All About Eve (20th Century-Fox), a needle-sharp study of bitchery in the Broadway theater, is Producer Darryl F. Zanuck's major bid for 1950 Oscars. Zanuck, usually a ruthless cutter, thinks well enough of the picture to let it run 2 hours and 18 minutes. His company echoes his high opinion by releasing the movie on unprecedented terms: no latecomers are to be admitted to its scheduled (but continuous) performances.
Scripted and directed by Joseph L. (A Letter to Three Wives) Mankiewicz, All About Eve is probably Hollywood's closest original approach to the bite, sheen and wisdom of high comedy. It crackles with smart, smarting dialogue. Sometimes at too earnest length, but mostly with wit and always with insight, it jabs at the quirks and follies of show business and its "concentrated gatherings of neurotics, egomaniacs, emotional misfits and precocious children." It matches some penetrating characterizations with top-drawer acting. With all these merits, plus a full-blooded story, the picture is absorbing enough to ride over an occasional lag, satisfying enough to redeem a contrived epilogue.
The movie shows the swift rise of young Broadway Actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) from a stagestruck unknown to an adulated star. She is seen first at her most triumphant moment, as the theater's elite prepare to honor her with their highest prize for acting. Then, in flashbacks introduced with narration by three different characters, the story of Eve's success proves her less a Cinderella than a Lady Macbeth.
Though the narrators' hints alert the audience to distrust Eve, the early sequences make her wholly sympathetic. She seems "a lamb loose in our big stone jungle," humble, gracious, utterly devoted to the tempestuous big star (Bette Davis) who adopts her as a secretary-handmaiden. Subtly at first, then with fine crescendo effect, Mankiewicz reveals her as an ambitious fanatic who stops at nothingdeceit, betrayal, assignation, blackmailto knife her way to the top.
The two main victims of Eve's rise are just as keenly drawn. Her benefactress, written and played with some recognizable traces of Tallulah Bankhead, is volatile, egocentric and uninhibited, a great stage personality whose bitter anxiety over encroaching middle age blights both her career and her love affair with a younger director (Gary Merrill*). Eve's original well-meaning sponsor (Celeste Holm) is a hapless show-business phenomenon: as the non-professional wife of a successful playwright (Hugh Marlowe), she feels pangs of insecurity at having her husband dangled constantly before beautiful, designing females of the theater.