All About Eve (1950) dir. Joseph L. Mankiewicz
Starring: Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Hugh Marlowe
Part II of my Bette Davis reviews is one of Hollywood’s all-time classics, “All About Eve” – an enthralling satire about the nasty politicking in the New York theatre scene. It’s a great American film about ambition and greed. With today’s current eyes, it survives well as a commentary on the country’s own socio-economic values system.
The film opens with an awards ceremony in honour of a lauded theatrical actress, Eve Harrington. Instead of focusing on Eve we see the reaction of a group of people attending. It’s surly bunch, politely applauding but thinly hiding their disdain for the diva. Much like “Sunset Boulevard” tells the fall of Joe Gillis, the film flashes back to tell the sordid story of Eve Harrington.
Eve Harrington is introduced as a starstruck fan waiting outside the theatre to catch a glimpse of the stage’s top star, Margo Channing (Bette Davis). Eve gets the introduction of a lifetime when she’s allowed backstage to hang out with Channing's theatrical coterie - the same group of people at the awards ceremony. Margo empathizes with Eve’s dreams of working in show business and takes her under her wing. Slowly the innocent charity-case becomes a leech that needs to be burned off. Margo’s behaviour with Eve becomes abrasive and she soon lets her go. But by this time Eve has already cozied up to Margo’s friends, which make her look like a raving mad Diva. Eve’s stock rises and becomes a bigger star than Margo alienating all her friends and becoming a ego-driven maniac.
Eve takes Margo’s charity, then exploits and warps it creating her own career from the burned bridges of everyone she stepped over. In many ways, “All About Eve” dramatizes the old show business adage, be careful who you step on on the way up because you'll meet them on the way down. Writer/Director Mankiewicz manages to avoid all cliched traps and never let anyone fall back on caricatured or familiar performances.
“All About Eve” is a big film told small. The film spans many years and shows the gradual transition of Eve’s character from naïve outsider, to a sly conniving show diva. But the film is remarkably small in production scale and budget. Only a few studio locations and sets are used, and even when the action moves outside the director employs some rather rudimentary (and dated) process shots.
What doesn’t date is Bette Davis’ magnificent performance and Mankiewicz’s bristling dialogue, which is virtually incomparable to today’s films. If this film were made today, it would have been easy to play into the archetype of the bitchy Broadway diva, a la, “The Devil Wears Prada”. But watching the progression of the story, we side with Margo. Though she’s caught in the bitchiest political catfight, Margo's frustrations rarely boil over and she manages to escape with her own personal pride intact.
It’s theme of greed and corruption translates well to today's world as well – in fact, it will be relevant in any day, because as long as we live in a free-market democratic world there will be climbers and cheaters who will stop at nothing to get what they want. Enjoy.
“All About Eve” is part of the Bette Davis Collection from 20th Century Fox Home Entertainment”. See also my review of “Phone Call From a Stranger”