Have you ever met someone, who seemed warm and friendly, but left you with the feeling that something wasn’t quite right? There’s no tangible evidence that something is amiss. It’s just something that you feel. A lingering doubt that this person is not all that they seem. Have you met someone like this? If so, let me tell you a little story about a woman named Eve.
All About Eve came out in 1950, starring the legendary Bette Davis, along with Anne Baxter, George Sanders, and Celeste Holm. The black and white film garnered critical acclaim, and, even today, All About Eve remains a classic. In fact, this movie, which was directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, held the most Academy Award nominations until 1997 with James Cameron’s blockbuster Titanic. After I watched All About Eve, I felt that the theme was relevant to today’s world of social media. In the age of Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, people can portray their lives however they wish. As a result, we often walk away from social media feeling like everyone’s life is better than our own. Now granted, this movie takes place many decades before social media. Instead of social media, the drama takes place on the literal stage. Everyone wants their 15 minutes of fame, and people will go to great lengths to get it.
Eve Harrington, played by Anne Baxter, is a young woman who is obsessed with the stage as well as one of its leading stars, Margot Channing (played by Bette Davis). By chance, Eve meets one of Margot’s friends, Karen, who introduces her to her favorite performer. In Eve’s eyes, Margot is everything and has everything. Eve has watched every single one of Margot’s performances. Her admiration for Margot and the stage seems at times over the top, which leads some people, like Margot’s maid, Birdie, to feel that Eve is disingenuous. However, everyone else thinks Eve is simply enthusiastic about meeting her idol. Margot develops a fondness for Eve and hires her as a personal assistant. Eve proves to be a very efficient assistant, so efficient in fact that people start to pay as much attention to Eve as they do Margot.
As the audience, we get to see what Eve fails to notice when working for Margot. Although Margot has enjoyed a successful career as a stage actress, she is just over 40 years old and beginning to face the challenge of being an aging actress. She knows that someday soon someone younger will replace her and this is a hard fact for her to accept. In addition, Margot feels that she’s also too old for her boyfriend, Bill Sampson, who is several years younger than her. Ironically, Gary Merrill, who performed the role as Bill, was at one point married to Davis and was also several years younger than her. Everyone around Margot tells her she doesn’t have to worry, but her insecurities start to eat away at her, and, as her beautiful young assistant gets more attention, Margot begins to feel suspicious.
Suspicions continue to grow when Eve takes a role that was written for Margot. Everything appears to be working out for Eve, but just when you think you’ve figured out the trajectory for all these characters, the plot takes an interesting turn. What makes this film so captivating is that the story is something to which we can all relate. Whether it’s meeting someone like Eve or measuring our success and value in the world against the onslaught of selfies online, we never have the whole pie. In All About Eve, every single character is struggling in some way to feel like they are being seen and heard. No one “has it all,” even if it looks that way. It’s so easy to envy because we don’t really know what it’s like to be in their place, and, so often what we see of someone’s life is just an illusion. That’s the mistake that Eve makes. Compare and despair.
All About Eve had an exceptional cast. Davis is funny, vulnerable, and intimidating. It is in this film that she famously says, “Fasten your seat belts. It’s going to be a bumpy night.” Anne Baxter is equally brilliant. In every scene she knows just how much to reveal so that she never gives anything away. She keeps the audience in suspense until the end of the film. George Sanders, who played the narrator and cunning theatre critic, won an Oscar for his performance. Another important actress who appeared in this film was a very young Marilyn Monroe. She plays an aspiring actress, and though her part in the film is small, her presence in the scenes is memorable. Even back then, it was apparent that Marilyn was special and she was going be an important figure in Hollywood.
The best stories are often those that are messy and complex. In this movie, there is no clear victor. Envy and insecurity catches up with all of them in some manner. All About Eve is an entertaining movie to watch, and more importantly, you walk away with an important lesson about life.