Directed by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Written by: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm
The lifespan of a female performer in showbiz starts with promise but ends with an unfair standard set upon them. One year they can be the bright-eyed ingénue and the next year they are relegated to limited roles and then disposed of. With the limited options, it pits these women against each other for the chance to hold the spotlight, as they can never be too sure who will come for their crown.
This 1950 classic centers on Margo (Bette Davis), as a beloved older actor, who receives a visit from a young and passionate fan named Eve (Anne Baxter). Slowly but surely Eve tries to take over the famed life of Margo, which is obviously met with resistance from the famous actor. Through the rest of the film, Margo must attempt to maintain her status while Eve looks for every opportunity to become a star.
No one can command the screen like the legendary Bette Davis. The way she can peer into the eyes of the audience and deliver her message leaves me with chills and she delivers a tremendous performance as Margo. Davis takes on a character battling with the next stage of her career, as she reaches the Hollywood geriatric age of 40. Insecurities start to creep up at that young age for a female actor because of the system around them. A system constantly trying to get rid of the old and bring in a new pretty face. Margo goes through a wide range of emotions throughout the film that solidifies her feelings of the individuals in her life and the introduction of Eve forces her to face that reality. As a character, Margo perfectly matches Bette Davis, who never cared much of what others think of her. She lights it up the with this performance and delivers each piece of sharp dialogue with an underlying fierceness that jumped off of the screen. Truly transcendent work by one of the best to ever do it.
All About Eve provides one of the greatest screenplays ever used in film. From the opening credits to the final scene, every word says something on the surface but layers itself in implications that demonstrate the true feelings of the characters. Every piercing piece of dialogue sets to put down the other person as each character tries to either usurp or maintain their position in the hierarchy of show business. A particularly delicious line come from Margo when she says, “Bill’s 32. He looks 32. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it 20 years from now. I hate men.” It shows Margo’s utter disgust with the contrast between men and women’s opportunities in the entertainment world. Different standards are set and they benefit one group of individuals more than the others. Unfortunately, an inequality that has not fully been eradicated with no sign of structural change on the horizon.
Even with all of the animosity the characters have towards each other, All About Eve serves as a survival story for all of the women. Each female character represents women in a different phase in their careers attempting to retain their place in an industry trying to replace them. Margo obviously has reached the age where she faces replacement for a new younger woman, but Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) faces her own issues. As the wife of the acclaimed author, whose work on Broadway currently employs Margo, she grows incredibly insecure about her position as a partner and having prominence as a member of this society. Many times throughout the film, she finds herself switching allegiances between characters because she ultimately wants to end on the winning team. Her constant shifting lands her in precarious situations but it demonstrates a woman far too insecure with what she brings to the table and would do anything to stay at the top. Even with the behaviors of Margo and Karen, one woman demonstrates the most ruthless and manipulative nature of them all, which this film happens to be all about, Eve.
Duplicitous and shifty could aptly describe the character of Eve and how she navigates her way through the entire story. Initially presenting herself as a young fan of Margo, she quickly reveals herself to be a woman willing to manipulate anyone to achieve her goal of becoming a star. She eases her way into Margo’s life and takes all of the requisite steps to ensure that she can slowly take over the experienced actor’s life. Eve’s attempts even extended to trying to seduce Margo’s husband, Bill (Gary Merrill). A stunning and conniving performance eloquently brought to the screen by the venerable Anne Baxter. She puts together a character that must seduce the audience into rooting for her success just like Eve attempts to charm the other characters. Her ruthless pursuit for greatness comes with a smile as she navigates all of the relationships necessary for her rise to fame. Such a starkly different performance to the one she gave in The Magnificent Ambersons and she stretches herself with a character that resorts to some pretty unsettling methods for success. Everything Eve does culminate into this masterplan and you quickly realize that she should not be underestimated but even she can fall victim to the established powers of the men in the film.
The beauty and mastery in All About Eve lie in the conversations held by the characters. Every conversation has meaning and it drives the entire story. Its foundation comes from its dialogue so it feels very talky in that way. I would have it no other way as this film quickly became one of my favorite films with the brilliance of the writing and acting on display. Sheer perfection in its execution and has its messages about the industry that surrounds these women. They must all fight for the singular crown of being the star and as the film progresses it shows that men will always possess the world of entertainment even when these women attempt to gain the upper hand. A truly iconic set of characters and story that provides the ultimate showcase for the great Bette Davis to demonstrate her mastery of acting.