All About Eve (1950)
Theatrical Trailer-1.33:1, not 16x9, Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (3:01)
Trailer-Gentleman's Agreement (2:54)
|Year Of Production||1950|
|RSDL / Flipper||RSDL (60:17)||Cast & Crew|
|Region Coding||2,4||Directed By||Joseph L. Mankiewicz|
Twentieth Century Fox
|Pan & Scan/Full Frame||Full Frame||English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono (192Kb/s)|
|Widescreen Aspect Ratio||None|
|Video Format||576i (PAL)|
|Original Aspect Ratio||1.37:1||Miscellaneous|
English for the Hearing Impaired
|Smoking||Yes, tons of it|
|Annoying Product Placement||No|
|Action In or After Credits||No|
Even in these times when serious-sized Academy Awards nominations, deserved or otherwise, are the norm, if a film garners fourteen nominations it is still fairly extraordinary. So when All About Eve managed no less than fourteen nominations for the 1950 Academy Awards, it was fairly big news indeed. That alone would make the film worthy of a viewing. Added to the large nomination haul is the fact that the film is arguably the absolute pinnacle of the career of the legendary Bette Davis. So basically, we have here a film that has plenty of reasons to encourage you to give it a view - and equally a large number of reasons why your expectations may not be met. Amongst those, at least for me, is the fact that I am no great fan of Bette Davis and generally cannot see why she has attained the status of legend.
Ultimately, the stature of the film means that it does command a viewing. That viewing for me was extremely entertaining and welcomed. Out of the fourteen Oscar nominations - including two for Best Actress and two for Best Supporting Actress - the film did walk away with six, in itself no mean achievement. Best Picture is a good place to start, but also Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor, Best Costume Design - Black and White (Edith Head, who won BOTH Oscars in the category that year - these were the days of nominations in both Black and White as well as Colour) and Best Sound Recording certainly do enough to indicate that this is technically a very good film. The film would also have won at least Best Actress had the two stars, Bette Davis and Anne Baxter, not been competing against each other, and probably Best Supporting Actress too. Apparently Anne Baxter refused to have her nomination be Best Supporting Actress, hence the dual Best Actress nominations and had she so agreed, the picture would almost certainly have won both.
At its core, the story is a very simple one, but in its way is a very damning indictment of the star system. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is a famed theatre actress and basically the toast of Broadway. She brings to life the plays of Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) under the direction of her boyfriend and director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). She has it all - fame, fortune and adoring fans. One such adoring fan is Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a star-struck young lady from Wisconsin who through the aegis of Margo's best friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) is brought into the backstage area of theatre where Margo's current smash is playing to meet her idol. There she wins the hearts of Margo and her friends with her story of her marriage to Eddie, a fly boy from the war who did not return home, of her life in Wisconsin where her poor farming parents still live, of her job in a brewery in Milwaukee and of her fateful trip to San Francisco where she first saw Margo on the stage. Rather rapidly she inveigles herself into the employ of the usually brusque Margo and becomes an essential part of her daily life, all of which sounds too good to be true, and it probably is - with only Margo's slave Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter) and acidic theatre critic Addison De Witt (George Sanders) seeing through the little performance that Eve is putting on. A performance that will not be further explained for want of giving away far too much about the film.
Despite the name of the film, the central character really is Margo and you are left in absolutely doubt that Bette Davis IS Margo Channing. The role was originally to be played by Claudette Colbert, who had to pull out due to injury, and fell to Bette Davis at a time when her career was just about completely washed up. She is so suited to the role that it has virtually become her signature performance and will undoubtedly be the film for which she will be most remembered. Thus was effectively reborn the moribund career of the legend. It is such a commanding performance that the sheer folly of trying to believe anyone else could play the role as effectively is almost pure madness. The only reason she was denied the Oscar was purely due to competing against Anne Baxter. If like me you question why Bette Davis is a legend, this film provides the only evidence necessary, which is not to say that she was that much better than the rest of the cast. Anne Baxter was quite correct in not accepting her role be nominated as a supporting role. The film has dual female leads and her performance is no less commanding than that of Bette Davis'. In many ways I find it a much stronger performance - the level of naivety she brings to the role and sustains throughout the film, even as you come to see Eve for what she is, is quite amazing. You rarely see two female leads offering this sort of brilliance in performance. Yet despite, or is that because of, the strong female leads, there are also some memorable supporting roles. Celeste Holm (herself an Oscar winner in 1947 with Gentleman's Agreement, as well as being nominated here) is effective as the suffering best friend of Margo, if not quite as memorable as in her Oscar-winning role. But the real show-stealer as ever is the delightful Thelma Ritter, who seemed to make a career out of stealing the scenes from bit parts. Nominated for an Oscar too for this role, she virtually commands every scene in which she appears with some acerbic wit of her own. For fans of another legend, Marilyn Monroe makes one of her earlier, credited appearances here as aspiring actress Claudia Casswell. A small part indeed but enough to catch the eye - which Marilyn obviously never had any difficulty doing!
