Movies Everybody Should See – All About Eve
Once a week here at TWBT we will be discussing a movie we agree everyone should see at some point in their lives. For the most part we will try to avoid the really obvious choices (The Godfather, Citizen Kane, Die Hard, etc) as their reputations are such that if you are at all interested in film you’ll already have seen them, or you will be aware you probably should. In certain cases an obvious classic may be discussed if we think we have something new to say, or just really want to talk about it, but by and large we are looking at films the casual film fan may not have seen. This list will run the gamut as we’ll be looking at older films, foreign films, genre films, cult films, exploring the whole diverse world of the movies.
This weeks entry is…
All About Eve
Based on a short story which was itself based on a true story, All About Eve revolves around aging Broadway superstar Margo Channing (Bette Davis), and the young actress Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) who has worked her way into Margo’s life. Eve is a hard working and loyal assistant but Margo soon begins to suspect that Eve wants to take her place as the queen of Broadway, and her paranoia quickly starts damaging her professional and personal relationships.
The film is, pretty much from start to finish, one colossal bitch-fest. Every character is bitching about every other character behind their backs for the entire movie. What makes All About Eve so entertaining is the wit with which these characters bitch. Every snide comment and catty remark results in a classic line. The dialogue in this movie, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz, is exceptionally witty. It isn’t what you would call naturalistic, as nothing in this movie is, but it is great. One of my favourite lines comes when theatre critic Addison DeWitt describes Margo as a mass of music and fire and she responds with “That’s me. An old kazoo and some sparklers”. Classic.
As excellent as the dialogue is, and it is, it wouldn’t sing if the actors delivering those lines weren’t up to snuff. Thankfully, every single actor knocks it out of the park. All About Eve is so well written and well cast that even the smallest of parts leaves a lasting impression. One of my favourite characters is Margo’s employee Birdie, a no nonsense, working class woman with a thick accent. She isn’t in all that many scenes but steals every one she is in (and was nominated for an Oscar because of it). Another minor character is Miss Casswell, one of the roles that introduced Marilyn Monroe to the world. Casswell, much like Eve, is looking to get her start as an actress and uses her sexuality to get in with those that can make it happen. Monroe is hilarious in the role, but her presence is somewhat distracting as it’s odd seeing a genuine icon just stand around in the background of a scene.
Every character is vivid and full of life and is given a number of moments to shine, but the three most valuable players are Eve, DeWitt, and above them all, Margo Channing. Eve is interesting because the film, as the title makes clear, is all about her, but she’s not a point of view character until about two thirds of the way through the movie. For a long time we only experience Eve from Margo and the other characters’ perspective. What this distance does is make it all about her as an idea rather than as a person. It is all about what Eve represents, and what she represents is the next generation. Eve is the face of the future, smiling brightly with hungry eyes, desperately wanting what the current crop of stars have. Every generation will have its own Eve, stated perfectly in the film’s final shot (an image so perfect it isn’t even ruined by the stage hand glimpsed in the mirror). Towards the end of the movie we are allowed to see things from Eve’s point of view and it’s then we realise she is a antagonist in a very real world way. All About Eve is never naturalistic, but its depiction of evil is very realistic. Eve is not a slobbering psychopath. She is someone who wants something someone else has got and ingratiates herself into that person’s life to destroy them. I believe Eve genuinely likes Margo and the rest of Margo’s friends, but that doesn’t stop her manipulating them to get exactly what she wants. Eve exists. That type of monster definitely exists in the real world. That is what makes her such a fascinating character.
DeWitt is the most surprising character in the movie. Usually, in movies made by Hollywood, critics are presented as pompous and arrogant and ultimately wrong. In All About Eve the critic is pompous and arrogant and is always the smartest guy in the room. In some ways it could be argued that he is the film’s hero. Theatre is his life and his love and he protects it from those who would destroy it from the inside. For most of the characters the theatre is a platform to raise them up to be adored. DeWitt doesn’t want to adored, or even liked. He just wants to see the theatre go on. That might make him the most dangerous shark swimming those Broadway waters.
And finally there is Margo Channing. Truly one of the great characters and one of the greatest screen performances. Bette Davis brings everything that the role requires, a scathing wit, a boisterous personality, a towering presence, and yes, fire and music, but she also brings so much more. Some of the most powerful moments in the film are when Margo lets her guard down or when she is wounded. A drunken, maudlin Margo brings down an entire dinner party by only requesting sad music, and her expression as she rests her face on a martini glass reveals the vulnerable heart beneath the larger than life persona. Margo feels her career coming to an end and she doesn’t know who she is outside of that career. Bette Davis brings so much truth to this role because she was going through the same thing at the time. Her contract with Warner Brothers was up and she wasn’t getting offered the roles she used to. Davis channels all of that into Margo, a big, broad character, and keeps her recognisably human.
And without her we wouldn’t have the expression “Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!”
All About Eve is a brilliantly witty look at the rise and fall of stardom. It is dark and cynical but not without heart, is filled with endlessly quotable dialogue, and contains one of the all time great performances from Bette Davis. It is a classic.
Further Viewing – If you like All About Eve you should check out…
The most obvious movie is Sunset Boulevard, the other 1950 movie about a fading female star, and it is an absolute masterpiece… But I want to do a whole article on that in the future so I’m keeping it out of the further viewing and instead recommending…
Black Swan. Natalie Portman gives a career best performance as Nina, a talented ballerina who takes the place of former prima ballerina Winona Ryder. But when a new arrival at the company, Lily (played by Mila Kunis) shows interest in the role Nina begins to crack. Darren Aronofsky’s look at the dark side of performance, with a few fairytale flourishes of body horror to really spice things up.
Gone Girl. David Fincher’s cynical look at adult relationships and the facades we put up within them. Not a huge amount in common with All About Eve, but Amazing Amy and the way she constructs her personality to achieve her goals is certainly reminiscent of Eve Harrington’s rise to the top.