Reviewed by
Colin Jacobson

Title: All About Eve (1950)
Studio Line: 20th Century Fox - It's all about women--and their men!

The "dialogue is scintillating, characters...extraordinary, direction...perfect and production as fine as anything 20th Century Fox has turned out” in Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “captivating” (Variety) Oscar winner for Best Picture.

From the moment she glimpses her idol at the stage door, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) moves relentlessly towards her goal: taking the reins of power from the great actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis). The cunning Eve maneuvers her way into Margo’s Broadway role, becomes a sensation and even causes turmoil in the lives of Margo’s director boyfriend (Gary Merrill), her playwright (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife (Celeste Holm). Only the cynical drama critic (Oscar winner George Sanders) sees through Eve, admiring her audacity and perfect pattern of deceit.

Thelma Ritter and Marilyn Monroe co-star in this acclaimed classic, which won six Academy Awards and received the most nominations (14) in film history.

Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Cast: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Gregory Ratoff, Barbara Bates, Marilyn Monroe
Academy Awards: Won for Best Picture; Best Director; Best Screenplay; Best Supporting Actor-George Sanders; Best Costume Design; Best Sound. Nominated for Best Actress-Bette Davis, Anne Baxter; Best Supporting Actress-Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter; Best Cinematography; Best Music-Alfred Newman; Best Film Editing; Best Art Direction-Set Decoration, 1951.
DVD: Standard 1.33:1; audio English Digital Mono, French Digital Mono; subtitles English, Spanish; closed-captioed; single side - dual layer; 27 chapters; rated NR 138 min.; $29.98; street date 10/5/99.
Supplements: Theatrical Trailer.
Purchase: DVD | All About 'All About Eve': The Complete Behind-The-Scene Story of the Bitchiest Film Ever Made - Sam Staggs

Picture/Sound/Extras: D+/C-/D-

As I've documented on a few other occasions, I want to review every DVD that won the Oscar for Best Picture. Today's stop on this long journey leads me to 1950's All About Eve, a film that also snagged prizes for George Sanders as Best Supporting Actor and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for both Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay.

Embarrassing admission: the storyline to AAE quickly caught me off guard when I started to watch it. I thought it would be more of a psychological thriller instead of the character-driven drama it is. Because I'm a moron, I'd confused AAE with Three Faces of Eve and Bette Davis' What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? It didn't take me long to realize my mistake, but I felt pretty stupid nonetheless.

It also didn't take me too long to see where AAE was going with its plot. Despite the film's title, it's not directly about Eve (Anne Baxter); although she plays a major role in the film, the plot seems more concerned with the effect Eve's presence plays on the other characters, most notably successful stage actress Margo Channing (Davis). After the movie starts with an awards banquet at which she receives the most prestigious prize, we learn that Eve has become a huge star, and the film plays in flashback to lead us up to - and past - the moment of her victory. We see Eve ingratiate herself into the lives of Margo and her friends, and we slowly watch as Eve's machinations affect tension and dissension among the tightly-knit group, all as she positions herself to climb the ladder.

In a way, AAE actually is something of a thriller, as it seems somewhat similar to films like Single White Female and The Hand That Rocks the Cradle; those movies depicted women who infiltrate the lives of others and seem perfect and wonderfully supportive at first but inevitably cause great harm due to their own goals. AAE sticks to more subtle means - there are no murders or bloodshed here - and the psychological damage inflicted by Eve's cunning doesn't look frightfully severe, but much of the fun of the film stems from being ahead of its characters and watching as Eve inevitably cons her way through life.

I hope these plot points don't sound like spoilers, but I think since the movie essentially begins with its ending, they won't reveal information you shouldn't already figure on your own. Within five minutes of the film's start, we know that Eve is a hugely successful actress, so it isn't a surprise to see her work through the ranks. How she gets there also seems inevitable, which can make the film somewhat frustrating; I was so far ahead of the characters that they appeared terribly dense at times.

Still, the movie works because it's well-executed and acted. Because my knowledge of older films remains limited, I lack much experience with Davis' catalog of work; in fact, I'm not sure if I've seen any of her movies other than 1939's Dark Victory. Her work in that picture impressed me tremendously, and while she doesn't quite equal the manic performance she offered there, Davis still makes the most of her role as Margo. I must admit I was startled to see how old she looked; only eleven years passed between DV and AAE, but Davis looks to have aged 25 years in that span. She's supposed to be 40, and was actually 42 at the time, but she appears closer to 50, and a worn 50 at that.

Nonetheless, she conjures some of that delicious bitch goddess attitude that has made her a favorite of gay men worldwide. The way she joyfully snarls, "Fasten your seatbelts - it's going to be a bumpy night!" has made that the most famous bit from AAE, but I actually preferred one minor line early in the picture; when Margo's friend Karen (Celeste Holm) brings the allegedly-starstruck Eve backstage after a show, Margo instructs her assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter) to give the interloper "the heave-ho!" I don't know what it was, but something about the way she spits out that modest line really worked for me; that's the sign of a strong performance, I suppose, when even the inessential becomes delightful.

