The July Five continues with the second to last theme week: Bette Davis. And what better way to talk all about Bette than starting with her iconic 1950 drama, All About Eve. This is a movie that needs no introduction, so let’s get to it! If this post sounds a bit weird it’s because it was the inaugural post ever published on Journeys in Classic Film! I’ve edited it as best I can.
The film tells the tale of Margo Channing (Bette Davis), a successful theater star getting up in years, and her obsessive fan/personal assistant Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter). All About Eve inspired a slew of obsessive fans trying to climb their way to the top. I always fondly reference this as the inspiration for Showgirls…which it is technically, sans the nudity, sex, and stripper pole licking.
Anywho, the film follows Eve as she starts taking over Margo’s life, and Margo’s attempts to cope with the fact she’s getting old. I love comparing/contrasting this with Sunset Blvd., another 1950s tale of a fading actress and the young social climber using them. Mind you Sunset Blvd takes the relationship in a new direction with William Holden’s Joe Gillis being used (physically in some senses) by Norma Desmond. Both films showcase a successful star openly mentioning how the film industry gives actresses a shelf life, but I prefer Sunset Blvd. to All About Eve.
Feminine sexuality is a key theme of All About Eve. Margo is independent, free-spirited, and not afraid to tell it like it is, but she gives up everything and settles down to be happy when her longtime boyfriend Bill (Davis’ real-life husband at the time, Gary Merrill) proposes. On the flipside you have Eve, a woman with no compunction befriending the various females of the group before stabbing them in the back and seducing their significant others. She uses and perverts innocence continually throughout the film, using it to “seduce” Margo into becoming a mother figure which Margo doesn’t notice because she wants to protect her, finding her innocence in need of guarding in the cynical world of the theater. But Eve uses her sexuality to get anything she wants, and has the tables turned on her by gossip columnist Addison DeWitt (George Sanders).
Addison is my favorite character because he tells it like it is. He knows Eve is lying and acting her way into power, but he utilizes those same tricks to get people to confide in him in order to write about them in his gossip column. I don’t know if he’s meant to be based on Truman Capote but he’s a decent representation. He is also the character who introduces us to Marilyn as the sweet and dim-witted Miss. Casswell
Miss. Casswell only has a few scenes, but you can tell Marilyn was honing the performance for later success. She’s a regular Eve Harrington herself. Marilyn’s probably one of the most honest characters in the film, next to Addison, so it makes sense she shows up on his arm. She tells characters what a bore he is and how “you won’t get a chance to talk” since Addison loves the sound of his own voice. When she asks for a drink in that smoky Marilyn voice we all know it’s apropos Addison would mention how her career is being formed as we speak (I’m paraphrasing the exact line) with all the sexual innuendo that implies.
The slew of female characters make for an intriguing character study on the ideas of women in this time. While Marilyn isn’t the main character, consisting of maybe ten minutes, she makes up a strong ensemble cast and is an interesting foil to all the female characters that permeate this story. Bette Davis is the reason to watch this and her Margo perseveres despite the odds against her.
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The Bette Davis Collection