With the one exception, the male side of the cast is not as strong but nonetheless keep the gender's side up. The standout is of course George Sanders who won an Oscar for this performance, and thoroughly deserved it was too. Just as Bette Davis convinces us that she is Margo Channing, George Sanders leaves absolutely no doubt that he is the acidic theatre critic. One of his finest moments in film. Gary Merrill is probably the weak link of the cast and just fails to convince of the love that Bill has for the older Margo. In front of the camera there might have been some serious performances being given, but the work behind the camera is no less effective and, with the sole exception of some iffy work in the scenes in New Haven, the whole film reeks of authenticity. It also reeks of cigarette smoke too - boy, there is so much smoking going on in this film that you can almost smell the smoke wafting from the screen! The whole film has a wonderful feel to it but also something of a wonderful simplicity to it. Such scenes as at the party with Karen, Addison, Lloyd, Eve and Claudia sitting on the stairs discussing the nature of theatre are utterly memorable for that sheer simplicity and informality.
Apart from the horrendous amount of smoking in the film, there really is nothing here of real complaint as far as the film goes. Despite the relative core simplicity of the story, the film sustains its two hours plus length with ease. Having now seen the film, I can now appreciate why it is held in such regard (currently number 52 in the IMDB Top 250 films of all time). This is classic film-making from an era that was the beginning of the end of classic film-making in Hollywood. By the mid 1960s, Hollywood had to a large extent lost the ability to make films like these - and looking at the film today, one cannot help but feel it is because we no longer have the calibre of acting talent to draw upon. Do yourself the proverbial huge favour and give this film a view - classic stuff in every sense of the word.
The film might well be a classic but the transfer it has been afforded certainly is not. It should be pointed out that the source material demonstrates its fifty years quite readily and it is a crying shame that 20th Century Fox have not seen fit to bestow upon this classic the sort of sterling restorations we have seen for classic films from other sources. Equally though it should be pointed out that despite the less-than-stellar source material, and the inherent haze created by all the smoking, you soon make the necessary allowances to enjoy the film.
The transfer is, naturally enough, presented in an aspect ratio of 1.33:1 and it is not 16x9 enhanced.
The main issue with the transfer is simply that it looks old. It is not especially sharp, and indeed at times looks just a little flat, and generally suffers from a little depth of detail at times. Even for a film of fifty years old, I would have expected just a little better than this. Shadow detail is nothing especially wonderful either, although it certainly remains no worse than average. There is a consistent, generally slightly grainy look to the film throughout, with just a few patches where it becomes too obvious. Thankfully though, the problems that do exist do not really tend to detract from the film that much.
The black and white tones tend to be a little on the extreme side: there seemed to be a little lack of subtlety in the grey scales, with more emphasis on the whites and blacks. The positive is that it never really descends into murky grey tones, and that certainly aids the overall impact of the tones. It sure isn't the prettiest looking palette of blacks and whites I have ever seen, but neither is it anywhere near the poorest.
There just seemed to be the odd indication of a little blockiness in the picture at times, but perhaps that was a reflection of the tiredness of my eyes after a day at work. There was also the obligatory slight loss of resolution here and there on pan shots, but that is nothing more than we tend to expect in source material of this vintage, and cannot be blamed upon the mastering itself. There was barely any evidence whatsoever of film-to-video artefacts in the transfer and I was quite pleasantly surprised with this aspect of the transfer. I was far less pleasantly surprised by the veritable storm of film artefacts - some of the quite noticeable kind. It is in this area that the transfer really does show up the lack of restoration.
