August Issue 2013

By | Here and Now | Published 11 years ago

In the last scene of All About Eve, a young girl offers to help an actress put away an award that she has just received, but finds herself unable to let go of the trophy. Clutching it, she curtsies to herself in a mirror again and again, her eyes burning with a desire to live the star’s life. She represents many young women in the film and theatre industry who want fame at any cost — women who will smile sweetly even as they lie, cheat and manoeuvre their way to the top. This haunting image captures the essence of the movie: Success is like a game of “cat and rat”, as the principal character says in the film, and in this game, nobody is to be trusted.

All About Eve is the saga of Margo Channing (Bette Davis), a venerated but ageing stage actress, and her displacement by the seemingly innocuous “lamb in a stone jungle,” Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). A devoted fan, Eve quickly worms her way into Channing’s life, winning everyone over with her unfailing devotion to her benefactress. Soon, though, Channing begins to suspect that Eve is trying to usurp her career and her relationship with Bill (Gary Merrill). Her friends dismiss this as paranoia and continue to help Eve until the ingénue exposes her true colours. With the help of the poisonous columnist, Addison De Witt (George Sanders), Eve manipulates her way to the top, leaving her idol in her shadow.
Bette Davis gives an iconic performance as Channing, who crumbles into a maudlin ruin of insecurity.

She knows that her star is fading — she calls herself “an old kazoo with some sparkles” — but is unable to bear her burden stoically. Baxter’s Eve is also depicted brilliantly. Her docile face elicits trust even as she ingratiates herself with Channing and her circle of friends, but her conversations give her ambition away. Eve always speaks of the theatre in breathless tones, her words simmering with a desire to belong to that world.

All About Eve is a multilayered narrative of Hollywood commenting on theatre and vice versa. The characters in the film, associated with theatre in various capacities, are attracted to and yet repelled by the glamour of film, which threatens their craft.

Another prominent theme of the film is womanhood. Women in the movie carefully construct their personas in order to be successful. They must be perfect in appearance, composed in demeanour and ruthless in ambition. And Channing’s refusal to play this feminine game is her flaw. She wears her heart on her sleeve, which is why she is ultimately doomed.

Released in 1950, All About Eve is a rarity in that it is a commercially successful movie that also offers real insight into relationships. It won six Academy awards, including that of Best Picture, and features in almost all ‘Best Movies of All Time’ lists. Every movie buff should watch it