All About Eve
Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Playing at the Charles Saturday, July 20 at 11:30 a.m., Monday, July 22 at 7 p.m., and Thursday, July 25 at 9 p.m.
Though the story is based on a real one, told to and then fictionalized by one Mary Orr, Joseph L. Mankiewicz adapted the tale of an ingenue befriending a star, then supplanting her in All About Eve-the 1950 film nominated for a record-setting 14 Academy Awards. In his hands, it becomes a compelling study of old school gender dynamics, as written by a man. The tagline "It's all about women-and their men!" was slapped on Eve upon its 1967 rerelease. And indeed it is, brilliantly so, but one likely to displease many women today, despite its excellent script and performances.
Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) adores Margo Channing (Bette Davis), perhaps the nation's most beloved Broadway star; Eve attends every showing of Channing's most recent play, lingering after the curtain; she eventually is noticed by Margo's close friend Karen Richards (Celeste Holm). Karen takes Eve to Margo. They become practically inseparable as Eve starts to work as Margo's personal secretary, remembering absolutely every minor appointment for Margo. Things start getting hairy, however, when Eve seems to meddle in Margo's relationship with her eight-years-younger director boyfriend, Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). A woman's man is threatened: Cue dark, dramatic violin music, soon to signify even darker possibilities.
Margo, an aging star harboring some insecurities about younger women, shows great strength and confidence at the film's onset. In her second appearance in the film, in her dressing room, Margo's face is smeared with makeup remover, her hair taped down for the elaborate wig she wore in her earlier performance. Bill enters while she's in such disarray. She remains unruffled, jauntily kissing him hello, greeting him with bon mots.
But as the film proceeds and Eve infringes on her life, Margo becomes venomous and angry-"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night," she utters, famously, in one scene. (Davis nails the role of Margo, inherent insecurity openly battling the self-confidence that comes with talent; the performance is stunning.) She lashes out at Bill, her friends, Eve. Then, she retreats. She reaches a breaking point and apologizes for her behavior and-what's more-recants the qualities that brought her career success, admitting in a sad monologue:
"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. There'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."
Interestingly, while she didn't win for Best Actress that year, Davis-42 at the time, two years older than her character-did win the heart of her onscreen lover, co-star Gary Merrill, whom she married before the movie premiered. (The marriage lasted for 10 years.) All About Eve temporarily rebooted Davis' career, marked in 1950 by a series of recent flops, and it's widely thought of as her best performance. Disproving Margo's statement, Davis showed women can find success at any age, in any circumstance.