All About Eve Critical Review Essay

IDENTITY

The theme of identity is explored through the film.

“All about Eve” demonstrates how one’s identity can be masked and kept hidden through the various versions of Eve. The audience is able to witness how quickly Eve transforms from a furious actress strangling her wig viciously to being calm and collected after hearing Addison’s knock on the door. The director uses the lighting and shadows to suggest to the audience of Eve being two-faced through bringing her from the shadow of the alley to a harsher light and then back in the shadow. Though Eve declares to Karen “I wish I'd never met him [Addison], I'd like him to be dead”, she shamelessly comments to Addison few minutes later of how “I confide in you and rely on you more than anyone I've ever known!” and “I need you more than ever”. Addison’s exposure of Eve Harrington’s name actually being “Gertrude Slescynski” gives proof that one’s true identity can be kept hidden and covered by a fake identity. Phoebe’s defensive statement “I call myself Phoebe” also provides evidence to how easy it is to hide one’s true self.  

The opening awards ceremony introduces characters according to their roles, portraying the statement that one’s identity is closely linked to the roles they take part in. Their roles are the first thing that is made known to the audience, this clearly shows how the status of one impacts greatly to one’s individuality. Karen is “of the theatre by marriage”, thus lowering her self-esteem as she feels that she “has no talent to offer”. Although she is opinionated and confident, clearly shown by her arguments with Lloyd and Margo, she becomes timid and fearful because of her being “the lowest form of celebrity“. Therefore, it is apparent that one’s character can be defined by their role.

One’s identity depends on one’s surrounding. The public and private self of Margo and Eve behave differently in different contexts. During the party, Margo is perceived to be an arrogant “Queen Mother” who “treats her guest like her supporting cast”. In the public view, Margo can be seen as being confident and full of herself.  However, while she is alone with Karen, she “lets her hair down” and confides in Karen. In the private view, she is seen to be humble by apologising and insecure. For Eve, to the public, “We know her Humility”, “her love, her deep and abiding love” but to those who surround her, she is identified as being a “louse”,  a “contemptible little worm”. Eve’s public façade deceives people into believing “time has been good to Eve” while in reality, she is trapped, forced to “belong” to Addison.   One’s identity is altered to different people.

Many female characters in the film based their identity on their youth and ageing. Margo’s sense of identity becomes lost when “Three months ago, I was forty years old”. The director uses the film technique of cross-cutting the scene where Bill and Margo are placed side by side with contrasting lighting. Margo’s bedroom is dim-lit, exposing her wrinkles while Bill's bright lit bedroom emphasises his youth. This highlights Margo’s ageing. Due to her advancing age, Margo feels “unwanted and insecure - or unloved”, "as if I'd suddenly taken all my clothes off” is. Margo expresses her concern that “ten years from now - Margo Channing will have ceased to exist”, also Karen becomes “helpless” when she suspects Lloyd’s affair with someone much younger than her. This depicts the fact that one’s identity can be wavered when ageing. In contrast, much of the Eve, Claudia and Phoebe’s identity resides in their youthfulness. Their youth is emphasised by their beauty and confidence, giving them a wide-eyed, naïve personality. Eve manages to take care of herself and managing Margo’s affair while Margo is left to be dependent and taken care of. Age is a factor that affects ones identity.

RELATIONSHIPS

“Relationships” are an important theme in the film “All about Eve”

The representation of marriage by Karen and Lloyd is supportive yet tense and disconnected. At the beginning, Karen is Lloyd’s “loyal little woman” and the director shows their closeness as a couple through positioning Karen on Lloyd’s knees.  The couple is also always framed together even when arguing, representing their affection towards each other. Lloyd also shows his respect towards Karen by his assurance “I certainly wouldn't make a change without your approval. , showing respect in their marriage. However, Karen is not always a “happy little housewife”. After Eve’s seduction towards Lloyd, Karen is left feeling “helpless”, insecure that “Everything Lloyd loved about me, he had gotten used to long ago”. Also, Lloyd’s statement “For services rendered - beyond the whatever-it-is-of-duty” is a comparison of surviving a marriage to surviving a war represents that marriage can be unstable and hard work. In contrast to Karen and Lloyd’s view on marriage, Bill and Margo comprehend marriage as something that “would be enough” to prove their love towards each other. The thought of Margo being “A foursquare, upright, downright, forthright married lady” brought excitement and pure joy on their faces. While marriage is defined by Karen and Lloyd as survival, it is labelled as happiness.

