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1950 Winner for Best Motion Picture – All About Eve


I’m almost ashamed to admit that this was my first time watching All About Eve, and I was fairly well blown away by it. It was nominated for a record 14 Academy Awards in 1950 and it won six of them, including both Best Director and Best Writing, Screenplay for Director/Writer Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This was a seminal film that seemed to be fairly self-aware that it was a great film and took itself just seriously enough without crossing over into being pretentious.

There are a lot of things that fit together to make this a great film (it’s ranked by AFI as the #16 film of all time). First and foremost is the writing. Everyone has heard Bette Davis’ iconic, “Fasten your seatbelts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” However, there are many more examples of outstanding dialogue throughout the film. In many places, the dialogue is biting and dripping with subtext. Plus there are many memorable lines of dialogue that say exactly what needs to be said in as few words possible.


On the other hand, the opening monologue that is narrated by Addison DeWitt, played with silky sophistication by George Sanders, is a rich description of many of the characters that we’ll be watching over the next two plus hours that is like listening to poetry. Each word written and spoken with such care as to make the audience feel like something astounding is about to happen. For most people, they will not be let down. Indeed, here are some of my favorites:

Bill’s thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.

Peace and quiet is for libraries!

I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail like a salted peanut.

Zanuck, Zanuck, Zanuck. What are you two, lovers?

We all have abnormalities in common. We’re a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we theatre folk. We are the original displaced personalities.

Aside from the dialogue, All About Eve has a well-crafted story with an interesting dramatic structure. Even though this is a film, it’s a film about the theater and it’s told to us in a manner that is much more like watching a play than watching a film. That may speak to its self-importance since theater is largely considered to be a much more highbrow endeavor than film. That being said, I am generally a fan of the cinematic experience and generally prefer that films show more and tell less. All About Eve is the exception that proves the rule. It’s like a play on screen, and its structure is more similar to a theatrical production as well. The script isn’t necessarily written in three acts like most other mainstream works. This story seems to told more in a two act structure but without the intermission. It’s also very dialogue-heavy since we’re generally being told things, although there are some subtle cinematic moments where if we’re paying attention we see that we’re being shown things. An example is when DeWitt asks Eve if she first saw Margo perform in San Francisco at the Shubert Theater, and Eve says yes. The look on DeWitt’s face tells the audience that there is no Shubert Theater in San Francisco, and that will be confirmed later in the film.

Another great attribute to All About Eve is the development of the characters. Indeed, this film might have some of the finest character work of any film that I’ve seen. All of the principle character experience some sort of growth or transformation, with Eve and Margo experiencing the greatest changes. The changes and development that all of these characters go through help to make this such a satisfying film. They do that by making us feel strong emotions about the characters. Not only do we have strong feelings in relation to Eve and Margo, but we also have strong feelings regarding DeWitt, as well as Bill Simpson, Margo’s boyfriend and Karen & Lloyd Richards, Margo’s best friend and her husband, who happens to write the plays in which Margo stars. We like these people most of the time. We loathe them some of the time, but we always care about them, and that is job number one for any screenwriter or director. You’ve got to make us care about the characters one way or another. If we don’t care, then there is no drama. If there is no drama, then there is no story. One thing is for sure in All About Eve. We care about all of the characters in this film.

The storyline in All About Eve follows Eve Harrington as she tries to usurp the life of Margo Channing, the biggest star on the Broadway circuit. When we first meet Eve, she seems like a mousy little thing as she waits outside the theater in the rain. Karen has seen her, and offers to introduce her to Margo since the two of them are friends. Star struck, Eve refuses at first, afraid that she’ll be bothering her, but Karen insists. Upon meeting Eve, Margo is struck by her innocence and her naiveté. There is something about Eve’s purity that reminds Margo of something that she lost, or perhaps never even had. Margo is 40-years old now, and feels but won’t admit that her best days are behind her. In Eve she sees her rejuvenated self and she brings Eve into her inner circle to act as her personal assistant.


Karen, Lloyd and Bill are similarly cast under Eve’s spell. Only Birdie, Margo’s faithful assistant sees through what Eve is trying to do. DeWitt seems to think something is up as well, but that’s mainly because he’s paid to be cynical, and he’s good at it too. Even the audience should be cast under the spell because Mankiewicz did such a good job of developing Eve as a character. He made her change from seeming mousy waif to manipulative succubus happen as gradually as he possibly could. It takes time for us as the audience to realize that she’s playing all of them for fools as a means to get to her own ends. Perhaps by half way through the film we realize that not only does Eve want Margo’s career, but she also wants her whole life. She wants everything that Margo has to be hers and she wants it badly enough to ruin Margo as she does it. She wants it badly enough to blackmail Karen about a betrayal of Margo that Eve herself set Karen up to do. She wants it badly enough to make DeWitt, her one ally, come off as a charlatan to Margo, Lloyd, Karen and Bill.


