EVE's greatness as a film starts with its script.
Writer-director Joseph L. Mankiewicz
manages to create an engaging story
with memorable characters and tie them together with some of the sharpest
dialogue ever to reach the screen. With a script this good, who
needs actors? But EVE has them too, several in the roles that would
come to epitomize their careers. Combine a fabulous script, several
excellent performances, and production values that only enhance the
story-telling, and you've got the basis for a pretty good film -- but somehow
ALL ABOUT EVE manages to become just a little bit more.
ABOUT EVE is the story of an aging Broadway star named Margo Channing who
takes in an ardent fan only to discover she's an aspiring actress with
designs on Margo's stardom, roles, friends and life. On the surface,
it appears to be a fairly typical story of insatiable ambition in the theatre, and
even as such a typical story, it's a good movie. But EVE's brilliant
dialogue and well-developed characters brought to life by a host of
talented actors separate this film from other familiar backstage
Davis' bitchy, cigarette-wielding self-defense
makes Margo Channing one of her most memorable characters, and she certainly embodies one of the greatest performances of
career. Margo is the epitome of the strong, independent women Bette
had become famous for playing since the mid-1930s, but unlike many of
the others, Margo is on the verge of a midlife crisis, and Bette
handles her ups and downs beautifully. Even if you're not usually
a fan of Bette Davis,
her performance in this film is a must-see.
Sanders delivers the venomously wry remarks of theatre critic Addison
DeWitt with incredible conviction and confidence, and his performance in
this film is the best of
his many "cad" roles.
uncouth manners and deadpan wisecracks combined with her trademark New
York accent make Birdie Coonan one of the film's most memorable
And Celeste Holm is in top form as
the cool, calm, kind, blonde housewife -- the seeming antithesis of
Margo's passion and ego -- yet with strong emotions, fierce loyalties
and complicated jealousies brimming just below the surface.
All these performances, lifted by Mankiewicz's dialogue
and uninterrupted by the flow of his storytelling and direction, make ALL
ABOUT EVE a very good film.
But what makes EVE a
great film is the fact that all this onscreen drama doesn't just take
place to entertain the audience -- although entertain, it does.
There are some significant issues raised in this film, and anyone telling
you that Eve Harrington (the ingénue) and her acting ambitions are the
focus of the film has missed the point entirely. The subject of this
film is the eternal conflict in the lives of working women: marriage (or
relationships) vs. career. Each of the three main female characters,
Margo, Eve, and Karen, find themselves at a different point in this
Although Margo is hardly willing to cede to the
treachery of the young upstart, nonetheless, her competition with Eve
forces her to take stock of the direction her career and her life are
going. Her reflections to Karen in the stalled car reveal her new attitude
toward personal fulfillment and the diminishing ability of her career to
satisfy her needs.
Eve, on the other
hand, is at the opposite end of the spectrum. Young and ambitious,
she sits on the steps at Margo's party fantasizing about how applause
("like waves of love coming over the footlights") will soon be
the source of her fulfillment. The irony, of course, is that Margo
probably had such thoughts herself once.
however, there is Karen, the housewife. Radcliff educated, Karen
took the other fork in the road and was content to be a playwright's
wife. Margo, in the twilight of her career, sees Karen as the
ideal of domestic bliss she hopes to attain before it's too late.
But lest this film appear an exaltation of domesticity, Karen too begins
to reconsider her life choice when Eve's designs begin to include her
husband, and Karen suddenly finds herself helplessly trying to hold onto
her marriage and the source of her fulfillment.
EVE is a woman's picture, though not in the weepy or melodramatic
sense usually associated with the term. It is a woman's picture
because three leading characters struggle with themselves in an eternal
female contest: personal fulfillment through career achievement or through
relationships. (Although men too struggle with this issue on some
levels, it has never been the same, because society never asks men to chose
between career and family, only to find the right balance; whereas women are
forced to chose between marriage and a career, the conventional wisdom --
then and now -- being that successful participation in both at the same
time is impossible.*) What distinguishes ALL
ABOUT EVE from other women's films however, is the fact that the
surface story of treachery and ambition is sufficiently entertaining in
itself for the rest of the audience, thanks to the superior writing and
acting with which this film is blessed. Although some in the
audience might miss the greater significance of the film (which transports
it from the "good" to "great" category), they won't be
bored; while those who do see the meaning will be as impressed with its
insight as with its other more obvious aesthetic qualities.
that Meriam Webster's Collegiate Dictionary defines career as
"a field for or pursuit of consecutive progressive achievement especially in public, professional, or business life",
as opposed to a job which is defined as "a regular remunerative position".
Thus, an essential difference between a career and a job is that a career
has an upward trajectory while a job remains relatively static. More
than just performing a "regular" task, a career involves
striving for advancement and promotion in ones field and hence, demands a
greater degree of focus, commitment and involvement. The position
assumed in this argument is not that women cannot successfully balance
work and marriage. Married women and mothers have held jobs outside
the home for centuries. The "eternal" conflict addressed
here is about women who try to balance marriage (or family) and a career,
a much more ambitious undertaking.
January 5, 2001