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All About Eve

There have been many movies about show biz, and several took home the big prize, including 1950ís All About Eve. Anne Baxter and Bette Davis play rival actresses, Baxter the up-and-coming Eve Harrington, Davis the veteran stage star Margo Channing.

Eve starts out as a fan, hanging out in the alley behind a theater waiting for Margo to leave after a show so that she might possibly catch a glimpse of her. One night Margoís friend Karen, who happens to be the wife of a playwright, invites Eve to meet Margo, and Eve tells the entire gang about her past, growing up on a Wisconsin farm, working in a brewery, marrying a soldier who is killed in World War II, and staying in San Francisco until her life is changed by seeing Margo in a play. Eventually she becomes part of Margoís entourage, but it becomes clear that she would rather step out of the shadows and into the limelight. Eve tries to shoehorn her way into Margoís relationship as well. When Margoís boyfriend Bill heads off to Hollywood for a month to work on a movie, Eve is there at the airport, and when it comes time for his return, she sets up the welcome back party.

At that point Margo becomes suspicious of Eveís motives. Just before the party Margo and Bill get into a fight, so Bill goes off to sulk and Margo sets about putting away an amazing amount a booze. Soon Eve becomes bored with running errands for Margo and auditions to be her understudy. She is brilliant at it and even grabs rave reviews from theater critic Addison DeWitt. Meanwhile Margo becomes more and more erratic, showing up at an audition two hours late and being generally bitchy during a weekend out of the city. Karen feels Margo needs a swift kick in the ass, and drains the gas tank in order to make Margo miss the show, so that Eve will go on. Karenís hope is that Margo will realize she isnít irreplaceable and shape up, but the plan backfires when Eve invites every critic in town to the show, and they all write glowing reviews, especially Addison DeWitt, which enrages Margo. After the show, Bill turns down Eveís advances and goes running back to Margo. Bill and Margo decide to get married, but when they go out to dinner with Karen and her husband Lloyd, Eve happens to be there. In the ladies room, Eve, who knows about the gas tank incident, blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to cast Eve in his new play, in a role specifically written for Margo. Eve gets the part, but when she tries to convince Addison the day of the opening that Lloyd is leaving his wife for her, Addison reveals that he knows her story about the soldier husband and life in California were lies, and that he can break her whenever he wishes. In the end, Eve wins an award for her acting, but soon she gets an assistant named Phoebe, who is just happy to be around the big star, but has her eyes on greater glory for herself.

As film noir goes, there may be some better ones out there, but this one is certainly very good. Eve aspires to reach the fame and fortune she admires so much in Margo, and she gets there, but with Addison knowing her secret she realizes she cannot truly be free of him. On the other hand you have Margo, who briefly battles alcoholism and the specter of losing everything that she values in life, but through the adversity she realizes how much Bill means to her, and in the end she still has him and her friends by her side, and she realizes that means more to her than the fame. Even Addison is layered with complexity. He helps Eve reach the height of fame, but in the end it is his efforts that keeps Eveís ego in check.

Acting-wise itís hard to beat this movie. Baxter and Davis lead the great cast which includes the criminally under appreciated George Sanders who ten years after his great performances in Rebecca and Foreign Correspondent turns in another great performance as Addison. Gary Merrill and Hugh Marlowe are passable, but nothing special, as Bill and Lloyd respectively. On the other end of the spectrum you have Marilyn Monroe. Just months after her first major film role in Asphalt Jungle, she shows up here as an ingenue Addison brings to the party. She was 24 at the time, and extremely attractive, but extremely bad at acting. During the party scene she shares a screen with Sanders, Baxter, and Davis, and they all run circles around her. Next to these heavyweights, she seems to be reading her lines from a cue card. Itís not really a surprise that Billy Wilder called her a woman with "breasts like granite and a brain like Swiss cheese."

The other big part of the party scene is Davis delivering the memorable line "fasten your seat belts, itís going to be a bumpy night." However that is only one of the many classic lines throughout the movie, and they spread the love around with Eve and Addison getting in quite a few great lines, though Margo is the one who gets the bulk of them, rattling off one after another.

Also nominated were Father of the Bride and another film noir about show biz, Sunset Blvd. Not nominated, but very good, were Harvey and Asphalt Jungle. Harvey is an excellent movie, and Father of the Bride is very nice, but Sunset Blvd. may outdo them all. Billy Wilder weaves a masterpiece about a former silent film star dragged out of obscurity, who then falls into delusion. It is a classic film noir, but while Wilder strictly adheres to the noir playbook, Joseph L. Mankiewicz deals more in subtlety with All About Eve. He brings out brilliant performances in multiple stars, and is able to create several complex and wonderful characters. Itís a toss-up between the two, but I think the Academy made the right choice.


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