All About Eve is a 1950 American drama film written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, and produced by Darryl F. Zanuck. It was based on the 1946 short story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, although screen credit was not given for it.
Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is one of the biggest stars on Broadway. But having just turned forty she is worried about what her advancing age will mean for her career. After a performance of Margo’s latest play, Aged in Wood, Margo’s close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), wife of the play’s author Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), brings in a besotted fan, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), to meet Margo. Eve tells the group gathered in Margo’s dressing room—Karen and Lloyd, Margo’s boyfriend Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), a director who is eight years her junior, and Margo’s maid Birdie (Thelma Ritter)—that she followed Margo’s last theatrical tour to New York after seeing her in a play in San Francisco. She tells a moving story of growing up poor and losing her young husband in World War II. Moved, Margo quickly befriends Eve, takes her into her home, and hires her as her assistant, leaving Birdie, who instinctively dislikes Eve, feeling put out.
Eve quickly insinuates herself into Margo’s life, acting as her secretary and adoring fan. She seems to anticipate Margo’s every need, including placing a long distance phone call to Bill when Margo forgets his birthday. Margo becomes increasingly distrustful and bitter, particularly after she catches Eve trying on one of the costumes for Aged in Wood. Margo asks her producer, Max Fabian, to hire Eve at his office, but instead Eve manages to become Margo’s understudy without Margo’s knowledge. As Margo’s irritation grows, Karen feels sorry for Eve. In hopes of humbling Margo, Karen arranges for her to miss a performance of Aged in Wood, so Eve will have to give the performance in her place. Eve invites the city’s theatre critics, including the acerbic Addison DeWitt, to attend that evening’s performance, which is a triumph for her. Eve tries to seduce Bill, but he rejects her. Instead, Addison takes her under his wing and writes a column that criticizes Margo for not making way for new talents like Eve.
That evening, Margo and Bill announce their engagement at dinner with the Richardses. Eve calls Karen into the ladies’ room and tells her to either ask Lloyd to give her the part of Cora—the lead in Lloyd’s next play, Footsteps on the Ceiling—or that she will reveal Karen’s role in Margo’s missed performance. Before Karen can talk with Lloyd, Margo announces to everyone’s surprise that she does not wish to play Cora and would prefer to continue in Aged in Wood.
Eve is cast as Cora. Just before the out-of-town premiere of Footsteps on the Ceiling at the Shubert in New Haven, Eve presents Addison with her next plan: to marry Lloyd, who, she claims, has come to her professing his love and his eagerness to leave his wife for her. Now, Eve exults, Lloyd will write brilliant plays showcasing her. Angered that Eve believes she can manipulate him as easily as she does everyone else, Addison reveals he knows that her back story is all lies. Her real name is Gertrude Slojinski, she was never married, and she had been paid to leave her hometown over an affair with her boss, a brewer in Wisconsin. Addison blackmails Eve, informing her that she will not be marrying Lloyd or anyone else; in exchange for Addison’s silence, she now “belongs” to him.
A year later, Eve is a shining Broadway star headed for Hollywood. At an awards banquet, she thanks Margo, Bill, Lloyd and Karen with characteristic effusion, while all four stare back at her coldly. Eve skips a party in her honor, and returns home alone, where she encounters Phoebe (Barbara Bates)—a high-school-aged fan—who has slipped into her apartment and fallen asleep. The young girl professes her adoration and begins at once to insinuate herself into Eve’s life, offering to pack Eve’s trunk for Hollywood. While Eve rests in the other room, Phoebe dons Eve’s elegant costume robe and poses in front of a multi-paned mirror, holding the award as if it were a crown.
All About Eve and critics
Praised by critics at the time of its release, All About Eve received 14 Academy Award nominations (a feat only matched by the 1997 film Titanic and the 2016 film La La Land) and won six, including Best Picture. All About Eve is the only film in Oscar history to receive four female acting nominations (Davis and Baxter as Best Actress, Holm and Ritter as Best Supporting Actress). All About Eve was selected in 1990 for preservation in the United States National Film Registry and was among the first 50 films to be registered. All About Eve appeared at #16 on AFI’s 1998 list of the 100 best American films.