All About Eve (1950)
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Shown foreground, from left: Anne Baxter (as Eve Harrington), Bette Davis; background: Gary Merrill, Celeste Holm, George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe, Hugh Marlowe
It’s an Alfred Newman kinda week here at Film Score Click Track. And today we visit my favorite film, which also just happens to feature a score by Newman, my favorite film composer. (Just a coincidence, trust me.)
The ultimate film about the theatre, ALL ABOUT EVE racked up the most nominations ever (14!) at the 1950 Academy Awards. This record stood for 47 years until TITANIC tied that record in 1997. Superbly directed and written by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, the film contains some of the smartest dialogue ever to grace the screen. People in real life may not talk this way, but for two hours and fifteen minutes thankfully they do.
Bette Davis (in the performance of her career) stars as Margo Channing, legendary Broadway star, and Anne Baxter as the conniving ingenue, Eve Harrington. Anchored by these two powerhouse performances, the rest of the cast is no-less stellar, including George Sanders’ Oscar-winning support as an acid-tongued critic, Celeste Holm as Margo’s best friend, and Thelma Ritter as Margo’s outspoken dresser, Birdie.
The satirical script drips with verbal venom and contains one classic line after another. Arguably my favorite line in any film comes from this one: Davis’ “I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.” At one crucial moment in the film, the barbs take a breather and Margo states, “I detest cheap sentiment.” So did Alfred Newman, whose score is anything but sentimental. But when it is, Newman mockingly ladles on the sentiment.
Mankiewicz staged the film as a play (meant as a compliment for a change). Newman steered clear of the witty exchanges, scoring the film sparingly (it occupies only about a third of the running time), and letting the orchestra soar during the transitions, pauses, and wordless interludes.
Newman’s score opens and rings down the curtain on this most theatrical of films. The main titles function as an overture, beginning with a brass fanfare followed by a martial string melody, signaling the theatricality and ambition of the drama about to unfold.
One day in 2000, I Googled the title and happened to come upon Film Score Monthly’s CD of the original score. I had never heard of Film Score Monthly, and I was thrilled to see that someone had actually released Newman’s score. FSM has received numerous dollars of mine in the years since, but none with more pleasure than that day.