Revisiting movies I've recently acquired
It seems that every time I revisit All About Eve, I'm always surprised by just how well the whole film is constructed as well as still taking in by the turns of the film, even with full knowledge of what will happen. It's a quintessential classic Hollywood drama, taking a sharply written script about ambition and desire and its effect on relationships, adding some savvy classic Hollywood style performances by its actors, and resulting in a dramatic and captivating film.
We first meet the titular Eve (Anne Baxter) as she is accepting a prestigious theatrical award for acting and then the players at the ceremony that know her begin telling the tale of Eve and how she found her way into their lives, starting with aging, but popular and acclaimed actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis), seemingly a young admirer of Channing, but we discover that Eve isn't exactly the modest young woman she appears to be and has desires and ambitions of her own.
One cause of concern for me in this film was the protagonist handoff that happens over the course of the film as we see the focus of the film shift in the final act from Margo to Karen, her friend (Celeste Holm) and finally to Eve in quick succession, possibly losing the film, however the ending of the film is in keeping with the parallels drawn between Margo and Eve as well as a young woman we meet at the very end of the film and touches like that thematic glue really make the film work out well, watching Margo, the primary protagonist, deal with her own personal conflict and the destruction her own ambition, insecurity and ego wreaks on her life. There's also a really interesting balance of cynicism and idealism in the film and a few subversions of each over the course of the film, striking an interesting balance. But watching the plot unfold, especially with the manipulation and perhaps loss of control of the central female characters is quite gripping.
Of course, this all needs capable actresses to handle the demanding parts and Davis and Baxter are both up to their parts, with Davis believably handling the breakdown and rebuilt of Margo Channing and Baxter turning in a perfectly convincing performance as a naive Eve, but managing to hint, even early on with the gleam in her eye, at Eve's true intentions. Add in a solid ensemble by the rest of the cast and attentive direction by the consistent Joseph Mankiewicz, who also wrote the screenplay, including some interesting visual motifs around mirrors to coincide with the parallelisms drawn by the story and other interesting visual echoes, leads to some subtle, but interesting reinforcing work by the whole production, which also boasts some appropriately fantastic costumes, sets, and generally provides a quality presentation for a movie of this era.
And that collision of a well told and constructed story, ageless in its approach on ambition, but also so well attuned to its context of the world of entertainment, with excellent performances by the actresses and thoughtful direction is why All About Eve is probably held in such high regard. Even what I thought might have been my complaints about the film were resolved thanks to well thought out directorial and storytelling choices. I don't know if All About Eve is the perfect American film, but sixty years since it's release, it's still very obvious why it remains a tried classic of American cinema. 9/10.