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All About Eve

(1950) **** Unrated
138 min. 20th Century Fox. Director: Joseph L. Mankiewicz. Cast: Marilyn Monroe, Eddie Fisher, Anne Baxter, Celeste Holm, Hugh Marlowe.

/content/films/3942/1.jpgAll About Eve contains one of the most famous of classic movie quotes: "Fasten your seatbelts: it's going to be a bumpy night!" In point of fact, this cynical ode to the theater is endlessly quotable, full to bursting with gleeful tongue-lashings directed at actors, playwrights, directors and critics. Though Joseph L. Mankiewicz had a storied career, helming such pictures as A Letter to Three Wives (for which he won the Best Directing Oscar), Guys and Dolls, Julius Caesar and Sleuth, nothing could top the pinnacle of All About Eve, which scored fourteen Academy Award nominations and won six Oscars, including Best Picture, Directing, Screenplay, and Best Supporting Actor. Given that the picture testifies to the struggles and backbiting necessary for a woman's career and life in show biz, it was a crowning irony that, despite four nominations, none of the film's female acting talent took home Oscar gold.

In what may well be her greatest role, Bette Davis laid herself bare to play Margo Channing, a Broadway actress afraid that she's aging out of her stardom. She's wisely surrounded herself with a support system to hold her status and her ego in place: her lover and director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill); best friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe); dresser Birdie (Thelma Ritter); and theatre critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a powerful ally granted insider access and party invitations. But one fateful evening, Margo lets the wrong woman into her fold: young fan Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Eve's stalker-ish devotion flatters Margo and appears to make Eve an ideal personal assistant, until it becomes clear that Eve would like nothing better than to replace her idol, and she would do just about anything to achieve her dream.

Mankiewicz's inside knowledge of show business and its particular personality types gives the film an authenticity and allows for its famously devastating acid wit. That wit is best personified by DeWitt ("We're a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we theatre folk. We are the original displaced personalities"), who also serves as the film's rueful narrator. One great line simultaneously has a laugh at the expense of ditzy bombshells and producers. During the film's party centerpiece, DeWitt arrives with Claudia Casswell (Marilyn Monroe), actress and "graduate of the Copacabana School of the Dramatic Arts." Observing a producer across the room, Casswell frowns, "Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?" Think about that one for a minute—it'll come to you.

The ever-impressive screenplay—based on Mary Orr's 1946 short story "The Wisdom of Eve"—also provided the archetypal template for a backstage drama: young, hungry talent threatens to supplant aging mentor. Without ever sacrificing the film's cinematic quality, Mankiewicz embraces the theatricality of it all, unafraid of lengthy speeches and emotional overflow when they're called for. He has the cast to make every beat land: Sanders' bone-dry delivery earned him the Oscar, and the nominated foursome of Davis, Baxter, Holm and Ritter give indelible performances, but it's Davis' ferocious force of will that stands above all else. Davis was infamously difficult, but you have to sympathize when Margo says, "Funny business, a woman's career - the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman."

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Aspect ratios: 1.37:1

Number of discs: 1

Audio: DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1

Street date: 2/1/2011

Distributor: 20th Century Fox

Stunning is the word for All About Eve on Blu-ray in its new 60th Anniversary Digibook edition. The picture quality is all about perfection, as judged by fidelity to the source. The film has its soft shots, but this hi-def transfer maximizes the image, with far more detail and texture than standard-def DVD has been able to offer. Expertly calibrated contrast supports the deep black level and nicely balanced gradations within the black-and-white image. The Blu-ray boasts an impressive lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 mix that adds more fullness to the music.

Bonus features from previous editions all return here, beginning with audio commentary with Celeste Holm, Mankiewicz biographer Ken Geist, and Joseph L. Mankiewicz's son Christopher Mankiewicz and audio commentary with Sam Staggs, author of All About "All About Eve."

"Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz" (26:00, SD) leans toward an examination of Mankiewicz's career and style, through interviews with experts and family. Participants include Christopher and Tom Mankiewicz, their mother Rosemary, and film experts Geist, Rick Jewell, and Brian Dauth.

"Joseph L. Mankiewicz: A Personal Journey" (25:59, SD), featuring the same participants, focuses more on Mankiewicz's life.

"The Real Eve" (18:11, SD) is fascinating stuff, with film professor Jonathan Kuntz and Playbill Magazine writer Harry Haun telling the tale of how the apparent inspiration for Eve carried a grudge against author Mary Orr.

"The Secret of Sarah Siddons" (7:05, SD) explains how the film's fictional Sarah Siddons Society inspired the creation of a real one.

"AMC Backstory: All About Eve" (24:20, SD) tells the origins of the project and production tales, as well as examining the film's reception and legacy. Participants include interviews Davis, Baxter, and Joe Mankiewicz (in interviews dating to 1983), as well as Holm, who hints at the prickliness of Davis.

Vintage materials include "Vintage Bette Davis Promotion" (1:21, SD) and a Fox MovieTone News section gathering "1951: Academy Awards Honor Best Film Achievements" (2:30, SD), "1951: Hollywood Attends Gala Premiere of All About Eve" (1:56, SD), "Holiday Magazine Awards" (2:50, SD), and "Look Magazine Awards" (1:54, SD).

Lastly, the disc includes an Isolated Score Track and the film's "Theatrical Trailer" (3:08, SD).

The Digibook adds value with twenty-five pages of info (including cast bios) and film stills, but the main thing here is the show now goes on in high definition.

Review gear:
Panasonic Viera TC-P55VT30 55" Plasma 1080p 3D HDTV
Oppo BDP-93 Universal Network 3D Blu-ray Disc Player
Denon AVR2112CI Integrated Network A/V Surround Receiver
Pioneer SP-BS41-LR Bookshelf Speaker (2)
Pioneer SP-C21 Center Speaker
Pioneer SW-8 Subwoofer

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