Friendship is explored throughout this film. True friendship is shown at the Cub Room scene through Lloyd’s honest acknowledgment and toast “ To each of us and all of us, never have we been more close, may we never be farther apart.” Their friendship is long-lasting and real, evident by Karen’s remark “We're never deeply angry” and Lloyd’s assurance that he doesn’t think he will ever be “really, deeply angry” towards Margo. The deepness of their bond is accentuated through the honest words of Bill “The point is - in the cathedral, a ball park or a penny arcade - we want to have you two beside us, our nearest and dearest friends.” Eve and Addison’s companionship however is based on gains and benefits from each other. Eve pursues to take advantage of having “a powerful friend in Addison” and Addison seeks to control Eve through blackmailing her to “belong” to him.

Loyalty and trust are steady for some characters and fluctuates for others. Birdie is fiercely loyal to Margo. This is evident by her taking a cup of coffee towards Margo when she was drunk and by her cautions to Margo about Eve, showing her loyalty. Bill, although seduced by Eve, remained faithful to Margo. While loyalty endured, “Eve's disloyalty and ingratitude must be contagious” as Lloyd is manipulated by Eve to take the prominent part of playing Cora away from Margo. Lloyd also shows disloyalty to Karen when he disconnects their relationship to be seduced by Eve. Karen shows betrayal to Margo in hopes to “to give her that boot in the rear she needs and deserves” that could potentially ruin their valued friendship. The director shows this by Karen and Margo not being in the same frame in the Cub Room until Margo confesses her decline to play Cora. This depicts the fact that Karen’s betrayal affects their friendship. In return for Karen’s goodwill, Eve makes “A simple exchange of favours” by blackmailing Karen into choosing Eve’s career over Margo’s. Trust is also broken many times in the film. Margo’s promise to Max to read at the audition was unfulfilled and vice versa with “Eve is not working for Max after all”. Eve’s lies to Addison which he “intend to hold you to it” was exposed, destroying any trust between the two.

Group identity provides a clear distinction of any outsiders. The close knit group backstage is interrupted by Eve who starts replacing the role of many characters. Eve attempts to substitute Birdie by being an indispensable assistant. Karen loses her importance as a wife through Eve’s intervention.

Eve also takes over the centre focus of Margo. The director shows this through the shift of attention from Margo to Eve as she tells her sad sentimental story. It can also be seen that Margo becomes the outsider after the audition when Eve, Bill and Lloyd was together on one side while Margo being alone at another. Margo’s alienation is pointed out by her being unaccompanied on the stage bed, dwarfed by the huge stage.

POWER AND AMBITION

“All about Eve” is set in a time where the society accepts the American Dream. Eve relied on her belief that hard work and ambition will bring success and happiness. It is true that Eve had to persevere and be persistent to reach her goal. This can be evident by Eve’s dedication for “six nights a week - for weeks - of watching even Margo Channing enter and leave a theatre”. Eve had to sacrifice her time and money to form connections to bring her the success she longed for. Eve also had to work hard, being Margo’s “my sister, lawyer, mother,         friend, psychiatrist and cop” and her indispensable assistant. Max’s remark “the kid's earned her way” confirms the diligence and effort Eve made to accomplish her ambition. Although that hard work brought her the success she craved for, it failed to grant her with happiness she thought was guaranteed. At the start of the film, she describes the applause being “like waves of love coming over the footlights and wrapping you up”, however, at the end of the film she no longer sees those applaud as significant. She had thought her fame would be enough to content her, however her refusal to attend Max’s party dedicated for her shows how she lacks the satisfaction and joy. Margo’s remark “But I wouldn't worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be” insinuates the emptiness and lack of happiness Eve ends up with.

