All About Eve ★★★★★

It is clear from the very beginning that ALL ABOUT EVE is a classic in the truest sense of the word. The Joseph L. Mankiewicz film opens on a close-up of an award, something this 1950 film would go on to amass many of for itself, and slowly pulls back to reveal more and more of the fancy banquet hall that is playing home to an evening dedicated to this award. Narration gives us context and does so in a rather sarcastic and condescending tone. Within seconds, Mankiewicz’s script has mocked actors as insufferable and narcissistic, as well as film itself for being nothing more than trash in comparison to the theatre. Let alone that at this very moment, we are watching a film about actors, this entire speech is being delivered by the foe of actors from both the stage and screen alike - a critic! And if at this point, the theatre thinks it is going to get away unscathed, well, that’s what the next two hours are for - exposing the delusional ego of the modern actor working within the realm of celebrity. The fact that ALL ABOUT EVE does this while simultaneously demonstrating just how effective film acting can be is a sign of its real genius.

We are introduced to everyone we will need to know at this soiree and we know from the tone that everything we learn about them is almost certainly false. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is being feted by her peers, all of whom have helped her get to this point and all of whom despise her completely. Of course, there’s a great story behind this and it all started one fateful night when Eve was invited backstage to meet her idol, Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Eve beguiles Margo and her friends, Lloyd and Karen (Hugh Marlowe and Celeste Holm), a playwright who works exclusively with Margo, and his wife, with her tale of woe, of how she came to be standing in front of her hero that very night. She had seen Margo in a play one night in San Francisco and followed her back to Manhattan when the show closed. Now, she sees every performance and waits outside by the stage door nightly for just a glimpse of her obsession. While this might seem disturbing to some, Eve’s story is spun as one that warrants pity and that ultimately places Margo on a pedestal. Naturally, this speaks directly to Margo’s ego but little does she know, now that Eve is backstage, she is never leaving again.

At first, Margo and Eve are practically inseparable, and it is a testament to both Davis and Baxter that their real intentions and personalities only reveal themselves so much later, and in such a subtle progression. Once it becomes clear that Eve is not who she claimed to be, and that Margo is not as altruistic as she wanted to be, ALL ABOUT EVE blossoms into an intense game of back and forth with no end in sight. What this allows for is spirited, and deliciously melodramatic, debate on celebrity and talent, as well as the ever shorter shelf life of the aging actress. Eve is a might bit younger than Margo, who, as of late, has been playing parts she is far too old to play. Her talent as an actress is unmatched, and her draw as a celebrity is still immense, so she continues to get great parts, but Eve’s youth and vigour eventually chips away at Margo’s sense of security. Eve is talented as well but her talents extend far off the stage, as she understands that a good backstory, published in just the right paper, can help a talented, unknown actress like herself create not just a career but a persona that people can admire and envy.

Throughout ALL ABOUT EVE, perspective changes from one character to another. It is always the same story but the meaning shifts constantly with the angles it is seen from. This is further mirrored in the many faces of Margo and Eve that we come to know. We already know that Eve is duplicitous and therefore, there is nothing real about her for us to ever learn. Margo, on the other hand, is at a pivotal point in both her career and her life and this crisis manifests itself in the many shades of her personality. Yes, she is a diva and yes, she can be suspicious, jealous and overly dramatic when she wants to be. Davis never allows Margo to be that cliche though. Even when she’s drunk and demanding, Davis is always sure to let us see tiny glimpses of the scared little girl underneath all the theatrics who so desperately doesn’t want to lose everything she has worked so hard for all these years. The vulnerability that Davis breathes into Margo, a character whose flare for the dramatic could easily eclipse any and all signs of her humanity, is what makes Margo Channing one of the most memorable, and relatable, performances of Davis’ career. In some ways, I’m sure that many people expected that Davis was very much like Margo in real life, which makes the life Davis brings to Margo all that much more meaningful.

ALL ABOUT EVE is a classic for so many formal reasons but it resonates to this very day with audiences because its commentary on celebrity and obsession still rings true, making this Best Picture winner a landmark film that was both timely and ahead of its own time. There will always be another Eve Harrington biting at the tired ankles of another aging actress, but there will be fewer and fewer Margo Channing’s in the world, for talent is nowhere near as attractive as youth and a good story will always trump the truth no matter what. In the end, it may all have been about her, but Eve was never a real person to begin with, and the only reason we know anything about her at all is because her story is, thanks to our own obsessions with our own idols, one we already know by heart.