director Joseph L. Mankiewicz
I began this year with a plan to see many of “the great movies” of all time that I had never seen. And I was charging through this list until I got sidetracked with my parallel scheme to watch “the worst movies of all time.”
Well, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve started coming up in a variety of ways, highlighting that the winner of the Oscar for Best Picture 1950 was one of those movies that I just had never seen. Not for lack of knowledge about it. It’s one of those films that’s packed with lines and snippets that you’ve heard out of context throughout time. And it’s also one of those films that I recall referenced in The Celluloid Closet (1995).
If you are like me, and haven’t seen it, here’s a brief recap of the story. It’s set in New York’s theater world where Bette Davis is Margo Channing, middle-aging grand dame of the stage, surrounded by her coterie which includes Celeste Holms and Hugh Marlowe as Karen and Lloyd Richards, the latter of which is her top playwright, Gary Merrill is Bill Sampson, her boyfriend and director, and Thelma Ritter as Birdie, her maid.
Into this world steps conniving Ann Baxter (Eve), who seems to insinuate herself innocently enough, humbly enough, until she’s found to be trying to take over everything from Margo. And with the help of the superb George Sanders as Addison DeWitt, influential columnist, she pretty much does. It’s the dark side of show biz, ya know.
It’s a pretty impeccable film from an old Hollywood perspective. Great performances, snappy dialog, and memorable moments abound. Certainly worth its salt.
The homophobia aspect of the film is curious. In 1950, the implied homosexuality of some of the characters is highly codified but nowhere outwardly explicit. I would be willing to think a more modern audience might have that whole subtext pass them by. But it has long been a point of contention around the film, what it all signifies or was meant to signify. I don’t know. I think a reading that is oblivious to that aspect of the narrative wouldn’t necessarily harm the film at all.
At least I’ve got another film off my list of “I can’t believe you’ve never seen X”.