The DVD features RSDL formatting with the layer change coming during a black scene change at 60:17. It is an obvious place to insert the layer change and is not in the slightest bit disruptive to the film.
There are eleven subtitle options on the DVD, but I only sampled the one - English for the Hearing Impaired. They are presented in a white font on a black box background which does of course impinge slightly upon the viewing of the film, but this is not really avoidable. They are quite accurate with only the odd instance of words being missed out.
There is just the one soundtrack on the DVD, being an English Dolby Digital 2.0 mono soundtrack. If the video transfer is not really pretty looking, then the audio transfer is the aural equivalent.
Despite the age of the source material, and its occasionally noticeable faults, the dialogue comes up well in the transfer and is quite easy to understand. There were just a few odd hints at some audio sync problems, but nothing that is really related to the mastering: I would guess that these are inherent in the source material itself.
The original score comes from Alfred Newman and is generally a very nicely handled effort - as you would expect from an Oscar nominee. Certainly not of the calibre of an Oscar winner however, but all things considered a quite effective and neatly stated score. Thankfully it does not really descend into the obvious emotion tugging stuff that films of the era were occasionally prone to. The score itself does not want to dominate the dialogue either, which is also nice and refreshing.
The main issue with the soundtrack is purely a reflection of the age of the source material: it suffers a little from some not entirely noticeable hiss, plus the seemingly obligatory bit of distortion. Whilst the problems are there, frankly they barely worried me and were readily filtered out. Others might of course be more affected than I but I would really not be too disparaging of the soundtrack. Since it is a mono soundtrack, everything but everything emanates from the centre channel with no activity anywhere else.
|Surround Channel Use|
The film might well be a classic, but you would not know it from this entirely underwhelming extras package. Okay, the film is fifty years old and most of the cast are well and truly departed this mortal coil, but surely something better than this could have been assembled? At the very least I would have expected some decent biographies, maybe a short retrospective look at the film from someone like Leonard Maltin. Even a simple list of the Oscar nominations would not have gone astray.
Bland, very bland.
Theatrical Trailer (3:01)
After a rather stinging introduction taken from an interview with Bette Davis, the trailer proper is something of a letdown. Still, it does a fair job of pitching the film without giving everything away - in other words, just the sort of trailer we do not see in general nowadays. Presented in the same format as the main feature, the technical quality leaves much to be desired. Fairly ropey mono sound, with plenty of evidence of distortion early on, accompanies some rather average quality video that is plagued with film artefacts as well as some variability in the "colour".
Theatrical Trailer - Gentleman's Agreement (2:54)
Another classic film release from Fox Home Entertainment, the only apparent connection between the two films (apart from producer Darryl F. Zanuck) is Celeste Holm. If anything, this is even worse than the All About Eve trailer. Presented in a Full Frame format, it too suffers from ropey sound and the snow storm of film artefacts. Still, it fills up a bit more of the DVD.
Gallery - Cast
Talk about pointless - the eight main stars of the film are presented across four pages with just a single cameo style photo for each. Where are the pages of biographical notes? The filmographies?
As far as we can ascertain, there is no substantial difference between the Region 1 and Region 4 releases.
A genuinely classic film, All About Eve features some of the best acting you are likely to see on DVD this year or any year. We should be eternally grateful that Fox Home Entertainment is trolling its back catalogue and bringing these sorts of gems to DVD. We would of course be even more eternally grateful if the transfers were accompanied by full restorations and more edifying extras packages. Still, for all the faults of the audio and video transfers, such is the quality of what is on the screen that you readily start forgetting the problems and just enjoy the spectacle of a truly great film. Definitely one of those classic films that should be considered for every DVD collection.
Mind you, I would suggest to Fox Home Entertainment that they perhaps look at the cover slicks before printing them up - some of the back slick is almost unreadable owing to the choice of a dark background to some of the writing.
|DVD||Pioneer DV-515, using S-Video output|
|Display||Sony Trinitron Wega (80cm). Calibrated with Video Essentials. This display device is 16x9 capable.|
|Audio Decoder||Built in to amplifier/receiver. Calibrated with Video Essentials.|
|Speakers||Energy Speakers: centre EXLC; left and right C-2; rears EXLR; and subwoofer ES-12XL|