I have a confession. I mixed up All About Eve with The Three Faces of Eve, which is the only reason I added it to my list; nevertheless, I am happy I made this mistake because it lead me to a fantastic classic. Anyone who knows me will tell you that I love classic movies. If it’s in black-in-white, chances are I’m going to at least pause my flickering through the channels and find out what it’s about. There’s something indescribably smooth and classy about black-and-white. I like the look so much that I rarely watch color movies from the late 60s and 70s. It’s probably just me, but they seem blurry and the quality of the actual film appears worse. After watching two movies that were released in the past 20 years, I had to pick a classic.
All About Eve did not disappoint. In fact, I can definitely say that this is one of my favorite movies. Bette Davis is superb as Margo Channing and I can’t imagine how she didn’t win an Oscar for her performance. Everything about her gave off aging Broadway star. Her sharp tongue, dramatic and self-important voice and posture, and vivid facial expressions that snapped from languid to incensed in a second, thanks to Davis‘s infamous eyes. It seems unfathomable that she wasn’t originally cast in this role. At 42 years old and known for her slightly diva behavior, I don’t know how much acting was required by Davis, but either way, her performance is one of the best in film history.
The reason why this film is so great though, is because everything, from the script to the amazing performances of the entire cast, works together so well. While Davis‘s performance is stellar, the cast is able to hold their own and perform magnificently. Anne Baxter is excellent. She is somehow able to make it believable that a person can fool everyone into thinking she is a sweet small town girl who simply loves the theater, but switch into a conniving woman who is determined to be a star the next minute. The inside jokes, arguments, and the ability to sense Margo’s mood make these characters seem like a real group of friends. Like everyday people, they annoy and fight with each other, but always seem to make up soon after.
Gary Merrill‘s portrayal of Bill Sampson, Margo’s boyfriend, is also great. I could feel the chemistry and amazing energy between them (which explains their marriage after the film). They seemed every bit an older artistic couple; he knows all of Margo’s trick and can sense what’s bothering her before she speaks. Merrill also delivers a fantastic monologue about the theater, addressing the annoying pomposity that is so prevalent. One of the movie’s best quotes comes from this speech.
“Wherever there’s magic and make-believe and an audience, there’s theater.” “The Theater’s for everybody – you included, but not exclusively – so don’t approve or disapprove. It may not be your Theater, but it’s Theater for somebody, somewhere. “
I totally agree with this sentiment. It annoys me that particular forms of art, especially theater are still seen as entertainment that can only be understood or enjoyed by wealthy people. Art is meant to convey the artist’s emotions and message to whoever is willing to receive it. It is the wonder and magic behind painting, film, theater, and art as a whole that makes people around the world create and enjoy art. It allows one to escape their own reality, and experience something new and exciting.
This brings me to the awesome script by Joseph L. Mankiewicz. This film is witty and sharp, perfectly encapsulating the world of theater, while simultaneously satirizing it. While watching the film, I was constantly listening to their dialogue in order to not miss a single sarcastic remark. Celeste Holm, in one of the few scenes where Karen, Margo’s close friend, shows vigor, also says a memorable line.
“That cynicism you refer to is something I acquired the day I realized I was different from little boys.”
Another reason I enjoyed All About Eve is because the story is timeless. Especially in today’s society, where family, friendship, loyalty, and kindness are in decline, this film rings true. As long as the human population exists, there will be people who are willing to use any means necessary to achieve their goals. As far as the plot goes, my only issue is with Karen. I thought her “joke” was a bit drastic and out of character. She knew Margo for a long time and would have known that she would not be amused that Karen purposely prevented her from attending her performance.
Like The Silence of the Lambs, All About Eve surprised me with its analysis of women who have careers. Being that the movie was made in 1950, I was surprised that the topic is discussed at all. During one of the film’s later scenes, Davis gives a monologue about the things that women often lose in order to advance their career, which are often needed later on in their relationships. While it is a bit old school to say that nothing is worth it if you don’t have the person you love beside you, I can somewhat agree with the point she’s making. If I extend the definition of the person you love to people who love you, I find the above statement to be true. You obviously don’t need a partner to feel fulfilled, but life is must less enjoyable if you have no one (including family and friends) to share it with. I also agree that all women share the career of simply being a woman. It is a testament to the timelessness of this movie that women today are still struggling to reconcile their strength and tenacity with the ability to be vulnerable.
As an avid follower of fashion, I couldn’t finish this post without mentioning the gorgeous costumes. Edith Head, the costume designer, who was the inspiration for Edna Mode (from The Incredibles), did an amazing job. Her costumes perfectly embodied the characters. Some of my favorite outfits are Karen’s suit when she first meets Eve, Margo’s dress at Bill’s birthday party, and Eve’s dress and fabulous cloak (which I wouldn’t mind owning). Not surprisingly, one of the best bits of trivia from this movie is related to the costumes. Margo’s cocktail gown didn’t fit around Bette Davis‘s shoulders when she put it on. It was her idea to pull the sleeves down past her shoulders, a look now simply called “off the shoulder.” That’s pretty awesome.