Set in a man’s world, the female characters in “All about Eve” have the mindset that one has to “look up just before dinner or turns around in bed - and there he is. Without   that, you're not woman”.  Margo is a star but doesn’t feel like a woman because of the tradition where females are meant to be “happy little housewife”.  Margo’s confession “funny business, a woman's career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder, so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you go back to being a woman”. Margo further acknowledges the importance of this gender role of being a housewife through her realisation “That’s one career all females have in common - whether we like it or not - being a woman. Sooner or later we've all got to work at it, no matter what other careers we've had or wanted”.

Status is a vital feature in this film. The fur coat is a symbol of status; it is a display for the world to envy one’s success and riches. This can be supported through Miss Casswell’s admiring statement “Now there's something a girl could make sacrifices for” when she sets her eyes upon a Hollywood star’s sable coat. The fact that “Women with furs like that where it never gets           cold” shows how although it is unnecessary to have such a thick coat, it is still seen as essential for Hollywood stars for the purpose of flaunting their fame and fortune. However, this status comes with a price, as reinforced by Bill’s comment of how she “probably has” made sacrifices for it. Eve is also confirms that truth by having to fake her identity in order to become “the Golden Girl, the cover girl”.

Control is seen in this film through Addison who seeks to rule over others. The director shows this during Addison’s narration at the beginning of the film where Addison seems to control the public.  The camera moves according to Addison’s narration and the background music is muted to highlight the importance of Addison’s presence. When Karen takes over the narration, Addison looks at her, as if he is giving his permission for her to be the voice-over. This conveys that the whole film is from Addison’s perspective and opinion, that he owns her story. Addison blackmailing Eve and forcing her to “belong” to him indicates the controlling desire he has within him. Also, Addison introduces himself as someone who is “essential to the theatre, in hopes to convince the audience that he has the power.

THE WORLD OF THE THEATRE

Life is a performance in “All about Eve”. Karen’s assumption that Eve apologised “On her knees, I have no doubt! Very touching, very Academy-of-Dramatic Arts!” clearly points out Eve’s actions are merely just an act. The statement “Lloyd says Margo compensates for underplaying on the stage by overplaying reality” insinuates that Margo’s approach on life is constantly dramatic and showy. Margo admits that she has taken acting into her real life when she confesses she has no other identity “besides something spelled out in light bulbs, I mean. Besides something called temperament.” The metaphor “Real diamonds in a wig” is one that portrays how something real can be easily suffocated under an artifice, one’s true nature hidden under a performance. When Bill and Margo go upstairs after their argument, Addison comments “we’ll miss the third act, it’s going to be played offstage”. Also, Bill remarks “We usually wind up screaming and throwing things as the curtain comes down. Then it comes up again and everything's fine”. This suggest that the lives of the characters in “All about Eve” is one filled with drama and acting.

Appearance can contrast reality; Eve is a wolf in sheep’s clothing. She chooses a “drizzly” night to approach Karen, wearing a “Kind of mousy trench coat and funny hat “to appear as a helpless, unthreatening fan. Eve gives the impression of having “The lack of pretence, that sort of strange directness and understanding” , causing others to have “developed a big protective feeling for her - a lamb loose in our big stone jungle”. However in reality, she is a schemer who would do anything “for a part in a play”.  Eve acts as a martyr to Margo’s temper and pretends that “if she's got to pick on someone, I'd just as soon it was me”, acting helpless and defenceless, while in truth, she is the prey that is about to devour others.

