mon 27/09/2021

DVD/Blu-ray: All About Eve | reviews, news & interviews

DVD/Blu-ray: All About Eve

DVD/Blu-ray: All About Eve

They don't write scripts like that anymore: Joseph L Mankiewicz's theatrical masterpiece

Dream casting: Anne Baxter, Bette Davis, Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders

Rivalled only by Titanic and La La Land for its 14 Oscar nominations, 1950's Best Picture-winner All About Eve is a film that audiences and reviewers love – even though Joseph L Mankiewicz’s brilliant screenplay makes no bones about the fact that he thinks both fans and critics are less than loveable.

Broadway star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is dismissive of the admirers who hang around the stage door: “Autograph fiends, they’re not people. Those are little beasts that run around in packs like coyotes". Later on, professional critics are described as needing to be dragged out of the “bars, steam rooms and museums or wherever they hole up”. We love this kind of abuse when it’s delivered with élan by great performers like Davis and George Sanders.  

Criterion's new edition presents this Hollywood classic in a beautifully lustrous print with every line of quotable dialogue ringing crisply. Margo is an ageing actress who infuriates even her closest friends and colleagues with her diva-esque imperiousness. When Eve (Anne Baxter) appears as an adoring fan, she seems devoted to Margo but is ruthlessly plotting to replace her. An incandescent Marilyn Monroe plays an ingenue, Celeste Holm is Margo's occasionally exasperated confidante, and Thelma Ritter her world-weary dresser. The stage is set for a bitchy drama that dances between genres, sometimes resembling a screwball comedy, at other times shading into melodrama.

Based on a short story published in Cosmopolitan magazine, All About Eve was originally meant to star Claudette Colbert as Margo. Baxter was cast as her amanuensis and rival because she looked similar to Colbert, but when the latter was injured during her previous film, Davis stepped in two weeks before filming began. In a 1983 chat show interview (included in the extras here), Davis describes it as one of the greatest breaks in her career. “I told Mankiewicz that he had resurrected me from the dead", she said. She was 42 in 1950, her recent movies had been flops and her third marriage was failing. All About Eve not only gave her the chance to give a wonderfully stylish performance as an acerbic actress battling with fame’s disappointments and fears of ageing, it also won her a fourth (and final) husband in the shape of her handsome co-star Gary Merrill. 

CriterionBaxter, who’d won an Oscar as a tragic victim of alcoholism in 1946’s The Razor’s Edge, got to show her acting chops as the mercurial, manipulative Eve. George Sanders as the devious critic, Addison De Witt, stops the film from becoming an outright catfight by adding another dimension to the sexual tensions. Believing De Witt is a bitchy queen helping her supplant Margo, Eve is clearly shocked when she realises that he harbours a desire to possess and dominate her.

It is doubtless debatable whether All About Eve is a proto-feminist film – what with all those fabulously articulate women dominating the screen and selecting men for their looks – or a post-World War II homily about how career ladies will never achieve happiness until they put their husbands and homemaking first. But it can also just be enjoyed for Mankiewicz’s treasurable dialogue and the costuming genius of Edith Head, who (with co-designer Charles LeMaire) won one of the film's six Oscars. Sanders was the only actor garlanded (nominees Davis, Baxter, Holm and Ritter lost out); Mankiewicz won for his screenplay and direction; Thomas T Moulton for Best Sound.

This edition comes with alternate commentaries from Mankiewicz's sons, costume historian Larry McQueen's thoughts on how the couture inflected the performances, and a reprise of Michel Ciment’s 1983 interview with Mankiewicz himself.

 

The stage is set for a bitchy drama that dances between genres

rating

Editor Rating: 
5
Average: 5 (1 vote)

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