All About Eve
Since I’ll be making up for lost time and sleep after finally finishing my LLB, Alexia was kind enough (without much prodding) to do a review in my stead. What better way to keep (all five of) you amused, than to feature a camp classic.
From the very moment the venemous narrations of theatre critic Addison DeWitt sound, like ice picks at dawn, we know we are in for an acerbic ride.
Opening at an awards ceremony, we’re quickly introduced to actress Eve Harrington (Ann Baxter) accepting the Sarah Siddon’s award from the theatre’s great and good. DeWitt introduces us to the circle of the principles – aging theatre dame, Margot Channing (Bette Davis), her director boyfriend Bill Simpson (Gary Merrill) and a circle of theatre glitterati.
We jump back less than a year and enter the mind of superfan Harrington, camped in the shadows outside Margot’s stage door. Quickly introduced into Margot’s inner circle by her artist friend Karen (ironically blind to havoc she’s about to inflict), Harrington sets about to quietly insinuate herself into the role of carer, confidante and understudy to the star. The silent unseating of Margot’s theatre persona and Eve’s ascent from ingénue to superstar is one part ‘Single White Female’ to three parts ‘What The Fuck’.
There’s a definite air of contempt for theatre in Mankiewicz’s adaptation and accompanying direction of the story for film. First channeled through DeWitt’s cool assessment of the industry and then through Eve’s rapid yet subtle moves from unskilled outsider to lauded star without graft, Mankiewicz satirises theatre luvvies.
Margot, our gifted but flawed heroine is the body theatre. By the end of the film, Harrington, the fresh-faced villain, is Hollywood-bound hell-bent on conquering it and has gained her own ‘Eve’ hungry to replace her. The food chain of the Theatre has never been so aptly captured.
More interesting than theatre politics, the very nature of the sex predator is examined quietly. Despite Eve throwing herself at Bill and boasting to DeWitt that she could make Karen’s husband elope with her, Mankiewicz suitably scorns her plans and reassures us that love, indeed, conquers all.
Often compared to Sunset Boulevard, ‘All About Eve’s’ sparklingly verbose dialogue and flawless performances really sets it head and shoulder above.
The standout performance is undeniably Davis’. Never a conventional beauty, she chainsmokes and chews the screen away as Margot’s star falls. On first meeting Eve, Margot admits that she thinks of her a lamb. As the film progresses, Davis’ portrayal becomes increasingly more childlike as her world spirals out of control. And just as we expect, Davis hoards the best dialogue like rare marbles.
It’s interesting to compare Davis’ performance to Baxter’s Eve. Where Davis fights to rediscover Margot’s identity as the mirrors that reflect disintegrate before her very eyes, Baxter relishes her natural bitch with coy accents. If anything, Baxter’s single-mindedness borders on the one-dimensional. By the time we hear Eve’s side of the story, it is dripped entirely in acid and much too late in the film to add her perspective. Instead, we are served her reasons cold.
In the final reckoning, ‘All About Eve’ is greater than the sum of its parts. When we’re not thrust upon the Margot/Eve rollercoaster, we are delighting in the deft supports of DeWitt and Birdie, sucking in the atmospheric score and watching out for a dizzy cameo by Marilyn Monroe. More than this however, the fact that the tale of the silent usurper willing use every weapon at her disposal being as relevent today as it was sixty years ago is a testament to Mankiewicz’s skill. Stories with germs of universality demand genius and ‘All About Eve’ has this in spades.