“My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theatre.”
Mr. DeWitt may be a bit conceited, but with that ego comes the ability to see one’s true motives. In All About Eve, we first meet our characters as Eve becomes the youngest person to receive a prestigious acting award. We would assume everyone to be proud of this girl who is finally being recognized. but we are transported back to see the story of how this young girl has climbed so high so quickly, and all the people she’s stepped on along the way.
Eve (Anne Baxter) is first discovered in the rain waiting for aging actress Margo (Bette Davis) to leave the theater by Karen (Celeste Holm), wife of prestigious playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe). Karen takes pity on the star-struck girl and brings her backstage to meet her idol. Margo doesn’t seem likely to warm up to the girl until Eve tells her sob story that has lead her to have nothing to look forward to but the theater and seeing Margo perform. Moved, Margo takes Eve in and she becomes a helpful assistant. However, Eve starts overstepping boundaries and gets a taste of the spotlight. Soon, Margo realizes this ambitious young Eve is using her and her friends to break into theater and become a star.
Let’s go back to George Sanders‘ Addison DeWitt, an Oscar-winning role and hinge to the plot. He’s our main narrator with flawlessly eloquent speech and dress to match. While all of Eve’s new acquaintances believe her naive starstruck girl act, only Addison sees through the mask. Instead of stopping her, he takes the opportunity to write about the budding new star and spreading the word to further her success. He may be feeding the monster, but when he realizes the reach of her claws he cuts back and knows she really can’t go much higher without him. She will one day have to take what she has dished out.
This may be the greatest role Bette Davis ever played. Being an aging star slowly conned by a young rival may have been a realistic role for the then-just-over-40 actress. She plays the role with an honest gusto and presence, proving that her personality can propel her further than Eve’s simple youth and beauty. Compared to Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond, a similar role in Sunset Boulevard, Margo will be alright and still has friends if Eve takes all her stage presence, which is a much happier end that Eve or Norma are likely to find at their going rate.
While All About Eve won for Best Picture, I don’t believe most viewers today would agree. It’s a fine film with wonderful acting, no doubt, but I feel like the story has been parodied and told so much that today’s viewer isn’t as likely to receive its full effect. But if you enjoy films about treacherous women and fearfully aging stars, or enjoy any of the actors, this is a must see.
“The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!”
With a life long love of film and writing, Alyson Krier has decided to watch and review all the Best Picture nominees throughout the history of the Academy Awards on her ever expanding blog, The Best Picture Project. For more insights on All About Eve and the redoubtable Bette Davis, click here.