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September 20, 2010

All About Eve - Classic Film Pick

All_about_eve Along with films such as Luis Buñuel's "Los Olvidados" and Billy Wilder's "Sunset Boulevard," Joseph Mankiewicz's "All About Eve" made 1950 one of the most seminal years in cinema history. A New York theater awards dinner ceremony provides cynical theater critic Addison DeWitt (George Saunders) with the opportunity to narrate the exposition to his audience about the night's big winner, a poised ingénue named Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). Flashback a mere year, and we are swept up in how this lonely girl from the Midwest came to New York to sit before the Broadway footlights of the great Margo Channing for every performance of her latest play--directed by her adoring fiancé (Gary Merrill). Dressed in a man's trench coat and hat, Eve meekly makes friends at the stage door with the playwright's wife Karen (Celeste Holm), who invites her into Margo Channing's dressing room to meet her favorite leading lady. Eve wastes no time casting a spell over Margo and everyone else in the room, except for Margo's surly wardrobe assistant Birdy (Thelma Ritter). Eve intones her sad tale with methodical acting skill.
 
Ingratiating herself into Margo's daily life as her hired personal assistant, Eve tunnels behind the scenes to score a gig as understudy for Margo's role. Bette Davis's famous line, "Fasten your seatbelts; it's going to be a bumpy night" comes during a party she throws where a young Marilyn Monroe steals every scene as Addison DeWitt's date Miss Casswell. The film is full of such loaded lines, marking the territory of a carefully conniving opportunist on a mission to supplant an aging theater queen from her throne. Beautifully photographed by Milton Krasner, "All About Eve" is one long seduction. The story's mechanics of the theatrical artifice embodied by each of the archetypal characters are there to allow us to bask in the cigarette glow of impossibly glamorous people locked in limited views of themselves and of one another. Bette Davis's bedroom eyes were never more inviting. This vision of the seduction of fame is so delicious it's intoxicating.

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