All About Eve, which premiered in October 1950, opened to rave reviews and all-around praise. The film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, tallied up a total of fourteen Oscar nominations, of which it won six, including Best Picture. However, even more significantly, given the film’s subject matter, All About Eve became the first film in the history of the Academy Awards to receive four female acting nominations.
The film stars Golden Age screen icon Bette Davis as Margot Channing, a beloved Broadway actress who has it all. Yet despite her talent, fame and social standing, Channing fears her advancing years will eventually stunt her career choices. The film begins after a performance of her latest play, when Margot’s close friend, Karen (Celeste Holm), brings a young fan backstage to meet her. After professing her love for Channing and her acting work, Eve (Anne Baxter) regales Margot and her entourage with the story of her life, promising to be a poor, down on her luck widow from Wisconsin who lost her darling husband during World War Two.
Having captivated Channing and her friends with her harrowing tale of woe, Eve manages to infiltrate her way into the star’s inner circle, where she soon makes herself an indisposable addition to her life—much to the dislike of Margot’s assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter). Although the two start out chummy, Eve eventually begins to cross boundaries and, much to her distaste, muscles her way into the role of Margot’s understudy. Eventually, Eve’s innocent story of hardship and struggle begins to fall by the wayside, and evidence of her ambition to manipulative her way into an acting career comes to the forefront. Steadily, Eve’s shady plans come to fruition, revealing that it takes all kinds of ways for women to get ahead in Hollywood.
It’s the meta elements of All About Eve that make it such an interesting movie; the film came around the mid-point of Bette Davis’s career, meaning Margot Channing’s worries around ageing wouldn’t have been too far from the actresses own mind. With her scarlett days behind her and little in the way of interesting parts for actresses over a certain age, Davis, too, must have felt contempt for the younger actresses starting to creep into the industry. Actresses like, for example, Marilyn Monroe, who was just breaking into the industry around the time of filming and managed to bag a small bit part in the movie as Miss Claudia Casswell, a sassy-mouthed, blonde bombshell on the arm of a theatre critic, Addison DeWitt. Of course, alongside her notorious rival Joan Crawford, Davis would become famed for fighting for parts worthy of her talents and play out a long and illustrious career well past her so-called ‘expiration date.’ However, Channing’s concerns are still very relevant today, with many older women still struggling to find fitting roles when their male counterparts continue to walk into a plethora of tailor-made movies with ease.
All About Eve remains a timeless classic and a must-watch for all cinema lovers. Its sharp wit and clever vantage point reveal the ruthlessness of Hollywood, especially for women looking to find a way to break in. The movie showcases the classy heights of the Golden Age, featuring gorgeous costume design and spellbinding performances from the entire cast. All About Eve is among Davis’s best and most nuanced work; she delivers a measured amount of wit, disdain and panic, perfectly capturing the essence of Margot Channing while speaking to the reality of her profession. The film also marks out the trailblazing writing and direction of Mankiewicz, who delivers his female characters with distinct personalities. Each of his female characters possesses shades of grey, managing to be charming and winning as well as dastardly and deceitful. All About Eve offers a feminist and measured understanding of women, which, for a movie of its time, still holds up today.
Special Features of the Criterion Collection edition of All About Eve includes All About Mankiewicz, a feature-length documentary from 1983, which is an excellent portrait of All About Eve’s director and an added treat for fans of Citizen Kane and David Fincher’s recent Netflix biopic, Mank; a mesmerising never-seen-before interview with costume historian Larry McQueen, which reveals the artistry and glamour behind All About Eve’s elegant costume design; and Hollywood Backstories: All About Eve, a 2001 documentary featuring interviews with Davis, which offers a glimpse into the life of one of Hollywood’s most beloved and talented actors.
The Criterion Collection edition of All About Eve is a long-overdue tribute to Bette Davis’s legendary career and a must-buy for all fans of the Golden Age.
The Criterion Collection edition of All About Eve will be released on 23 August