Bette Davis, where have you been all my life? What kind of a fool was I that I had never watched one of your films until this weekend? Forgive me, Anne Helen Petersen, for I have sinned. It’s been two days since I watched All About Eve.
Rather than a Cinderella story, I would call this a Snow White story. All About Eve (1950) follows the rise of aspiring actress Eve Harrington. We know that she will rise because the first scene shows her winning an award for distinguished achievement in the theater, but we don’t yet know how she will accomplish it. Then the film flashes back to the beginning of her acquaintance with Margo Channing, a stage star played by the indomitable Bette Davis. Outside the theater of Margo’s current play, Eve approaches the playwright’s wife and confesses that she’s attended every performance. If that doesn’t scream “Beware of this crazy,” I don’t know what does, but Karen decides to introduce her to Margo instead. Anne Baxter plays Eve with enough quiet intensity to quietly creep me out.
And where to begin with Bette Davis? You would never call her pretty, both because she isn’t and because it’s too common of a word for her. All of her features are striking with a voice to match. Next to Bette Davis, Anne Baxter’s beauty looks absolutely commonplace. Eve is introduced to Margo mid-banter with her friends, and the classic one-liners and monologues continue throughout the film. At the beginning of the film, Margo is often shown in physically vulnerable states, such as removing her wig and makeup backstage or being woken up by the telephone. However, her confidence outweighs her vulnerability in those moments. As the film progresses, we see more of her glamorous side, but she also reveals her insecurities and volatile temper.
Now we arrive at Snow White. The conflict between Margo and Eve is that of a mature woman feeling threatened by a younger woman who shares her ambitions. Margo even refers to Eve as “so young and so fair” while accusing her boyfriend of admiring Eve too much. Or perhaps, who’s the fairest of them all? This conflict plays out again and again in our books and film. For example, an increasingly important plot point on Game of Thrones is Cersei’s fear of the prophecy that she will be replaced by another queen, “younger and more beautiful.” But does anyone really need a prophecy to tell them this? Every human is destined to grow older and watch the younger generations that come after them. Yet in the stories we tell ourselves, aging comes more quickly and mercilessly for women, whether you’re the Evil Queen or Margo Channing.
Apparently 1950 was the year that Hollywood wanted to come to terms with the fact that its stars would eventually fade. Sunset Boulevard, released in the same year, depicts a silent film star going bonkers in obscurity. Thankfully Margo Channing is spared that fate. All About Eve is brilliant in its script and performances, but also in its acknowledgement of what I stated above: the conflict between Margo and Eve will be repeated with Eve and the next generation of ambitious young ladies.