and studios in San Francisco, New York City, Los Angeles, and New Haven, Connecticut. Mankiewicz does maintain that intimacy and theatricality into the performances and the usage of space inside the rooms. Even in how the atmosphere of the dressing room is whenever Margo just finished a performance as she is with Birdie, Karen, and Lloyd discussing the night’s performance where Mankiewicz presents all of them in a medium shot where even though Birdie is in the background at a bathroom. Mankiewicz does still put in the frame to play into her importance just as everyone else is talking to Eve. There are camera movements that would happen in the party although there are some close-ups that play into Margo’s own melancholia and growing jealousy towards Eve as she would be confused by Margo’s behavior in a conversation with other party goers.
Mankiewicz would also play into this drama that relates to a woman being aware that she is on her way out as she’s reaching her 40s and know she can’t stay young. Yet, she would eventually accept her fate despite feeling usurped and upstaged by Eve as the look of disdain she gives at the award ceremony in the film’s opening scene says a lot without doing much. The film’s third act that play into what DeWitt has discovered about Eve and what she is trying to do as it would lead to the image that DeWitt and Karen are narrating throughout the film where Eve is to receive this prestigious award. Yet, it would be followed by an aftermath about the realities of stardom where it is clear that it doesn’t last yet it’s about what one will do to survive and share the spotlight with someone else. Overall, Mankiewicz creates an evocative and majestic film about an aging actress dealing with a young fan who would become her understudy and later her rival.
Cinematographer Milton R. Krasner does brilliant work with the film’s black-and-white photography as it is largely straightforward for many of the interiors with its lighting as well as how the stage is lit for performances. Editor Barbara McLean does excellent work with the editing with its usage of freeze-frame to start the main narrative as well as some rhythmic cuts and a few transitional dissolves to structure the film. Art directors George W. Davis and Lyle R. Wheeler, with set decorators Thomas Little and Walter M. Scott, do amazing work with the look of the home that Margo lives in as well as the stage sets and some of the places the characters go to. Costume designers Edith Head and Charles LeMaire do incredible work with the clothes that the characters wearing including the gowns that Margo wears that is designed specifically by Head. The sound work of Thomas T. Moulton is terrific for its straightforward approach to sound including the restaurant sequence and scene set on the stage. The film’s music by Alfred Newman is superb for its soaring and bombastic orchestral score that play into the drama as well as moments that are melodramatic.
The film’s wonderful cast include some notable small roles from Barbara Bates as a fan of Eve in Phoebe, Walter Hampden as the award presenter, Gregory Ratoff as the somewhat gullible producer Max Fabian, and Marilyn Monroe as an aspiring actress named Miss Casswell. Thelma Ritter is superb as Birdie as Margo’s longtime assistant who is often honest about what needed to be said as she is one of the few early in the film that is suspicious about Eve as she is aware that her role in Margo’s life is about to be reduced.
Hugh Marlowe is terrific as Karen’s playwright husband Lloyd as a man who is trying to create great stories for Margo only to find himself attracted towards Eve much to the dismay of Karen as he becomes confused in his loyalty for Margo and his attraction for Eve. Gary Merrill is fantastic as Bill Sampson as a theatre director who is also being courted by Hollywood to make films as he is fascinated by Eve only to realize what Eve wants where he begins to think more about Margo whom he’s been in a relationship with. George Sanders is excellent as Addison DeWitt as a theatre critic who is someone that is close with Margo as he is interested in Eve only to do an interview that would further damage Eve and Margo’s relationship where it’s a low-key yet chilling performance of someone who has a lot of power to make or break someone.
Celeste Holm is brilliant as Lloyd’s wife Karen as Margo’s best friend who would introduce Eve to Margo where she is someone that meant well but notices the tension between the two where she later gets to know more about Eve that would eventually make her uneasy. Anne Baxter is amazing as Eve Harrington as a young woman who is a fan of Margo as she would become her assistant and later her understudy where she is someone that starts off as this innocent figure that is willing to learn yet there’s something about her that is far more intriguing and dark as it has the elements of someone being a total bitch. Finally, there’s Bette Davis in an incredible performance as Margo Channing as an aging theatre actress that is the embodiment of a star as she is a woman that is aware of getting older while dealing with Eve’s presence that would eventually annoy her as well as being someone that is accepting of her fate as she knows that she has a lot more to offer as it’s one of Davis’ finest performances.
All About Eve is a phenomenal film from Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Featuring a great cast led by Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, a compelling yet biting screenplay, amazing art direction, sumptuous music, and its study of ambition and stardom. It’s a film that is entertaining but also filled with characters who are fascinating but also flawed with some willing to accept their faults and others who aren’t aware of what is ahead for them. In the end, All About Eve is a spectacular film from Joseph L. Mankiewicz.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz Films: (Dragonwyck) - (Somewhere in the Night) - (The Late George Apley) - (The Ghost and Mrs. Muir) - (Escape (1948 film)) - (A Letter to Three Wives) - (House of Strangers) - (No Way Out (1950)) - (People Will Talk) - (5 Fingers) – Julius Caesar (1953 film) - (The Barefoot Contessa) - (Guys and Dolls) - (The Quiet American (1958)) - (Cleopatra (1963 film)) - (Carol for Another Christmas) - (The Honey Pot) - (There Was a Crooked Man…) - (Sleuth (1972 film))
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