Two decades after All About Eve, writer/director Joseph L Mankiewicz nodded to his 1950 classic by putting Margo Channing's name on the credits of Sleuth. This, of course, is a joke: like Godot, Margo never appears. In a way, though, it's fitting such a larger-than-life creation as Bette Davis's martini-swilling Broadway actress had a life beyond this sparkling satire, a bona fide masterpiece so full of waspish one-liners it'd take a review five times this length to do them justice.
One can only imagine how the picture might have turned out had original star Claudette Colbert not suffered the ruptured disc that opened the door for Davis to deliver one of her most iconic performances. As good as Bette is, though, she's not the only gem in this delicious chronicle of Broadway back-stabbing. Was George Sanders ever better than as urbane critic Addison DeWitt? As much as Celeste Holm hated acting alongside Davis, didn't that tension make her raise her own game accordingly? Even the lesser roles are a delight, from Thelma Ritter's wise-cracking dresser and Gregory Ratoff's dyspeptic producer to Marilyn Monroe's priceless cameo as a buxom starlet more than happy to sleep her way to success.
"POLISHED AND SOPHISTICATED"
Okay, so Gary Merrill and Hugh Marlowe make ineffectual male leads, while Anne Baxter always seems just a little too poised as the eponymous ingenue who uses Margo and her friends to get ahead. For old-school Hollywood movie-making at its most polished, literate and sophisticated, however, there is really nothing to match it.
All About Eve is out in the UK on 30th November 2007.