For a picture that so ruthlessly tears the plush red carpet of fame, adulation and damaged actorly egos to ribbons with such arch, insouciant ease, it’s ironic that All About Eve blagged 14 oscar noms (winning six of them).
Check out the film’s bookends, depicting an ego-popping statue junket that’s the final word in biting the hand that feeds.
As Bette Davis’ fading Broadway diva spits bitterly to Anne Baxter’s rising starlet – the Eve it’s all about – “You can always put that award where your heart ought to be...”
On the surface, it may be a poison-pen letter from Hollywood to Broadway, but it’d be splitting hairs to suggest its venom couldn’t easily be applied the other way.
Joseph L Mankiewicz’s film rides the current between bitter, undiluted nastiness and cut-glass rat-a-tat wit so skilfully it’s hardly surprising the academy was seduced by its cautionary tale of the flatter-to-deceive arch-manipulator of the title, who charms, schemes and blackmails her way into the social circle of ageing Broadway star Margo Channing (Davis) in a bid to take her place via ruthlessly Shakespearean plotting.
Baxter’s performance comes across as a touch prim and dated today, but that’s probably because she’s in such a formidable shadow – this is Davis’ film.
Her barbedwired performance as fading board-treader Margo is probably her best – a casually vicious, wounded and touchingly vulnerable counterpart to Gloria Swanson’s horror-waxwork take on the same subject in Sunset Boulevard.
Next to this rumbling cauldron of Machiavellian bitchiness, the male characters can only come across as grey, interchangeable arm-candy – the single exception being George sanders, as dangerously louche Noël coward-esque critic Addison DeWitt, who sees through – and aids – Eve’s schemes from the off.
The extras on this 60th-anniversary Blu-ray are more or less repeated from the recent region 1 DVD, but are solid and comprehensive: a brace of commentaries, a pair of documentaries on Mankiewicz, and featurettes, including one on the fictional Sarah Siddons award ceremony the film begins and ends with, alongside the usual handful of newsreel fluff.
But the real draw is the polish the film is treated to: a crisp transfer with full, rich blacks over a new 5.1 mix, this is about as good as a 60-year-old movie is likely to look and sound.
The countless nudge-wink parodies and homages are testament to its classic status, from Almodóvar’s All About My Mother to the inevitable Simpsons parody (‘All about Lisa’).
But it wears its stature lightly. The way it so elegantly paints its subject – as weighty a theme as the fleeting, icarus-like nature of fame – as a classy parlour-drama miniature is what makes it so timeless.
Dark, pitiless and essential.
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