Thursday, April 30, 2009

All About Eve: Colbert, Reagan and Jeanne Crain?

All About Eve is an essay by intelligent film people in Hollywood about intelligent theater people on Broadway. That as raw material alone has the potential for a film that will at the very least keep you awake in the theater. But when you add elements like a biting, razor sharp script, pitch perfect direction and an impeccably talented cast, you've got a film that not only keeps you out of slumber land, but picks you up by the collar and gives you a heavyweight championship once over. And that's what All About Eve does.

In 1950, director Joseph L. Mankiewicz was riding a wave of acclaim after his double Oscar coup (Direction and Screenplay) the previous year for A Letter to Three Wives. After Wives, Mankiewicz had the idea for a story about an aging actress and when he read a Cosmopolitan magazine piece called "The Wisdom of Eve" he knew he'd found his inspiration. Then under contract at Twentieth Century Fox, Mankiewicz contacted studio boss Darryl Zanuck about the idea and Zanuck assigned him to the picture for both script and direction. Originally a vehicle for Fox star Susan Hayward, it was determined she was too young for the role of forty-ish Margo Channing, grande dame of the New York stage. After batting about the names of Barbara Stanwyck and Marlene Dietrich, veteran actress Claudette Colbert was signed to play the part.

Fox resident girl next door, Jeanne Crain had also given an Oscar nominated performance the previous year in the racial themed drama Pinky. Zanuck wanted the key role of Eve to go to Crain, one of the studio's top stars at the time. But Mankiewicz, who had directed the actress in A Letter to Three Wives, didn't think she had the chops to play the cold hearted, conniving Eve. He wanted Anne Baxter, who had won a Best Supported Actress Oscar as the tragic Sophie in 1946's The Razor's Edge. Besides feeling she could handle the part, he noted a distinct resemblance to Claudette Colbert, accentuating the characters desire to be like her mentor. Nature resolved the issue when Jeanne Crain discovered she was pregnant and Baxter was cast in the part.

Meanwhile Claudette Colbert injured her back on the set of Three Came Home, another film she was starring in and had to withdraw from the role of Margo. Now Mankiewicz and Zanuck were in a quandary. Mankiewicz' script was written with Colbert in mind. Then he thought of Bette Davis. Davis was in a career slump. Her nineteen year career at Warner Brothers had just ended with the tepid Beyond the Forest ("What a dump"?), She was past forty in Hollywood and her prospects weren't promising. Mankiewicz thought she would bring worldly wisdom tempered with vulnerability to the character of Margo. Davis read the script and jumped at the chance.

Filling in the rest of the cast were George Sanders (magnificent as rogue critic Addison deWitt), Thelma Ritter, Hugh Marlowe and as Bill Sampson and Karen Richards, Gary Merrill and Celeste Holm (one pre production casting suggestion was Ronald Reagan as Sampson and his soon-to-be wife Nancy Davis as Karen). All About Eve was Mankiewicz piece de resistance, earning him Oscars for Direction and Screenplay for the second consecutive year. All told, Eve won six Academy Awards and was nominated for fourteen, an achievement not matched until 1997's Titanic.


  1. Love the review Rupert. This is my second favorite movie of all time. I have seen this movie so many times I lost count. I wish Davis would of won an Oscar for this movie because I love Davis and I love all her movies but this is one of my favorites of hers. She might of had a chance if they didn't put her in the same category as Anne Baxter according to Bette, I think she thinks the votes got splitted from her and Baxter to make Judy Holiday win I guess. Thought I share one of my all time favorite quotes from the movie with you.
    [Margo is getting drunk at the party]
    Bill Sampson: Many of your guests have been wondering when they may be permitted to view the body. Where has it been laid out?
    Margo Channing: It hasn't been laid out, we haven't finished with the embalming. As a matter of fact, you're looking at it - the remains of Margo Channing, sitting up. It is my last wish to be buried sitting up.

    You gotta love Margo! I love your reviews Rupert!

