There’s a reason that Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s “All About Eve” is considered Bette Davis’ defining performance. Margo Channing is one of the theatre’s most prominent actresses, who, after a show, is visited by Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a devoted fan who wants to one day be in Margo’s shoes. It seems innocent enough, though Margo’s maid, Birdie (the eternally scene-stealing Thelma Ritter), is suspicious from the jump. Soon enough, Eve does exactly what she set out to do, taking Margo’s place at the top of the theatre’s firmament.
As Margo, Davis commands every second of screentime. She’s impossible to look away from, and Davis has never seemed more at home on screen than she does here. There’s a spine-tingling thrill every time she speaks. Margo is a woman who will say whatever comes to mind without fear of repercussion, and that makes her electrifying to watch. “All About Eve” is full of squabbles, from the petty to the downright epic, and its all-star cast (including Marilyn Monroe) makes the most of every moment. It may just be a perfect film. Not a moment of its two-and-a-half-hour runtime is wasted, and everyone is in top form. Exposing the seedy underbelly of the entertainment industry, it’s a scathing film but also an incredibly human one.
Davis promises us a bumpy night, but what “All About Eve” delivers is the ride of a lifetime. As a bonus, “All About Eve” has one of the best endings in film history, with a kaleidoscopic final shot that ties up the film’s themes in a venomous bow.