Hollywood Exposed: All About Eve

In the continuous saga of films that expose Hollywood, Andrew takes a look at All About Eve.

"Why yes, I did bring enough protection
for the whole evening!"
Second to Billy Wilder’s scathing and surreal Tinseltown nightmare Sunset Boulevard, Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s Best Picture winning classic All About Eve is a blistering black comedy about the cutthroat ambition and backwards dealings to get to the top of the entertainment industry.  Sporting timeless performances by Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, a young Marilyn Monroe and George Sanders, the film concerns a “fan” who quickly ingratiates herself into an aging actress’s life in an effort to supersede her star power all the while scheming, lying and cheating her way to success.  A timeless masterpiece and still as of today the only film in the history of the Academy Awards to receive four female acting nominations, All About Eve is known as ‘the bitchiest film of all time’, a film that digs its sharp claws deep into the duplicitous nature of Hollywood relationships and the nastiness undertaken by all sides to retain power while still wearing a glamorous pretty face for all the world to see.
Across the board, All About Eve is a flawless masterpiece which speaks to those who have both sold their soul to the film industry and those who have maintained their integrity to emerge intact.  Considered to be the role of Bette Davis’ career as the abrasive and fading Margot Channing, it’s spoken of the same breath as Gloria Swanson’s Norma Desmond from Sunset Boulevard but far more nuanced and down to Earth.  It’s also arguably Davis’ most autobiographical and expressive role about a woman in the entertainment industry who is defeated statistically but not spiritually by her much younger and inexperienced protégé.  Anne Baxter as the duplicitous Eve, having recently come off of winning an Academy Award for The Razor’s Edge is superbly nasty and deceitful, paving the way for the mercurial seductress Nefretiri in The Ten Commandments.   Of the film’s eclectic cast, it was George Sanders (later known as the voice of Shere Khan in Disney’s The Jungle Book) who took home an Oscar for the bloodless and conniving theater critic Addison DeWitt.  Reserved with mannered cool, Addison is the one adversary in Eve’s life who can see through her charade and beat her at her own game. 

"The internet keeps telling me to smell
the flowers. Well, damn it, I don't know
what that means!"
As much a tale of the inner machinations of the Hollywood system as it is about those who value art over adulation, All About Eve was an instant commercial and critical success.  Unlike the far more grotesque and maybe even melodramatic Sunset Boulevard, All About Eve received effusive praise and garnered a staggering twelve Academy Award nominations, five of which it won including Best Picture and Best Director.  The film even went on to spawn numerous radio adaptations, including one featuring both Bette Davis and Anne Baxter and in 1970 a stage musical version called Applause was made with veteran actress Lauren Bacall in the role of Margot Channing.  Frequently reference in popular television by at least eight different programs, there was even an episode of The Simpsons entitled All About Lisa where Lisa Simpson worms her way into Krusty the Clown’s life and supersedes him.  

In the years since its release it remains a timeless classic and among the most realistic examples of the fierce competition in the acting business and how much nasty backstabbing can be covered up with glitz and smiles.  More than anything, it presents to newcomers to the film business with a simple question: Is all the fame and fortune Hollywood has to offer worth selling your soul over?

 -Andrew Kotwicki

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