THE SCREEN IN REVIEW; Bette Davis and Anne Baxter Star in 'All About Eve,' New Feature at Roxy Theatre
By Bosley Crowther
New York Times
Published: October 14, 1950
The good old legitimate theatre, the temple of Thespis and Art, which has dished out a lot of high derision of Hollywood in its time, had better be able to take it as well as dish it out, because the worm has finally turned with a venom and Hollywood is dishing it back. In "All About Eve," a withering satire—witty, mature and worldly-wise — which Twentieth Century-Fox and Joseph Mankiewicz delivered to the Roxy yesterday, the movies are letting Broadway have it with claws out and no holds barred. If Thespis doesn't want to take a beating, he'd better yell for George Kaufman and Moss Hart.
As a matter of fact, Mr. Kaufman and Mr. Hart might even find themselves outclassed by the dazzling and devastating mockery that is brilliantly packed into this film. For obviously Mr. Mankiewicz, who wrote and directed it, had been sharpening his wits and his talents a long, long time for just this go. Obviously, he had been observing the theatre and its charming folks for years with something less than an idolater's rosy illusions and zeal. And now, with the excellent assistance of Bette Davis and a truly sterling cast, he is wading into the theatre's middle with all claws slashing and settling a lot of scores.
If anything, Mr. Mankiewicz has been even too full of fight—-too full of cutlass-edged derision of Broadway's theatrical tribe. Apparently his dormant dander and his creative zest were so aroused that he let himself go on this picture and didn't know when to stop. For two hours and eighteen minutes have been taken by him to achieve the ripping apart of an illusion which might have been comfortably done in an hour and a half.
It is not that his characters aren't full blown, that his incidents aren't brilliantly conceived and that his dialogue, pithy and pungent, is not as clever as any you will hear. In picturing the inside story of an ambitious actress' rise from glamour-struck girl in a theatre alley to flinty-eyed winner of the Siddons Prize, Mr. Mankiewicz has gathered up a saga of theatrical ambition and conceit, pride and deception and hypocrisy, that just about drains the subject dry.
Indeed, he has put so many characters — so many vivid Broadway types—through the flattening and decimating wringer of his unmerciful wit that the punishment which he gives them becomes painful when so lengthily drawn. And that's the one trouble with this picture. It beats the horse after it is dead.
But that said, the rest is boundless tribute to Mr. Mankiewicz and his cast for ranging a gallery of people that dazzle, horrify and fascinate. Although the title character—the self-seeking, ruthless Eve, who would make a black-widow spider look like a lady bug—is the motivating figure in the story and is played by Anne Baxter with icy calm, the focal figure and most intriguing character is the actress whom Bette Davis plays. This lady, an aging, acid creature with a cankerous ego and a stinging tongue, is the end-all of Broadway disenchantment, and Miss Davis plays her to a fare-thee-well. Indeed, the superb illumination of the spirit and pathos of this dame which is a brilliant screen actress gives her merits an Academy award.
Of the men, George Sanders is walking wormwood, neatly wrapped in a mahogany veneer, as a vicious and powerful drama critic who has a licentious list towards pretty girls; Gary Merrill is warm and reassuring as a director with good sense and a heart, and Hugh Marlowe is brittle and boyish as a playwright with more glibness than brains. Celeste Holm is appealingly normal and naive as the latter's wife and Thelma Ritter is screamingly funny as a wised-up maid until she is summarily lopped off.
A fine Darryl Zanuck production, excellent music and an air of ultra-class complete this superior satire. The legitimate theatre had better look to its laurels.
On the stage at the Roxy are Martha Stewart and the Blackburn Twins and Joan Hyldoft, Phil Romayne and Terry Brent in an ice revue.
ALL ABOUT EVE, screen play by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, adapted from a short story and radio play by Mary Orr; directed by Mr. Mankiewicz; produced by Darryl F. Zanuck for Twentieth Century-Fox. At the Roxy.
Margo . . . . . Bette Davis
Eve . . . . . Anne Baxter
Addison De Witt . . . . . George Sanders
Karen . . . . . Celeste Holm
Lloyd Richards . . . . . Hugh Marlowe
Birdie . . . . . Thelma Ritter
Miss Casswell . . . . . Marilyn Monroe
Max Fabian . . . . . Gregory Ratoff
Phoebe . . . . . Barbara Bates
Aged Actor . . . . . Walter Hampden
Girl . . . . . Randy Stuart
Leading Man . . . . . Craig Hill
Doorman . . . . . Leland Harris
Autograph Seeker . . . . . Barbara White
Stage Manager . . . . . Eddie Fisher
Pianist . . . . . Claude Stroud