All About Eve (1950)

4 Sep

I discovered this morning that quite a few of the AFI Top 100 films are available on Netflix streaming.  My life is feast or famine– if I have time to watch anything at all, it’ll present itself in a weekend (like this one) where the focus is getting lots and lots of laundry done, so I’ll have time to watch a solid 5 or 6 films at a go.  Then the week will start again, and my life will resume its usual insanity, and I won’t have time to watch a film for a good 6 weeks.

I’ve never seen a Bette Davis movie, and thought she looked unfriendly and boring.  The only thing I knew about her was that “Bette Davis Eyes” song from the 80’s. I was impressed to see how witty and lively she really is.  The film was funny, but had plenty  of drama.  It’s not a clean fit in either the “comedy” or “drama” genre.

Bette Davis plays Margo Channing, an enormously famous theater star, with all the spontaniety, moodiness, and charm you’d expect.  She’s demanding and high maintenance for sure, but I wouldn’t call her a diva.  She’s that one friend everyone has that makes a huge to do out of everything, and can be demanding and stubborn and frustrating, but is also such enormous fun that you can’t help but keep her around.

Margo’s best friend, Karen, is the wife of the famous playwright who writes all of Margo’s scripts.  Karen notices that a young, mousy girl waits to see Margo enter and exit backstage at every single performance.  Karen strikes up a conversation with Eve and Eve confesses that she’s Margo’s biggest fan, and has seen every single performance of the play.  Karen is impressed with Eve’s devotion, and invites Eve in to meet Margo in the dressing room.  Margo, so absorbed with her own celebrity, thinks Eve is charming (instead of creepy, which is how I suspect the audience must have perceived her). Margo hires Eve as her assistant, and takes her under her wing.

Eve spends the rest of the film conniving and ladder-climbing, wrangling her way onto the stage, trying to steal husbands, and generally doing everything she can to become the brightest star in the theater.

The film, above all, is witty.  Language is employed cleverly, and the dialog is never trite.  Although the main characters are all at some level celebrities, they’re all surprisingly relatable.  Margo’s the high maintenance friend, Karen is the friend that is unendingly loyal but sometimes a bad judge of character, Eve and Addison are the self-absorbed snakes that convince you they really want to help you, but are looking for every opportunity to advance themselves.

Marilyn Monroe also had a small part as an aspiring Hollywood star in a party scene.  With all her pinup fame and post-mortem idolization, it’s easy to forget that she really could act, and is a delight to watch on screen.

Even though I knew I’d never seen All About Eve before, I find myself a few times feeling like I had already seen the film.  All About Eve  wasn’t the first work to operate on the “student-becomes-the-master” and “country girl/big city” themes, and it’s a far cry from the last.   I realized I was just connecting it with other films that followed the same themes.  Although not entirely a direct example, David Lynch’s Mulholland Drive was what came immediately to mind, but I’m sure I’ve seen plenty of other films that operate on the same ideas.

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One Response to “All About Eve (1950)”

  1. Sandy September 5, 2011 at 4:15 pm #

    I’ve seen this movie a few times. I think you summed up my thoughts and experiences as well!

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