I mean, but really All About Marilyn.
In her on-screen debut, Marilyn Monroe stole one scene for about fifteen seconds in a minor speaking role, surrounded by the film’s starring cast, and then commanded Hollywood’s attention for the next dozen years. Her medium, All About Eve, 1950’s Best Picture winner, commands a certain respect amongst film élite as a tour de force (nominated for 14 awards – including an as-of-yet unmatched 4 female acting awards). Bette Davis is superb here; George Saunders is sublime; Anne Baxter is adequate – but that may be part of her charm; Marilyn Monroe is radiant. Film and politics have enshrined Ms. Monroe as simply legendary for a few reasons: whether it be modern filmmaking dulls the senses as it attempts to jam technology down its readers’ eye-sockets and ear canals, in essence leveling the playing field, or whether it’s just that no other actor has graced the screen with such a furious radiance that Marilyn’s legacy simply multiplies ad infinitum and only grows with time.
All About Eve, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is not all about Eve Harrington, but rather about her meteoric rise to fame and her inevitable downfall. It’s about the prescience of the next big thing and about the lives and histories and themes of the people an ambitious actor must crush to achieve. It’s about the different paths different actors (people, really) can take to accomplish a goal. It’s about not really understanding the method, but the ready-fire-aim approach. And it’s about coming to grips with one’s individual place within a group. Really, though Monroe’s Miss Casswell is immune to these issues. No amount of ambition will hold someone like her back.
All About Eve‘s main players are representations of mid-century Hollywood types and with his script, Mankiewicz attempts to satire as many as he could within two hours. The brilliance is in the subtlety; not once would an actor or people, really, attempt to place themselves solely in one role, for fear of vanity or pigeon-holing. Margo Channing is self-aware and dramatic, one who not-so-quietly came to grips with her own career mortality. Addison DeWitt is conniving and sneaky, a behind-the-scenes trope with a particular skill to very wittingly ghost-move the players around the chess board. Bill Sampson and Lloyd Richards are supporting cast members, even in their own particular stories. Both successful, both talented, but completely reliant on the moves of others to support their own fatigue. And Eve Harrington is conniving, over-reaching, satisfied and replaceable. Everyone’s been in these positions, and many have been in multiple characters’ positions at once. All About Eve is brilliant because it’s both too relatable and completely unrelateble. Except for Monroe, who’s singularity helped her prove a strange career; her natural instinct has no foil. In a fit of irony, though, Monroe takes the place of young Phoebe as her career progressed.
Let’s not forget about Sunset Boulevard, Eve’s natural competitor for Best Picture in 1950. Out of the five films nominated at the 23rd annual awards ceremony, Sunset Boulevard will be the one most instantly recognizable in most social circles, and certainly one guessed to have won a Best Picture award. For what it’s worth, it’s ranked slightly higher on AFI’s “100 Years…100 Movies” list, published and republished within the last 20 years. It’s a noir film – its themes darkened the screen more than the lighting – compared to a character study type film. I can only assume the decision on this was was a toss-up.