Tuesday, 28 October 2014

All About Eve (1950)

Alt Om Eva
Among the meager extra material for my ”All About Eve” DVD there is a trailer for the movie. In this trailer, which is more confusing than normal, it is claimed that this is a movie “About women – and their men”. Few things are further from the truth. This is not a traditional story of relationships and love interests. No dear, this is about ruthless ambition among actresses on Broadway. Funny that a movie with so unusual and interesting story had to be sold as an old school cliché drama.

Cinema has always loved movies about cinema or at least about show business. I suppose people usually know their own métier better than anything else so it should come as no surprise that those of the entertainment business would love to make movies about the entertainment business. The classic story is about putting on a show, but there is another thread that is more concerned with the microcosm in which show business people live in. It is not a coincidence, the lives of particularly actors and actresses is just a lot more colorful than the lives of just about anybody else. The List has two such movies back to back, “All about Eve” and “Sunset Boulevard”.

In “All about Eve” we start out at an award ceremony for theater. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) has won the big award and within the few seconds it takes for her to receive the statue those who know her reflect on her story, all looking very gloomy. Obviously they are no fans of hers.

Eve was a starstruck nobody who managed to ingratiate her way into the life of stage mega star, Margo Channing, played by no other than Bette Davis. Margo is every bit the prima donna. Magnanimous when it suits her, bitchy when she has her moods and totally obsessed with herself and how she is perceived. Eve on the other hand appear humble and gracious, every bit the good girl who is pleased to just be in the shadow of the idol.

At least that is what she leads everybody to think. Beneath that good-girl exterior is an unscrupulous woman of pure ambition who intends to take over Margo Channings life, boyfriend and career. At first we see just small signs that all is not right, she starts arranging things without consulting Margo first, but her winning personality helps her get away with it. Everybody are dazzled by her and Margo finds little support among her friends. This is largely because Margo always throws a tantrum and loudly obsesses about everything and everybody. Who would not prefer to believe the self-effacing and modest girls to the paranoid and obsessive prima donna?

Part of the story is told by Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), a common sense woman who has access to the theater circles through her husband Lloyd, a famous playwright. She is the one who found Eve in the beginning and called her friend, but also one of those who got exploited by Eve and finally came under direct attack when Eve went for her husband.

Another notable character in this almost ensemble movie is George Sanders as Addison DeWitt, a famous critic and columnist who also movies in the theater circles, observing and remarking on anything. It is difficult to see his purpose, though we always see him with one or another young actress as if he is looking for a protégé. At one point it is a girl played by Marilyn Monroe. George Sanders plays his role with perfect suave and arrogance, the epitome of upper class English disdain. In Eve his finds the protégé he has been looking for and while Eve uses him, he also uses her and so he becomes both Eve’s ladder and her doom.

Bette Davis was a perfect choice as Margo Channing. It would seem the role was written with her in mind and the thought is close that Davis may not even be acting that much, that this could really be her. I was therefore surprised to learn that she was not even close to first pick, but only got the part because Claudette Colbert had to turn the part down. I doubt any other than Bette Davis could have given Margo the vitriol and paranoia her character possesses and still not make her entirely unlikable.

There is very little filter in this movie. Few of the characters and character types are protected from disgrace and so the film feels a lot more like an open door into the world of theater than any earlier movie. The fact that the location is the theater and not Hollywood is likely because it would hurt too much. Then better to distance yourself a bit from it by letting it be theater. That also makes the arrogance of these stage folk towards the movie industry self-deceived and just a bit ridiculous.

Anne Baxter’s succubus of a character, may not be as colorful as Bette Davis, but that is intentional. She has to be likeable and blend in till you almost forget her. Even when she steps into action and makes her moves she tries to keep up the façade and only in glimpses do we see the cold and cunning woman beneath the entreating and apologetic demeanor. But in those moments we seem to see a monster. Not because of her ambition, but because of the coldness with which she exploits her surrounding and people who calls her friend, to get what she wants.

“All about Eve” ended up getting 6 Oscars and 14 nominations, but although Anne Baxter got a nomination she did not get one of the prices. Too bad, it would have been interesting to compare her two speeches. An award winning movie about striving for and getting an award… Yup, there is something to think about.


  1. I love this movie, as what film fan would not! I think maybe Bette Davis and Anne Baxter split the votes between them, which left Judy Holliday to take the prize. What a year for actresses 1950 was! You'll be getting to Gloria Swanson next. I still haven't caught up to Eleanor Parker in "Caged."

  2. It may not have been entirely clear from my review, but I did like this movie very much as well. I was awfully tired and unispired when I wrote the review, still jetlagged from China.
    This is I think one of the best performances ever from Bette Davis, mostly because as outragous as it is she is quite believable. How easy it would be to overact such a part, but Davis IS Margo Channing here and I love her for it. I have not seen Judy Holiday's film, but Bette Davis performance should in any year have given her an Oscar.

  3. I saw Sanders' character as not quite a Greek Chorus, but someone who was somewhat outside of the movie looking in on these lives like we are and commenting on them for us.

    I also liked this film quite a bit.

    1. Well, I think he is just as much a succubus latching on the industry and the actresses to get what they have. In that way he is not so different from Eve and that is why they belong to each other.
      It is an awesome movie.