This is where DeWitt’s character growth comes in. Among the characters in the film, DeWitt spend the majority of the film as the least popular. However, during the pivotal moment, it is he who calls Eve to task. It is DeWitt who sees through her and tells her that he’s nobody’s fool. He may not have totally noble intentions, but he is the one who tells Eve that she’s manipulated even herself into the delusion of thinking that she’s become more than she ever has been, and that she now belongs to him. He goes on to tell her that he knows everything about her and the proletarian background that she painted about herself was something less than the truth. He throws all of her lies right back into her face.

Then the most remarkable thing of all happens. To a degree, Eve gets what she wants. She attains Margo’s success, getting cast in the role that Lloyd had originally written for Margo, and replacing Margo as well as the biggest star in the theater. But that leads to Margo’s extraordinary growth as a character. Margo actually catches on fairly early that Eve is up to no good. Unfortunately for Margo, she’s allowed Eve to get too close and she can’t get rid of her. Everyone else around is still taken by her charms. Margo fights tooth and nail to keep Eve from taking her place in the hierarchy, but to no avail. Eve becomes her understudy and tries hard to seduce both Bill and Lloyd in a manner that will land her the lead role in Lloyd’s new play, Cora. Eve seems to drive a wedge so deeply at one point between Margo and Bill that it appears their relationship will be ruined. Instead the opposite happens. Margo achieves a level of peace with herself that she had not experienced before. This woman who was so concerned that her best years were behind her started living in the moment and finally accepted the marriage proposal that Bill was about to stop making. Just when it looked like Eve was going to make Karen have to compromise their friendship, Margo tells Lloyd that she doesn’t want the part in Cora. Instead, she is content to live life as Bill’s wife. She needs nothing more. That is Margo’s character arc. She goes from insecure socialite to stable wife. She’s done living in the fast lane and is happy to settle down. She has the peace that Eve will never attain.


All About Eve is a story about life and what kind of life you want to have. Thematically it’s about exploring what people will do to achieve their dreams, but it’s also about discovering that maybe your dreams weren’t what you thought they were. This is not only an entertaining film, but it is a deep film and a deeply complex film that you should put near the top of your list of films to see if you haven’t seen it already.

Did the Academy get it right?

As you’ve probably surmised by now, I believe they did. That being said, Sunset Boulevard is one of the greatest films of all time, and was nominated against it. Indeed, AFI ranks Sunset Boulevard as the #12 film of all time, four spots higher than All About Eve. I will also say that I think Sunset Boulevard is one of the best films I’ve ever seen and holds up very well. In its own right, it won three Oscars and was nominated for a total of 11 Academy Awards. It’s considered to be the seminal Film Noir and it tells a haunting story that is nearly as deep and as complex as All About Eve. To be honest, I’d have had to flip a coin if I had been voting for Best Motion Picture for 1950. As I pointed out in a previous entry, 1950 was a good example of how it isn’t always an apples to apples comparison. Both of these films are considered to be top 20 all time. Both films respectively accomplished what they set out to accomplish. Both films had extraordinary screenplays and direction. Both films were marvelously acted. One thing that both films did have in common was that both films had older actresses who were past their primes playing older actresses who were past their primes. Bette Davis played Margo in All About Eve and Gloria Swanson played the exquisite Norma Desmond. Overall I can’t argue with the fact that All About Eve got more votes. But I don’t blame you if you feel that Sunset Boulevard should have been the winner. This was a tough year. What are your thoughts?

One comment

  1. Louis Burklow says:

    Brian, I can’t argue either with your excellent synopsis or your view that a coin flip would be necessary to decide between “All About Eve” and “Sunset Boulevard.” In this instance I’d have to go with the latter movie but purely for personal reasons. I’m far more interested in movies than in Broadway and I hate to admit it but I can relate to William Holden’s predicament at the start of the film (not floating in the swimming pool but unable to make any money off his writing). Also, I just enjoy Billy Wilder’s movies too much to believe I could have voted against one for the Best Picture Oscar. Can’t wait to see what you have to say nine posts from now when I hope you will compare “Ben-Hur” to “Some Like It Hot.”

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