Written & Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill
- Running audio commentary with actress Holm, Christopher Mankiewicz (son of Joseph), & Kenneth Geist (author of
Pictures Will Talk: The Life and Films of Joseph L. Mankiewicz)
- Running audio commentary with Sam Staggs (author of All About ‘All About Eve’
- AMC Backstory episode on the film
- Interviews with Davis and Baxter
- Four Movietone newsreels for the premiere and for awards shows
- Restoration comparison
- Theatrical trailer
Released by: 20th Century Fox
Anamorphic: N/A; appears in its original 1.33:1 format
My Advice: Own it.
[ad#longpost]Margo Channing (Davis) is an aging matriarch of the stage. She’s forty, and that’s the age at which your prospects begin to dim quite a bit. Enter Eve Harrington (Baxter). She’s been hanging around the theatre, waiting for the chance to perhaps catch a glimpse of Margo, her idol. When the playwright’s wife (Holm) takes pity on the poor waif standing in the alleyway and brings her inside to meet Margo–everything is certain to change forever.
Even for those few people who haven’t actually seen the film, All About Eve is one of those names that just hovers around the cinema. It’s brought up every year around Oscar time if nothing else, seeing as how it’s tied for the most nominations (fourteen) with Titanic. But nothing that you’ve heard or read can prepare you for the actual film itself. You see, this flick belongs to a very rare breed: the kind of film that’s so fresh you could swear it was written last week. Timeless is what I’m talking about, and films that can escape cinematic historical context are few and far between. If somebody really went into this with no knowledge of the actors involved and you told them it was black and white on purpose, there’d be no reason to think this wasn’t a recent film. Well, except perhaps for the level of quality.
For that, if you haven’t figured it out, the standout is the script by Mankiewicz. Even moreso than his direction, which is quite impeccable on its own, the lines are just little sticks of lit dynamite. And the fun just never stops, all the way through. Now, of course, you have to have a cast who can pull off what’s been written. Hamlet is an amazing play, but try to sit through a really bad company trying a turn at it. I promise, you’ll act like you were sitting next to Robert Hays on a plane. Bette Davis heads up the cast and she truly is amazing. Granted, as is brought to light in the extras, she’s playing a part that hits dramatically close to home, but she’s absolutely eating up the sets and everything else around here–not in a bad, overdone way, but in a classy, refined way. On multiple viewings, you begin to see just how subtly she plays her hand at the role.
The rest of the cast is just as fine, with scenes between Davis and Gary Merrill being some nice little eruptions. Still, though, the two standouts other than Davis would be George Sanders (who took one of the Oscars) and Anne Baxter. Sanders works the pretentious (but devious) twit of a theatre critic to a veritable T, and Baxter’s Eve is by turns conniving and sweet and adorable. It’s rare you get ensembles this good.
Now, Fox has done an impressive job of bringing this film to DVD. The transfer looks very good, and the restoration comparison isn’t really that stunning. Not half as much as is evident on another film of the time, for instance Roman Holiday. But I think that might have something to do with the fact that the stock didn’t look all that bad to begin with. It’s obvious they toned it up a bit, but high marks for the end result regardless.
The two commentary tracks are very interesting. The first is a bit of a hodge-podge with Holm (the only surviving major cast member), Mankiewicz’ son Joseph, and author Kenneth Geist. Holm provides very little in the way of comment, Mankiewicz provides some information that he was able to glean from simply being related to the film by blood, and Geist begins his commentary by talking about how much he hated the book written by the gentleman on the other commentary, Sam Staggs. I have to admit, a potshot like that coupled with his dry demeanor certainly didn’t warm me to Geist. And in fact, Staggs has the better showing. He talks through most of the film, with some dead air, but what he does give is about seventy percent solid content. And he’s animated and actually entertaining moreso than his peer.
Rounding out the rest of the features you get a Backstory episode on the film, which was a decent primer, and comes complete with lots of nice archival footage with many of the players involved. So it’s definitely worth a watch. Also amusing, simply for posterity, you get two little “interview bits” with Davis and Baxter (where did they get these “interviewers”?) where they talk about the character of Eve and try to hype it up. They’re dreadful today, but hilarious. Also, you get some footage of the premiere and awards ceremonies that came afterwards. And, of course, the trailer.
This is truly a classic, and one that holds up well and still needs that title. On its own, though, I don’t know if I could recommend a buy on it. However, Fox has done an admirable job of trying to put a special edition together for this thing, and they should be rewarded. Just as the viewer shall be.