"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"--Margo Channing (All About Eve, 1950)I didn't know what to expect from this film, and I still don't. I think it needs many more viewings before I can fully understand it. There's some great acting, and really strong female characters. In fact, it is only the women that can see clearly, whereas the men are blind to the action going on around them (except for the most effeminate man). I liked it, but I feel a little muddled. Can I see Bette David scream at people again?
The film opens with a prestigious theater award ceremony at the "Sara Siddons Society." Theater critic Addison DeWitt, played by George Sanders, introduces the main characters who are attending the banquet, nonplussed, while the award recipient, Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter, waits in the wings. He claims that he will explain "more of Eve, later. All about Eve, in fact." Around the table are playwright Llyod Richards (Hugh Marlowe) and his wife Karen (Celeste Holm), producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), director Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) and famous dramatic actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Karen, watching her introduction, flashes back to when she first met Eve...
|Addison DeWitt at Eve's Awards dinner|
|Bill, Eve, and Margot at the airport.|
|Birdie and Eve|
understudy. Karen agrees to help, but warns Eve that Margo always performs.
|Eve and Margot at the party.|
|Karen and Margo in the car|
Funny business, a woman's career - the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we've got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we've had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing's any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman. You're something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you're not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.Karen forgives her and apologizes that Margo is going to miss her train. As Margo asks her why she's apologizing, and scoffs that it isn't like she poked holes in the fuel tank, the camera pans out on Karen's guilty face.
|Eve attempts to seduce Bill|
|Margot reads Karen's note.|
|Karen remembers meeting Eve.|
|Eve and Addison.|
|Eve accepts her award.|
|Eve returns home.|
|Phoebe is the next Eve.|
The original story, "The Wisdom of Eve," by Mary Orr, appeared in "Cosmopolitan" magazine in 1946 and was based on a real life incident involving Austrian actress Elisabeth Bergner in the early 1940s. It was then produced as a radio drama for NBC, but no studio thought it a worthy film project until Fox eventually bought the rights for a small amount of money and no credit stipulations. Director Joseph L. Mankiewicz combined the story with one he was writing about an actress who remembers her career while she is accepting an award. Producer Darryl F. Zanuck and his pet director, Mankiewicz, considered Marlene Dietrich, Tallulah Bankhead, Susan Hayward, Ingrid Bergman, and Jeanne Crain as possibilities for the starring roles. In the end they settled on Claudette Colbert as Margo and Fox's recent award winners Anne Baxter and Celeste Holm as Eve and Karen, respectively. They edited the script to make Eve's conniving less apparent until later on in the film and to add some ambiguity to the characters before production began.
|Production still for All About Eve|
|Marilyn Monroe's early role.|
|Sketches by Edith Head|
|Gloria Swanson, Jose Ferrar, and Judy Holliday|
|Marilyn Monroe presents "Best Sound Recording" to Thomas T. Molton|
|George Sanders and Mercedes McCambridge|
|Best Costumes, Black and White, is awarded to All About Eve|
|Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night!"|
|Bette Davis and Gary Merrill|
This is a movie with strongly written female characters, something that is not always common in this time period. However, they work as a cautionary tale against women who deviate from the reinforced female stereotype of the 1950s. Post-war America faced a labor problem. During the war, women had been encouraged to join the workforce and replace the men who had gone to war to protect them. Images of strong, patriotic women like Rosie the Riveter were used as propaganda to propel women to leave home and go to work in armament factories. But when the men returned, women were expected to go back home and leave the jobs to the returning war veterans. If they didn't, America was facing a high unemployment rate and possibly another economic depression, especially with the war factories now being deemed unnecessary. Some women did indeed go home, but some were still their family's breadwinners and couldn't afford to. Thus the propaganda against working women began in the 1950s.
All About Eve delves into the roles of women as different versions of the classic Eve, the symbol of femininity. In a deeper sense, Eve, Karen, and Margot represent the virgin, the wife, and the crone (unfortunately), the three phases of women dating from the Ancient Greeks. But each woman runs into problems because they are unable (or unwilling) to adhere to their archetypes. We discover Eve is neither an innocent girl or a virgin, as she is treated in the first half of the film but in fact a manipulative, promiscuous woman who uses her femininity as a weapon. Karen is a wife, but not a mother, perhaps the most important part of her role. And Margot is fighting her age by pretending to be a young girl on stage, heavily wigged, costumed, and made up. Each violates the roles they are supposed to fulfill.
In a simpler sense, all three women come to grief because they fight the proper female roles that have been assigned to them by society. Popular culture, society, even the government, want women to settle down, abandon their careers, and become "happy little housewives" as Margot once calls Karen early on. Margot is a drunken, raging, unhappy bitch until the end of the film, when she decides to settle down and marry Bill. She comes to the realization that she is not a women if she does not have a man. After that, Margot, one of the most powerful women in the film, becomes silent and generic. She must abandon her career (she couldn't be a star by playing an older woman!) and play house with Bill.
Karen is happy in the beginning of the film, and actually only comes to grief when she attempts to meddle in her husband's affairs without consulting him. Her husband straying from her is a natural consequence of Karen taking an active role in her married life, rather than a passive one. And Eve is perhaps the most cautionary tale of all. She is perceived as sweet and unassuming until she goes after a career and attempts to usurp Margot. She might have been able to escape her fate, but as the villain, is kept from marrying and settling down by Addision DeWitt, who unnaturally insists she remain single and further her career. Although she has gotten what she wants, she is depressed and downtrodden by the end of the film.
In addition to the reinforcement of female roles is the emphasis on heterosexual relationships. Both Addison and Eve have homosexual leanings, and this just reinforces their villainous natures. They are an unnatural, unhappy pair, as apposed to Bill and Margot and Karen and Lloyd.
Despite this negative view of femininity, it is only the women in the film who can actually see what is going on. All the men, with the exception of Addison, are ignorantly in the dark, being led by the nose by their respective women. Addison is able to remain in control because of his effeminate leanings, but as it is a warped femininity it can only be used for evil, rather than good. In All About Eve, women are both in control and powerless. It is the dominant, masculine side of Addison that finally conquers Eve. These women are all Eve--they've eaten the apple, but must pretend they haven't.
All in all, this film is a complicated exploration of women, and something I must watch again and again to understand. And from this film I plunge into something that will seriously confuse my gender assumptions---An American in Paris. God help me...
|Birdie and Eve first meet.|
|Margot with Max and Bill|
|Margot watches Eve receive her award.|
|Margot after a performance|
|Margot at the cocktail party.|
|"Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn't worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be."|