At first, it may seem odd that AAE focusses mainly on Margo, but it makes sense within the conventions of the genre. Eve needs to remain mysterious and aloof for most of the film, and that can't happen if she's the main character. Also, the concentration on Margo gives the audience a better entrance into the movie, as we can more easily relate to what happens.

Does All About Eve deserve its status as a classic? Yeah, I guess so. While I enjoyed the movie, I can't say that it completely bowled me over and stunned me. Much of it seems dated - when Margo concludes that she can only be a "complete" woman if she has a man, I gagged - but the picture moves at a sprightly enough pace, and the acting seems pretty strong. Baxter is a bit bland, but that seems appropriate for her character, someone who needs to be something of a nothing for much of the story; she has a little trouble with her more emotional scenes but works adequately overall.

I especially liked George Sanders' drolly nasty turn as showbiz writer Addison DeWitt. He completely upstages the other men in the cast; as the mates of Margo and Karen respectively, both Gary Merrill and Hugh Marlowe are almost completely forgettable. To be frank, I continually forgot who was who; they looked so much alike and both appeared so bland that they made little impression, especially when confronted with the quiet menace inherent in every word from Sanders. Also keep an eye out for a small role from a very young Marilyn Monroe, who portrays - surprise! - a ditzy aspiring actress. AAE wasn't Monroe's first acting job, but it clearly was the first which has made a name for itself.

And a fairly deserved one at that. As I already mentioned, I didn't think All About Eve was an amazingly good film, but it seemed very strong nonetheless. It dragged at times, and it probably could have lost 20 minutes or so of its 138-minute running time, but I enjoyed it anyway. Buoyed by some solid performances, AAE makes for an interesting and entertaining experience.

The DVD:

Too bad the DVD's not very good. All About Eve appears in its original theatrical aspect ratio of approximately 1.33:1 on this single-sided, double-layered DVD; due to its dimensions, the image has not been enhanced for 16X9 televisions. Although the picture doesn't look terrible for such an old movie, it nonetheless presents a pretty high number of flaws and seems relatively weak.

Probably the best aspect of the DVD is the sharpness, which appears consistently pretty good. Some softness intrudes at times, but it was hard to tell how much of it was because of the poor transfer and how much may have been intentional due to soft "glamour" lighting afforded the actresses; most of the fuzziness occurred during close-ups of Davis, so I theorized that stylization may have caused some of the softness. In any case, the image generally looks accurate and well-defined, and I didn't detect any problems in regard to moiré effects or jagged edges, both of which appeared absent.

Print flaws bring about many of the DVD's concerns. Almost no portion of the movie escapes untouched by a variety of faults. Grain appears on a fairly constant basis, and speckles, scratches, nicks, and hairs all rear their ugly heads at various times. The film shows some mildly bright flashes of light on a couple of occasions, and it even wobbles at times. Yes, the print could have looked much worse - I've seen more flawed transfers - but this edition nonetheless seems quite disappointing.

On a slightly happier note, the black levels are generally pretty strong, with some adequately-defined dark tones throughout much of the film. However, the contrast looks off in some scenes, and these appear brighter than they should. Shadow detail seems largely appropriate, with images that are acceptably opaque but not overly heavy. Eliminate all the print flaws - or at least many of them - and you have a decent little transfer. However, as it stands, the picture on this DVD only merits a "D+".

The monaural soundtrack of All About Eve is a little better than the image, but not a lot. Dialogue works fairly well, with speech that sounds reasonably natural and intelligible, though it came across as rough in a couple of spots, with some scratchy distortion that interfered. Effects were adequately clear and acceptably realistic, and the music seemed thin and hollow but was within the limits of passable quality. Mild background noise accompanies much of the soundtrack, with some pops and snaps, and a few times it escalates to a louder level with more of a snarl. The soundtrack remains perfectly listenable for a 50-year-old movie, though some of the distortion and other flaws knock it down to only a "C-" level.

Also dissatisfying are the supplemental features on this DVD. We get trailers for both AAE and fellow Best Picture winner Gentlemen's Agreement. Both promos are actually reissue trailers, something made clear by the fact both mention their Academy Award victories. The DVD also includes a "Cast Gallery", which consists of nothing more four screens, each of which contains two publicity shots that identify two of the actors. Wow, what a dull "extra"!

The weak quality of the DVD seems unfortunate, since All About Eve remains a respected film that captured six Academy Awards nearly half a century ago. I don't know if I agree with all of its accolades, but I thought it worked well and was generally a strong effort. However, the DVD provides fairly poor picture and sound plus almost no supplements. Because of the film's stature, it may merit a rental, but I can't espouse more than that.

Menu: DVD Movie Guide | Archive | Top