Passed. For as bright as the promotional material is for All About Eve, it gets pretty dark. Like, we don't get a whole bunch of murder or sex on screen, but it is about emotional manipulation and using sexuality to gain control in situations. It also has some potentially dubious sexual politics, but that is up to interpretation. Passed.
DIRECTOR: Joseph L. Mankiewicz
I seriously need everyone to look at the poster / DVD box art for All About Eve right now. Years ago, I had watched this movie and fallen in love with it. But it's been some time and my memory of the movie was replaced mostly with the box art image. I have seen so many movies that sometimes plotlines elude me. But when I was ready to enjoy a light movie about women and their men, I was complete overwhelmed when I started remembering what this movie was really about. I mean, what happened? Why the old bait-and-switch when it came to promoting this movie? Was it an attempt to get the bored housewives to give a chance on the women's picture? I mean, some of the greatest women's pictures were heavy melodramas, so I don't know what the attempt for the genre shift was.
But the good news is that I remembered why I like this movie so darned much. I love bleak stuff. I love when a movie really gets into the dark elements of the soul. But I especially love when a movie explores some uncomfortable material while offering a metanarrative to the whole thing. It's just this swirl of so many things going right. We're really in the sweet spot of cinema where I absolutely go weak in the knees. There's this balance of trying to go into some really heavy stuff while dealing with the strictures of 1950s Hollywood. I'm all for complete freedom when making a movie. But sometimes, and just sometimes, the restraints placed on a movie in terms of what could be done while maintaining an atmosphere of artistic integrity makes something special.
Just to give some context for this, I'm currently watching John Woo's The Killer. While I'm enjoying it more than Hard Boiled, Woo is completely free to do whatever he wants to achieve the atmosphere that he wants. Because of this, there's a lot in there that reads a little cornball. But Mankiewicz, with his enormous talent and focus on nuance, allows All About Eve to be this sinister character piece that embraces the paranoia of microaggressions. Remember, this movie is in 1950 and it talks exclusively about the double talk that women experience in friendships and comradeship every day. I don't want to go into this whole dynamic of how men and women view different conversations. As a guy who tends to lean heavily into culturally effeminate likes and behaviors, I don't love when it comes down to "Men do this; women do this" kind of discussions. But I do see when women in my life read into things that I view as completely innocuous.
And that's what makes All About Eve horrifying. Mankiewicz establishes in the background of his film that Eve might be a parasite. But he doesn't do so by having a bunch of bubbly characters. He has one objectively nice character in his cast, and she almost acts as an avatar for the audience. She is kind of an outsider in this world of artists. Not an artist herself, she is friends with this whole cabal because she is married to a writer. Yes, her place in the story is important and we should care about Karen because her soul is on the line like everyone else's, almost more so. But Eve is just there. Anne Baxter presents Eve as this absolutely lovable character that just seems slightly off. We know that she can't possibly be this injured starling, like she presents at the beginning of the film. But we want her to be. Oh my goodness, we want her to be this good person. When she is in the shadow of Bette Davis embracing her real life personality, Eve almost seems to be this guardian angel figure.
Yet, Mankiewicz presents this scathing look at Hollywood through the eyes of Bette Davis's Margo. Margo is Davis, through and through. She is the aging starlet. She still has a career, but it only exists through clawing and backbiting. Davis's real fears seem to permeate Margo. It makes Eve so much more sympathetic, that is, until we learn the truth. We want to live in a world where women like Eve can simply find joy in the kinship of a sorority of art lovers. But when Eve reveals herself to be a lie, a fiction created to steal Margo's real successes, it casts this pallor over humanity as a whole. The real irony, of course, is that Margo probably got her own start being an Eve. The film ending with Eve receiving her very own manipulative fan is telling about how women view success. (Again, I mentioned that the gender politics in this movie might be a little more dubious.) Instead of an environment of support and raising each other up, it comes down to "I want what you have."
This even goes into an area where it becomes personal. There's something logical about Eve going after Margo's stage career. Margo has the job that Eve wants and she's going to go after that with the tenacity of a pit-bull. But when Eve goes after Lloyd Richards (I think), that's when she goes from being cold villainess to real bad guy. Mankiewicz may be equating professional power with emotional power. It really reads like Eve only wants Lloyd for the scripts that he can offer her. It's just that we see Karen as the victim and target of Eve, completely unjustly. There's something almost acceptable about Eve going after Margo. They are both forces of nature. But Karen seemed to be Eve's real friend. She was the human being who saw past the façade of Hollywood and saw a girl who wanted to meet her idol. That scene, where Eve is riding the fence between her perceived persona and her reality is absolutely chilling for this very reason. Eve so desperately holds onto the idea that she is this character, begging Karen for forgiveness. But when Karen can't go that extra mile, there's this relief that comes from being able to be honest with her intentions. It's that sinister element that is soaked in verisimilitude that is terrifying.
Why, oh why, then have this ad campaign? It's this slight against an absolutely gutsy and painful film. I adore this movie so much. I'm glad that I came back to it. Now I want it on Criterion...because it's on Criterion.
Film is great. It can challenge us. It can entertain us. It can puzzle us. It can awaken us.
Mr. H has watched an upsetting amount of movies. They bring him a level of joy that few things have achieved.