All About Eve is regularly considered to be one of the greatest films from the annals of Hollywood’s history and with a record 14 Oscar nominations – tying it with James Cameron’s epic Titanic (1998) – and 6 wins, it’s hard to argue against it’s importance. And now with today’s Blu-ray upgrade, improving on all previous DVD releases, it’s great to see this piece of film history transformed into a slick, deserving and glossy HD presentation. If you’ve never taken the opportunity to delve into the world of back-stage dramas and one-upmanship then now couldn’t be a better time.
All About Eve follows the schemes and manoeuvres of an aspiring actress, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), as she attempts to inculcate herself into the life of aging, but mammoth stage star Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and her array of theatre friends. As Eve engineers herself to become indispensible to Margo, her true motivations for the relationship come to the surface. Culminating in Eve’s achievements at becoming Margo’s understudy in a new production, All About Eve is the ultimate story of betrayal and overzealous ambition.
Comprising of sparkling dialogue and inspired direction from Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film garnered him Academy Awards for both. The writer/director interestingly replicates stage direction here and the camera feels more like the eyes of an adoring theatre audience member than a tool to capture celluloid images. With much of the action taking place in interior locations, the set up elucidates the feel of a stage production and Mankiewicz’s tight direction complements this style greatly. Bette Davis famously claimed that she based her performance of Margo Channing on the real-life persona of Hollywood bitch Tallulah Bankhead. However, with iconic lines such as, “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!” being so closely associated with Davis’s own personality it is arguably herself who she plays throughout the narrative.
Mankiewicz brilliantly captures the essence of Davis in Channing, allowing the actress to sail through the runtime as if she isn’t acting at all. Elsewhere, the performances are equally impressive and Anne Baxter is exceptionally good as the manipulative and rather contemptible Eve. The vitriolic dialogue between the two leads certainly verges on the side of camp, but the venomous nature of the delivery also packs a weighty punch. The supporting cast consists of Davis’s future husband Gary Merrill (as Margo’s lover and stage director, Bill Sampson), George Sanders (as equally acerbic theatre critic, Addison DeWitt), real-life Davis rival Celeste Holm (ironically as Margo’s best friend Karen Richards) and Hugh Marlowe (as playwright Lloyd Daniels), plus a tiny supporting role for a then little known Marilyn Monroe (as aspiring actress Claudia Casswell). The entire cast slots flawlessly into their allotted roles, giving the film the rare status of being perfectly cast.
This Blu-Ray should be a welcome addition to all fans of Hollywood’s Golden Era and cinema lovers in general. It has become so ingrained in American folklore that it has transcended the boundaries of a simple movie to become a seminal portrait of behind the scenes rivalry and “bitch virtuosity” of the most malicious nature. All About Eve also chronicles the true struggles of an aging actress, of which Davis was grappling with before playing Channing. This film re-established her place in the industry, suggesting that an older actress could remain a bankable leading lady – even against a younger and arguably prettier co-star.
High Definition may be a rather unforgiving format, particularly for the older actor or actress, but All About Eve has been beautifully restored, exceeding the already meticulous restoration for the DVD release. A clean, crisp and fresh image is projected, without loosing the distinct look of celluloid that would certainly have been a shame to replace with a more sterile, ‘perfect’ digital look. The audio is cleared up in an equally proficient way and is in a clear, undistorted 5.1 DTS-HD Master Sound format. Due to the age of the production there is no real surround sound, but even without this the dialogue is lucidly audible and Alfred Newman’s complementary score sounds lush and robust throughout the scenes.
An array of special features complements the film itself and should please the majority of Hollywood enthusiasts. There are two audio commentaries: the first comprising of supporting actress Celeste Holm, Mankiewicz biographer Kenneth Geist and the director/writer’s son Christopher Mankiewicz. This commentary is less about the production itself and more a homage to Mankiewicz, revealing behind the scenes info and some frank truths from the younger Mankiewicz (such as the similarity between the famous party scene in the film and alcohol fuelled gatherings at the director’s own home). The second commentary is by author Sam Staggs, whom scribed the behind the scenes book that accompanies the film. More focused on All About Eve, Staggs relays interesting information on everything from casting and scene analysis right through to costuming and backstage hearsay.
Both commentaries are appealing, but the former stands out as the more engaging of the two. Five documentaries bolster the two commentaries and focus on a variety of subjects: two from 2007 look at Mankiewicz and his career; one looks at the real life story that inspired the Cosmopolitan short story that the film was based on; another looks at the ‘Sarah Siddons Society’ that was born out of the fictional one in the film; and the final one is a 2001 episode of the now obsolete US series AMC Backstory, which takes a close but light-hearted look at the production. The final collection of special features comprises of vintage material, including interview spots with both Davis and Baxter; Fox Movietone Newsreels from the films gala premiere and a number of award shows that honoured it; plus the original theatrical trailer. None of these features are presented in HD and the majority are available on the current 2-disc Cinema Reserve special edition DVD. However, if like me, you currently only own the Fox Studio Classics DVD release – which criminally contains no special features – treat yourself to an upgrade!
All About Eve is released on Blu-ray today.
This article was first posted on February 21, 2011