The film “All About Eve” is a classic in black-and-white which is still relevant after 65 years. The cast may not be familiar to viewers under 35, but these wonderful actors were part of the memories of my youth when movies were the prime entertainment for date night and other get-togethers. They don’t make ‘em like this anymore.
The film opens at an Awards dinner honoring actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) with the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Theatre. In the audience, several friends are there to recognize her unbelievable rise in her career. Most of the remainder of the film is shown in flashback leading up to that auspicious evening.
We first encounter Eve as she was loitering outside the theater where actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) had just finished performing her role in her current play “Aged in Wood.” Eve was recognized by Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), the wife of the playwright, as Eve had been lurking around the stage door for several evenings. When they spoke, Karen was able to glean that Eve was an admiring fan of Margo; she offered to take her inside to introduce her. Margo was welcoming and cheerful to Eve, but Eve’s maid Birdie (Thelma Ritter) took an instant dislike to her. Karen’s husband, Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), was there also, as well as Margo’s boyfriend, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill).
Anne Baxter - Wikimedia Commons
Eve related to the group that she had seen Margo in San Francisco when she was touring with the play “Remembrance.” She was so impressed with her that when “Aged in Wood” came to Broadway, she saw the play every single night. She had little to keep her busy as her husband Eddie had been killed in the war. Margo was so moved by her story that she asked Eve that night if she would like to be her assistant at home, and set her up in a guest room on the top floor of her home.
Margo had become conscious of her age since she had turned 40 and was fearful for her career although at this point she was at the peak of popularity with her fans. Her current boyfriend Bill, however, was 32 years old, and although he loved her dearly, she did worry about the age gap between them. Bill had to meet with some film executives in California, and called her very late one evening. He was told he had a call from Margo Channing and he was responding to it. It was actually Eve who had placed the call to him. Margo was planning a party for his upcoming birthday; Bill said that he knew about the party because Eve had mentioned it in a telegram. Eve was gradually insinuating herself into Margo’s life, overstepping her bounds somewhat.
Bette Davis - Wikimedia Commons
Networking Machinations at the Party
On the night of the birthday party, Addison DeWitt, the famous theater critic (played by George Sanders) arrived with a beautiful lady on his arm, Claudia Casswell (Marilyn Monroe), who was hoping to make contact with the theatrical producers. She approached the producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff) who promised to get her an audition. Margo also spoke to Max, suggesting that he should hire Eve as his assistant, giving her an excellent recommendation. She was tiring of Eve’s constant presence and her praises being sung by Bill and Lloyd Richards.
Karen Richards was a faithful friend to Eve, having introduced her to Margo in the first place. Eve came to her that evening with a request also. She was aware that Margo’s understudy was expecting a baby, and wanted to take her place. Karen promised to talk to Max Fabian and her husband, Lloyd. It was a done deal.
Margo was asked to come in on an afternoon to aid in auditioning Claudia Casswell with Max and Lloyd. Margo was to read the script lines opposite Claudia. Because Margo was two hours late for the appointment, her new understudy Eve took her place in the audition.
George Sanders - Wikimedia
When she arrived too late for the audition, she learned for the first time that Eve was her understudy, thinking that she was working as Max Fabian’s assistant. The men related that Claudia’s performance was a bust, but that they were highly impressed with Eve’s performance at the audition. Their new play in the works, entitled “Footsteps on the Ceiling,” would go into rehearsal soon with the expectation that Margo would be the leading lady, Cora, a 24-year-old girl. Both men now felt that Eve could easily fall into that part.
Margo and Bill, and Karen and Lloyd decided to get away from it all for the weekend. They had a deadline, though, to get back in time for “Aged in Wood.” Somehow, on the way back, the car ran out of gas although it had been filled that morning. Of course, Margo was too late for her entrance, and her part had to be given to her understudy, Eve. Since Eve had some vague connection to the breakdown of the car, she knew that she would be doing Margo’s role that evening, and invited all of the New York theater critics to the performance that night. Of course, she received rave reviews.
Celeste Holm - Wikimedia
Eve continued her underhanded actions, including trying to spirit away both Bill and Lloyd from their partners, neither of which worked. Addison DeWitt, who had developed a dislike for Eve, looked into her background and found that her name was actually Gertrude Slojinski and that she had never been married and had never gone to San Francisco to see Margo in “Remembrance.”
Margo’s fears were unwarranted. Bill surprised her with his proposal, saying he wanted to take her to City Hall to pick up a marriage license, but they would have to wait three days for the Blood test results. Margo admitted that she really did not want to play Cora in “Footsteps on the Ceiling;” she preferred to stay with “Aged in Wood.” She said “I don’t have to play parts I’m too old for.”
“All About Eve” received 14 nominations for the Academy Awards, a record at that time. The picture won six Oscars, including Best Picture, George Sanders for Best Actor in a Supporting Role, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz for Best Director.
This was a brilliant piece of satire executed by Joseph Mankiewicz. He threw barbs at every Hollywood type; he was familiar with all of it. Nothing escaped his irony. All of the hypocrisy and cold-blooded ambition that we now know exists in the theater world was broken open by Mankiewicz for all to see. It is worth seeing twice to catch the innuendos you may have missed the first time around.