PLAYBILL PICKS: The Five Greatest Movies About the Theatre

By Robert Simonson
02 Aug 2012

Anne Baxter in "All About Eve."
© 1950 Twentieth Century Fox

ALL ABOUT EVE: If "42nd Street" is the most influential of all theatre films, 1950's "All About Eve" is probably the most beloved. An acid love letter to the heady, roiling Broadway mileau in the mid-20th century, filmmaker Joseph L. Mankiewicz's literate screenplay glitters with wit and observation. No one in this story — with the possible exception of the calculating, back-stabbing, would-be starlet after which the film is named — is at a loss for a bon mot or appropriate exit line. The most colorfully outspoken are Margot Channing, the stage diva played by Bette Davis, and Addison DeWitt, the dapper, acidulous, all-powerful critic who charts Margo's decline and Eve's rise. Any theatre professional or theatre lover worth their salt can quote at least a dozen lines from the script by heart. (Tony Award-winning Hairspray lyricist Scott Wittman said he "can recite it backwards and forwards. Not a line in it that doesn't come in handy at sometime every day.") As with "42nd Street," Broadway showed its appreciation of this mirror image of itself by turning the film into a musical, Applause.

"'All About Eve' is the ultimate theatre story because is resonates far beyond the theatre," said Tony-winning Broadway producer Robyn Goodman, who loves the movie so much she named her business, Aged in Wood, after the play Margo Channing headlines in the film. "Every business has an Eve Harrington story and every critic has a bit of Addison DeWitt in them." Tony-winning director Michael Mayer concurred that "All About Eve" is "the best depiction of the world of the theatre — the players and the people who love them — God help 'em. The writing is ridiculously good (and quotable) and the story is completely absorbing no matter how many dozens of times you've seen it." Cote called it "A movie dear to every critic's heart, if only for making us look like epigram-spouting tastemakers with gorgeous starlets draped on either arm." The film won six Academy Awards, including Best Picture, Best Screenplay and Director (both to Mankiewicz), and black and white Costume Design (Edith Head). Sanders won the Oscar for Best Supporting Actor.

Anne Baxter and Bette Davis in "All About Eve."
© 1950 Twentieth Century Fox