All About Eve, which turns 70 this year, is mostly remembered for two things: its precise, acerbic screenplay, and its star, Bette Davis, who gives the ultimate Bette Davis performance in the ultimate Bette Davis film. It tells the story of Margo Channing, a queenly actress in the distinguished theatre who three months ago turned 40, and her attempted usurpation by super-fan Eve Harrington, who is spookily earnest and only 24. It explores women’s experiences of ageing, particularly in show business; whether women can have it all (it’s 1950: they can’t); and power structures in mid-century Hollywood. And it does so in such style. The script is so quick, witty and self-referential that it demands and rewards full concentration. This is a talky film, and even when there isn’t dialogue there’s voiceover.

I could watch Bette Davis hold court announcing “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night” a hundred times (and really, I nearly have), but repeated viewings have yielded the smaller, lower pleasures in the physical performances that undercut the script’s barbed repartee. For example, sneering theatre critic and ally-of-Eve Addison Dewitt raising a toast to Margo, only for her to respond by raising a stalk of celery and beheading it with a loud chomp. Or like Margo giving a furious and well-timed yank to her mink coat, giving producer Max Fabian a furry thwack in the face.

Of course, Bette Davis was peerless in her use of her cigarette and its twisting smoke as an extension of her body and star persona. But I also love the scene in which Margo and her boyfriend Bill are arguing over his suspected feelings for Eve. All the while they are rowing, she walks around the room, casually checking every nook in which a cigarette could be expected to be. She finds only a box of chocolates. She keeps searching. She considers a chocolate again, puts it back, and finally, at the climax of the fight, takes it out and munches it in rage.

Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

But what is shown and not said in the film can also be revelatory. Eve’s brimming eyes as she privately watches Margo perform are the only indication that among the web of emotions and calculations in her “feverish little brain” is an adoration of Margo that is genuine and profound. Similarly, a gal pal’s arm tight around Eve’s waist, and Addison’s foppishly long cigarette holder in his introductory scene, queer code these characters visually long before Addison tells her, “You’re an improbable person, Eve, and so am I. We have that in common. Also, our contempt for humanity and inability to love and be loved…”

Addison, played by the drawling English actor George Saunders, delivers dripping lines like “You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent” for the duration of the film. It’s one of a few perfectly-pitched supporting parts that complete the film and its ecosystem.

On the opposing end of the spectrum is Margo’s maid, Birdie Coonan, played by Thelma Ritter, who never failed to improve a film by her presence. Not only is she the first character to suspect Eve’s machinations, but her healthy scepticism and good-humoured banter with Margo provide some much-needed grounding to this showy affair. Her comic line at the beginning of the film in retort to Margo calling her a “fifth-rate vaudevillian” – “I closed the first half for eleven years and you know it!” – is the only suggestion that Eve’s arrival isn’t the first time a queen has been dethroned. It hints that Birdie once occupied Margo’s position in her own realm, that she may have a more interesting backstory than we first assume.

Courtesy of: 20th Century Fox

And finally, there’s Marilyn Monroe. In a very early role, she starts her career as she means to go on – by anxious-vomming in the presence of the formidable Davis (onscreen and off). She has a timeless line that could forever apply to all boring men who bore on: “Don’t worry, honey, you won’t bore him, you won’t even get the chance to talk.” Young and conventionally beautiful, her character stands as a counterpoint to the other women in the film. Miss Caswell doesn’t need to be intelligent enough to scheme and connive; she need only ask older, richer men for a drink. But she never reaches Margo or Eve’s heights either.

It is these top and base notes that take All About Eve from good to great, and make it so rewarding to watch again and again. On its landmark 70th anniversary, it seems fitting to end by highlighting the birthday party scene, the pièce de résistance of the film. Every year that I get the birthday blues, I think of Margo at the end of Bill’s party, dressed in her best gown, dismal face obscured by softly-waved hair and cradled martini glass, forcing the pianist to play Liszt’s wistful Liebestraüm No. 3 on repeat. Let’s hope All About Eve celebrates its birthday with a little less sorrow – but just as much grandeur.