A film about women... and their MEN!" The movie posters for All About Eve might have depicted several smiling, breezy couples -- the men in natty suits, the women in broad-shouldered mink coats and high heels -- but the copy was as typically pulpy as a 1950s paperback. And no wonder: this bitchy, hilarious film, written by the legendary Joseph Mankiewicz, was inspired by the real-life behind-the-scenes machinations of the theater world. Plot-wise, it exhibits as much subtlety as a yowling, hissing, back alley catfight.
The broads -- Bette Davis, Celeste Holm and Anne Baxter -- are definitely running this show, with the men in this movie relegated to being props and prizes. Davis is fabulous as the aging theater star Margo Channing, a fur-coated battle-axe who oozes sensuality as easily as she throws hissy fits. Celeste Holm is quietly angelic as a sort of Everywoman/playwright's wife, and Anne Baxter, as Eve, proves herself capable of some Oscar-worthy feats of over-the-top ass-kissing. For his part, George Sanders is as good as the dames as the acerbic, cynical theater critic Addison De Witt (incidentally, the only man in the film who holds his own). Even Marilyn Monroe shows an early glimmer of comedic genius in this, her first onscreen role.
All About Eve more than stands the test of time, especially in this new edition, which is cleaned up of all unsightly scratches, hisses and pops. While a story about conniving, backstabbing, egotistical females feels a bit like old-school pre-feminism, there's no denying the guilty pleasure of watching Davis throw her weight around. And there's no end to Mankiewicz's great lines: "Fasten your seatbelts -- it's going to be a bumpy night," "She'd ask Abbott to give her Costello" and "We've seen you like this before. Is it over or is it just beginning?" are just a few of the zingers.
The extras include a restoration comparison, commentary by Celeste Holm and Christopher Mankiewicz, interviews with Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, four Movietone newsreels and an AMC Backstory episode on how closely real life paralleled the film. It's worth owning, just to hear Holm relate the story of her first day on the set with the notoriously difficult Davis: The genial Holm greeted Davis with a sunny "Good morning!" to which Davis crabbed, "Oh shit. Good manners."