Monday, February 26, 2024

Movie Quote of the Day (‘All About Eve,’ As a Theater Critic Introduces Himself and His World)

Addison DeWitt [played by George Sanders] [voiceover intro]: “To those of you who do not read, attend the theater, listen to unsponsored radio programs, or know anything of the world in which you live, it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison DeWitt. My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater.” —All About Eve (1950), screenplay by Joseph L. Mankiewicz based on the story “The Wisdom of Eve” by Mary Orr, directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

At this point in the Academy Award-winning All About Eve, Addison DeWitt is merely droll, in a way that Oscar Wilde or Noel Coward might approve.

But look at the picture accompanying this post. This is an observer who not only takes it all in, but is utterly unillusioned by it all.

Cynical and manipulative, he is also one of two outsiders who perfectly understands the vanity fair of swollen egos, insecurities, and deceptiveness in which the actors, playwright, director, and other assorted figures in this comedy-drama move.

The other outsider is Birdie Coonan, a former vaudeville actress, now the personal assistant and confidant of reigning theater queen Margo Channing. Like DeWitt’s, her sideline view of events allows her to see early on through the movie’s title schemer, Eve Harrington.

Addison and Birdie differ vastly in class and education, but neither is anybody’s fool. “You're an improbable person, Eve, and so am I,” Addison says in confronting Eve, a true Becky Sharp of Broadway. “We have that in common. Also, our contempt for humanity and inability to love, and be loved, insatiable ambition, and talent. We deserve each other.” 

Birdie, less self-interested than the critic, is equally perceptive of motive, telling Margo that Eve is studying her, “like you was a play, or a book, or a set of blueprints. How you walk, talk, eat, think.”

For his performance as DeWitt, George Sanders won an Oscar. For hers as Birdie, Thelma Ritter—one of Hollywood’s consistently superior character actors—received her first of six Oscar nominations.

Not one of these netted her the coveted statuette, leading the actress to a most Birdie-like wisecrack: “Now I know what it feels like to be the bridesmaid and never the bride.” 

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