  2. Thank God, Bette got the role in the end and made it legend!!! One of her greatest roles... I love her earlier films like Petrified Forest & Marked Woman, and was a cute blonde.. most people have only seen her middle aged or late roles, and like so many great stars of the 30s is judged on the later work... I remember seeing Joan Blondell in Banyon (a terrific little series of the 70s) and the Joan in that role is unrecognizable to the crackerjack wise-cracking dame she was in the 30s... and Bette was much the same... another excellent review Rupert and keep them coming mate

  3. The quintessential Bette Davis film. Not only a great film for Davis, but she got a husband out of the deal!

  4. In one of the Bette Davis bio's I've read (sorry I don't remember which one.) I do remember that they mentioned that Claudette Colbert was the original pick for Margot. I don't remember anything about Jeanne Crain or Ronald Reagan. I'm sure Reagan would have done a fine job as Sampson, but I can't see anyone else as Karen except Celeste Holm. In the same Davis bio, I also read that Jose Ferrer was considered for the Sanders role, but had previous commitment. Too bad. Ferrer would have made a quite different Addison Dewitt, but I'm sure he would have done a great job in the role.

  5. I used to like this film since I saw it on TV in the early 60's. I bought the DVD last year....I watched it a first time and I still liked it...I watched it a second time and found it boring to death: too many words, too long dialogues, too long speeches for the public. Davis, with less mannerisms than usual, is excellent however and even better is Thelma Ritter the only down to earth clever person amongst all characters who go ahead like blind people thinking only about themselves or the effect they will produce on other people without having any idea of what's going on around them. Thelma is the only one who knows what to be a loser means, she's the only real person in this film. The others are just two-dimensional theatrical characters.
    Attilio from Italy

  6. Excellent coverage ! : ) One of my favorite movies... I love the Phoebe-Eve coda !! What great fun this pictur eis.

  7. I LOVE this review, and you, my firend are no slouch perspective-wise or otherwise!!

  8. One of my favorites! We just watched it a few months on the big screren ... seeing those incredible faces bigger than life was enchanting - and, of course, teddibly teddibly clever.

    For the few minutes of screentime she got, Marilyn Monroe was incandescent - and totally breathtaking.

  9. Tristan, I completely agree with you about Marilyn Monroe...she lit up the screen even in the very smallest of roles.

  10. Great Review,Rupert!This also, is one of my many favorite films.Enough so,that I quote the screenplay word for word,(which I tend to do, when I am thinking,or trying to distract myself). Bette reigns supreme in the role. Colbert could never had brought to this role,what Davis did. The whole persona of Margo,was created by Bette.( with help from edith Head,who's cocktail dress serves as the peice-de-resitance, to complete the image. Watch how she flows like velvet thru the cocktail party scene,never missing a beat,making every scene hers.
    And Marilyn's brief,but significant role in Eve,serves,as testament to her potential ability(unfortunatly,not recognized by her mentors)penultimately,overshadowed by her Physical appeal.I especially enjoy watching how Marilyn studies Davis in their scene together.absorbing every move Bette makes-( the head toss,as she exhales,the way she holds the martini glass,the hands always moving,never at rest.unless in the pocket of her gown.All little nuances,that create the whole character of Margo. Bette plays this role with such ease,and command,you can not,but help to realize, she is Margo!.No wonder "Gary Merrill fell in love with Margo Channing,instead of Bette Davis" as she put it herself.

  11. Have to admit, I've never been a fan of this one. I really don't think anyone w/ the exception of Ritter's character. I'm not really a Davis fan, to be honest. It would have been interesting to see Colbert, who I admire, in the role of Margo.

  12. Rupert thank you for this review. I have to stay Colbert as Margo?? NO! Colbert didn't have the edge to be a great Margo, pitiable maybe.
    Celeste was wonderful , Sanders does make sinister charming.

  13. This is one movie for which I can think of no criticism. It was just superb. Ernie mentioned Davis's cocktail dress -- I love the story about the dress. It didn't fit Davis properly, too large on the top, so she just pulled the sleeves down over her shoulders and created an iconic look.
    Actually, my favorite line from a movie with so many witty lines was said by a relatively minor character, the playwright Hugh Marlowe, when he said "It is time the piano realizes it did not write the concerto."
    Your background information was really interesting, Rupert. As for the casting, well, I'm glad it turned out the way it did. The studio guys weren't always out for art -- we almost had Rock Hudson to play Atticus Finch in To Kill a Mockingbird because he was top box office draw at the time. Blasphemy!

  14. Wonderful review, Rupert! All About Eve is one of my all-time favorite movies, and learning more of the backstory was very enjoyable. Bette Davis shines in this role, one of her best ever. And of course, George Sanders is magnificent in anything (he could simply read nursery rhymes for two full hours onscreen and be fascinating!).

  15. Just finished reading "All About All About Eve."

    ... Almost as much fun as the timeless classic movie!



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