Bette Davis delivers the best – “All About Eve” Criterion Collection

Updated: Mar 31


BLU-RAY REVIEW / FRAME SHOTS

"Margo, let's make peace," says Director Bill Simpson, played by Gary Merrill. Actress Margo Channing played by the brilliant Bette Davis responds, "The terms are too high. Unconditional surrender." The two are lovers, but Margo is full of rage since her understudy Eve Harrington is making the fast moves to take her role and man.







“ALL ABOUT EVE: THE CRITERION COLLECTION”


Blu-ray; 1950, Not Rated


Best extra: “All About Mankiewicz” documentary/interview













A PERFECT STORM of writing, directing and acting came together to make one of the most acclaimed and beloved films of all time. Joseph L. Mankiewicz wrote the sparkling screenplay and directed “All About Eve,” a razor-sharp commentary on the theater and its participants.


With Bette Davis at her most brilliant, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Thelma Ritter, and a bit part for newcomer knockout Marilyn Monroe, “Eve” racked up 14 Oscar nominations and claimed, “Best Picture” among its six wins. And now The Criterion Collection presents a 2-disc set, with a 4K digital restoration and many, many hours of terrific extras.


For those who will be seeing “All About Eve” for the first time, it’s the story of ruthless ambition, in the form of a young ingénue with a plan. Eve Harrington (Baxter) is discovered lurking at the stage door of a Broadway theater by Karen Richards (Holm) one rainy night. Karen learns that this mousy, waterlogged girl has been watching the same play every night for weeks, hoping to get a glimpse of its star as she leaves the theater. Moved by Eve’s story, Karen brings her to the star’s dressing room, which is where we meet Margo Channing (Davis), wiping off her makeup with the help of her maid, Birdie (Ritter). Eve proceeds to tell a heart-rending tale about her quashed acting dreams and her beloved fiancé killed in the war, which evokes one of the many hilarious lines from the canny Birdie: “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear!” But Margo buys into it with the rest of us and hires Eve to be her personal assistant, who begins an insidious intrusion into Margo’s life – and career. “All About Eve” came out an astonishing 70 years ago but, as with any perfect work of art, it never gets old.


"All About Eve" opens during the annual Sarah Siddons Award for excellence in acting presentation.


The primary characters: (1) Director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) (2) Playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) (3) Friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) (4) Theater columnist Addison DeWitt (George Sanders) (5) Stage actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) (6) The Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement in the Theater for Miss Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter).


Eve Harrington accepts the award.




The restoration was handled by Twentieth Century Fox from a 35mm version (1.38:1 aspect ratio) borrowed from the Museum of Modern Art. The result is pristinely beautiful black and white imagery, with silky blacks, countless shades of gray to white, and excellent detail. The mono audio track was also restored from the mono original, and it’s faultless. The superb dialogue is consistently clear, but subtitles are provided if needed.


Many of the extras appeared on the 2010 Fox Blu-ray of “Eve,” including two commentaries on Disc One; one by Holm, Mankiewicz biographer Ken Geist, and Christopher Mankiewicz; the other by author Sam Staggs.


Disc Two is loaded with special features including “The Secret of Sarah Siddons,” a brief Bette Davis promotional interview, “Joseph L. Mankiewicz: A Personal Journey” documentary, “The Real Eve” documentary and “Hollywood Backstories: ‘All About Eve’” both from AMC.


Added to those, Criterion's recent interview with film costume historian Larry McQueen, a 1951 Lux Radio Theatre adaptation of “All About Eve,” with Davis, Baxter and Merrill in their original roles; “Dick Cavett Show” episodes – a full one with Merrill, and an excerpt with Davis; and a 44-page illustrated booklet containing an essay by Terrence Rafferty and the original short story by Mary Orr, from which the film was adapted.


(1&2) Eve tells her life story to a listening audience in Margo's dressing room. (3) Margo sends Bill off to direct his first motion picture in Hollywood. (4) Eve fantasizes about wearing Margo's costume for the play "Aged in Wood."




A fascinating archival documentary from 1983, “All About Mankiewicz,” has the French film scholar Michel Ciment interviewing the writer/director in various locations, including at his home in Bedford, New York, and Berlin, Germany. Mankiewicz reminisces about being sent by his father to attend university in Berlin, but getting a job at UFA, the innovative German film studio. When he lost that job, his brother Herman beckoned him to Hollywood. Herman had been working at Paramount as a screenwriter, most famous for “The Wizard of Oz” and co-writing “Citizen Kane” with Orson Welles.


Joseph began his career at Paramount as a junior writer, and talks about his career, which included winning four Oscars in two years. He tells Ciment why he always gravitated to projects with women protagonists, saying “it’s much more complicated to write about women than men … writing about and directing women have always been infinitely more exciting.”


He tells a story about wanting to film Laurence Durrell’s “The Alexandria Quartet,” four novels about the same unfathomable woman, but couldn’t get studio producers behind it. Mankiewicz explains his process when directing his screenplays. He would show it to the principal actors and give them a chance to ask questions, disagree, etc., and possibly make changes. Once that was done, the words were as though written in stone: “All About Eve,” he says, is spoken, “syllable for syllable as it was in the screenplay.”


He seems amused by the fact that the Sarah Siddons Society, which he invented for “Eve,” later became a real organization and presented prestigious acting awards for decades. Now its main function is to fund drama scholarships. Mankiewicz reveals that he had been a compulsive gambler, and underwent psychoanalysis for a couple of years, by a pupil and colleague of Freud. He shares one interesting anecdote after another, about such legendary figures as Josef von Sternberg, W.C. Fields, Ernst Lubitsch, and Marlon Brando. If there was any doubt, Mankiewicz exhibits his great talent for story-telling, even when those stories are about his own life.


— Peggy Earle


Fasten your seatbelts, its going to be a bumpy night!



(1) Eve meets columnist Addison DeWitt, whose date for the party is Miss Casswell played by newcomer Marilyn Monroe. (2) Margo arrives at the Broadway theater for rehearsals. (3) Eve tells Margo, "I have no right to be anyone's understudy, much less yours," after auditioning for the role. (4) Margo shouts at Lloyd Richards after Eve's audition. "You can change this star anytime you want for a new and fresh and exciting one, fully equipped with fire and music." (5) Eve in costume, filling in for Margo, as Bill calls her bluff. (6) Margo reads Eve's rave reviews the next morning.




(1) Addison lays down the law to Eve.  (2) Eve gives her best performance: heartfelt gratitude to those who helped her career. 




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