Also part of the favored backstage crowd is Lloyd's wife, Karen (Celeste Holm), acerbic critic Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), and Margo's maid, Birdie (Thelma Ritter, in yet another no-nonsense role).
It's a tight group to break into. But Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is sufficiently ambitious, cunning, ruthless, and beautiful to give it a try. She takes the breathless, modest, starstruck approach, through the most sympathetic opening: Karen. After duping Karen, Eve cons Margo, and becomes an "irreplaceable" backstage asset, the earnest errand runner and organizer who secretly covets Margo's status as the uncrowned queen of the Fifth Avenue stage.
Even as Eve worms her way into the coveted lead of Bill's new play, some are wise to her. First Birdie, who has reason to resent Eve's encroachment on her job. Then Margo, who recognizes a new pretender to her throne. And Addison, of course, who sees everything, although through a veil of condescending cynicism. Bill can see through Eve as well, since he is actually instead in love with Margo. Karen figures things out late, since it is in her nature to think the best of everyone. Lloyd figures it out last, because he is male, and the primitive urge to possess a beautiful young women makes him susceptible to her wiles.
How others will see it. All About Eve won a pile of Oscars, so we know how the industry viewed it in 1951. Close to sixty years later, it is ranked within the IMDB Top 250, which is dominated by overrated trendy films from recent decades. One thing in its favor is the presence of Marilyn Monroe, even though her role is small. Monroe is probably better known than even Bette Davis, despite the far more significant career of the latter. It also helps that the title character, Eve, is a ravishing woman who gets a lot of screen time and shows substantial black and white skin.
All About Eve has an unusually cerebral script. It is not for the "American Idol" devotee. It is also one of those films whose direction is so subtle that the film must be seen twice in a row to be fully appreciated. The concealed contempt that the elite theatrical circle shows for Eve, the star of the hour. Why? You don't know, or perhaps even notice, this contempt until you learn (much later) why they despise her.
How I felt about it. Life imitates art, or, films work best when they have an air of truth about them. Bette Davis was an acclaimed but aging actress in 1950, trying to hang onto A-list leading lady status at an age when wiser heads gracefully accept supporting roles. And her character is similar here, with Broadway theater substituted for Hollywood. Her husband is even the same, Gary Merrill, whom she married during post-production.
All About Eve is a great play that instead became a movie. It is a script for the ages from veteran writer/director Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and it is filled with insightful wit that delineates its characters. Its only problems concern its seamlessness, particularly in the past success of Margo/Lloyd/Bill and the looks-can-deceive deportment of Anne Baxter. Ambition and talent often go together, with hard work in between. But the truly cunning never let down their demure guard. There's no need to, except that bitchiness is cinematic.