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Film Review: All About Eve
In 1950, Joseph L. Mankiewicz released All About Eve, based on a 1946 short story by May Orr called ‘The Wisdom of Eve.” Starring Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Gary Merrill, Hugh Marlowe, Thelma Ritter, Gregory Ratoff and Barbara Bates with an appearance by Marilyn Monroe, the film grossed $8.4 million at the box office. It won the Academy Awards for Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor, Best Costume Design – Black and White, Best Director, Best Adapted Screenplay, and Best Sound Mixing while also nominated for Best Actress in a Leading Role, Best Actress in a Supporting Role, Best At Direction – Black and White, Best Cinematography – Black and White, Best Film Editing and Best Original Score.
Margo Channing is a seasoned stage veteran and the love of Broadway. But when she takes Eve Harrington under her wing as a young acolyte, it becomes clear that Eve’s motives are not what they seem.
All About Eve is an interesting film that illustrates the pressure on women to retake traditional roles following the war along with a narrative that demonstrates a belief seen in Cold War culture. For one, Margo is notable for going through such an arc, starting off by mocking Karen Richards for being a “happy little housewife,” and is quite combative and egotistical about her place in the theater. However, as the film rolls on, she becomes more submissive and effeminate, which includes going into a monologue of considerable length about the virtuousness of marriage, stating that a woman isn’t truly a woman without a man beside her. Another notable example is Birdie who criticizes the women not returning to those roles as the men return from war and sees the idea of women staying in the non-traditional roles as unnatural. The film even goes so far as to portray Birdie’s reliance and love of Bill in contrast with women continuing to work, representing the idea as predatory.
It’s not just women in non-traditional roles that was a theme in the film. The film has a subtle Cold War narrative that connects to how society linked homosexuality with communism during the conflict. The film seems to look to defend heterosexuality and marriage as a societal norm, which can be seen by comparing the relationships of Margo and Bill and Karen and Lloyd with Eve and Addison. The film portrays the latter two as in a loveless predatory relationship seeking after sterile careers while the former two couples’ relationships are nurturing. Further, Eve uses her physical femininity to break up those marriages.
The film also depicts the fall of Margo as a beloved Broadway star with the rise of Eve, who’s fall is also hinted at as the film closes. Having been in theater for many years, seeing it all and knowing just what audiences want, Margo seems to be losing her popularity. On the other hand, Eve starts off as a personal assistant and eventually rises to have a major part in a production, quickly overtaking Margo in popularity. However, it’s seen that the world of Broadway is a fickle one and that the speed of Margo’s waning popularity might not be all that unusual. One night, Eve encounters a young girl (Phoebe) in her apartment who professes her adoration for Eve and begins placing herself in the woman’s life. The film ends as she wears Eve’s costume robe and posing in front of a mirror holding Eve’s award as if it were a crown. The music that plays and applause that sounds as the story fades out seems to imply that Phoebe will soon take Eve’s place just as Eve took Margo’s, perpetuating what looks to be a constant cycle.
The film employs some good foreshadowing as well, concerning the relationship between Eve and Margo and how the former took the latter's place. At the beginning, Eve is about to win the Sarah Siddons award and everyone but Margo and Karen applaud. Further at one point, Margo catches Eve taking a bow on an empty stage holding the dress Margo wore in the play. It's an engaging way to show how the two aren't going to end up getting along and that Eve will muscle in on Margo's territory.
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