Film-Talk: All About Eve

In this movie, I've always wanted Bette Davis to play the conniving role of Eve, played by Anne Baxter. But mine is unrealistic fantasy, because Bette Davis is not young anymore when she was cast in this movie. Eve has to be someone younger, or who looks young enough to evoke dimensions of innocence and driven to achieve a dream. And too, the Eve character, here, needs a face that can look cold and composed, while suffering internal panic and hysteria. Baxter's face can assimilate to that character of face.

At first, Baxter's Eve has that small-town-girl quality about her, dwarfed by big dreams to be a star; but Baxter slowly peels out the that innocent little girl, to reveal a monster beneath nice, accommodating demeanor. And like many human beings who have added monstrosity as part of their humanity, Eve's monstrosity, here, has moral dimension, if one prefers to empathize with her dire conditions the script has, initially, set for her. Like the Eve from Genesis in the Bible, Anne Baxter's Eve, here, is also driven out of her home. That is the turning point of Eve Harrington's life; from then on, she develops resolve that evolves into brewing passion not to be defeat's victim, but rather its agent, ready for destruction of any sort, in the name of survival. However, her idea of survival is not the basic idea of being able to eat three meals a day. Hers is survival to replenish a bruised ego, to heal it; fame and success appears to be the potent remedies that can recover the equilibrium of that ego.

Eve's focus and determination to be a star is sometimes too calculated to be realistic. These calculations give her life, organizes it, giving it air. Eve fantasizes being the star that Margo Channing is, every-time Eve sees her on-stage. And Eve watches Margo's performances over and over again, with the obsession of a stalker. But what Eve lacks in these fantasies is the opportunity to enter the tight circle of theater community she wants to be part of. One night, she grabs an opportunity, and acts her way, with convincing believability, into one of the inner circles of that community, a circle where she befriends a playwright, director, producer, critic, and Margo Channing herself. Eve is able to penetrate into that circle through one of the film's weaker characters, the playwright's wife, Karen Richards played by Celeste Holm(the real-life mother of Ted Nelson, the one who coined the terms "hypertext" and "hypermedia" in a 1965 publication, around the time this film was about to be made).

I remember, at least twice, Karen's Radcliffe background is mentioned; and I resisted thinking the Harvard in her is no match to a small-town girl's mind. But of course that's not a fair assessment of Karen; her Ivy-league background is but an element of who Karen is. But it's tempting to view Karen as some sort of sidekick; she is a playwright's wife, a friend of Margo Channing, and, most unfortunately, a pawn for Eve's ambitions, especially the part where she conveys to her playwright-husband to make Eve Margo's understudy. In doing this, Karen gives Eve an opportunity, because Karen believes in Eve's talents and cannot sense anything suspicious about her. And yes, Karen seems the only one who has been had by Eve; but she is not alone in this, eventually. Karen, her husband playwright, and Margo's fiance have all been had by Eve, including Margo herself. However, in Margo's circle, it is Margo's maid or personal assistant - Birdie Coonan, played by Thelma Ritter - whose suspicions about Eve, from the start, will help Margo see Eve differently. But initially, Margo doubts what Birdie senses in Eve. Indeed, Joseph L. Mankiewicz's script needs Birdie, as someone who sees the world outside the glass box of theater life. Somewhat instrumental in making Margo understand what Eve is all about, Birdie appears to be the only one who sees the real in Eve. But Eve surpasses Birdie, in this context, because Eve not only sees the real, she is able to see beyond it, and bravely transforms it through power of will and madness. Eve has learned something from her hard life, and uses that to map her future, through the savage, cunning mind of ambition.

Directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz; 20th Century Fox; 138min, 1950.
Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, George Sanders, Celeste Holm, Thelma Ritter.