Stars reside in theatres while celebrities exist from film. “All about Eve’ shows the distinctive differences between the two. Eve’s award makes her a celebrity but Margo is a star. While Margo is identified as a “true star”, Eve is simply a “light”, something to replicate a star. Celebrities are seen as a “carbon copy” where there are many others, such as Phoebe, who will replace each other. Furthermore, Margo does not seek to give her fans any more than her on stage performance as she sees them as “Autograph fiends! They're not people - those little beasts who run in packs like coyotes”. In contrast Eve’s attachment to her fans, being “profiled, covered, revealed, reported” is what equips her with fame. The director uses the flashing of the cameras on Eve’s face that covers her whole face with a white light, to represent the emptiness a film star has as it is the public façade that the public sees and not their true self. It is also conveyed that fans used to “worships” stars but since the development of Hollywood films, “Fans no longer pull the carriage through the streets - they tear off clothes and steal wrist watches.” This shows how the loyalty of film fans is only on the surface whereas theatre fans are more faithful, evident by Eve being “being told off in no uncertain terms all over town”. In the theatre, “Wherever there's magic and make-believe and an audience”, the theatre cast have a greater freedom compared to film-making. Whereas “they change everything around” in the theatre, films are controlled quite rigidly. As there is a distance between the stage and the seats in the theatre, Margo is “Week after week, to thousands of people, you're as young as you want while in the film, Bette Davis, the actress cannot conceal her age. In the film, Hollywood is seen as a place where “So few come back” .so far away that an airplane is needed and is paved with “stars”, fame and fortune. The theatre is portrayed to be for the “elite”, an enclosed and old fashioned place.

SYMBOLS AND MOTIFS

Symbols and motifs are present throughout the film. These include doors, costume, lighting and stairs.

Doors in the film portray the idea of insiders and outsiders in group identity and belonging. Before Karen first introduces Eve to the group, a roar of laughter is heard behind the door. This suggests that the characters inside are a close-knitted group and Karen, is not one of them.  During Eve’s introduction, Birdie gets mad after being insulted by Margo of being “a fifth-rate vaudevillian”. Birdie then slams the door and is shut off from the group, insinuating that Eve is about to replace Birdie as one of the insider.  Doors are also represented as a door of opportunity. Eve uses Karen, the “lowest form of celebrity” to open up her way to achieve her ambition. This is shown through Karen opening the door to Margo’s dressing room to invite Eve in, the start of Eve’s connection which would be the stepping stone to her success. Also, during Bill’s welcome home party, Eve opens the door of Margo’s bedroom to ask Karen for a favour, “about to ask you for another favour - after all you've already done”.

The costume used is an important feature in the film.  In the beginning, Eve wears unflattering attire, “Kind of mousy trench coat and funny hat”.  Compared to Karen’s new mink coat, Eve looks unthreatening and helpless, gaining the direct acceptance and sympathy from Karen. Later, Eve changes her style of clothing to Margo’s style and transforms from a timid fan to a confident assistant. Her “elegant new suit” was a hand-me-down from Margo, conveying the message to the audience that this is the start of Eve stealing Margo’s look. The scene where Eve holds Margo’s costume in front of the mirror is another confirmation that Eve is scheming to take over Margo’s identity.

The director uses lighting to express underlined messages to the audience. When Eve is seen in the alley, she moves from the shadow to a harsh light and back into the shadow again. This is a representation of Eve’s character, to suggest her two-faced nature. Margo is seen to be insecure about being “forty years old. Forty. Four oh”.  While the character in “All about Eve” assures that “Margo Channing is ageless”, the director uses lighting so the audience is able to accept Margo’s age anxiety.  While the other female characters are filmed under a flattering light, Margo is filmed under a flat light to emphasis on her aging. Through lighting, Eve is seen be radiant and youthful in contrast to Margo’s age advancing in years.

Stairs in the film is perceived to be a symbol of a ladder to accomplish one’s ambition. During Eve and Karen’s first meeting, Karen is seen to be stuck in between the steps of a stair. This epitomizes how Eve is about to use Karen as a way to access her dreams. It also indicates the fact that Karen would be trapped by acting as a ladder for Eve, evident by Eve blackmailing Karen. During Bill’s welcome home party, Addison sits a step above Eve, demonstrating Eve’s motives of using Addison to climb her way up to the top of the theatre world. Furthermore, stairs are a representation of being ambitious. After Eve lures Lloyd into her apartment in the middle of the night, Eve walks hand in hand with a girl up the stairs. This denotes that Eve has an ambitious plan and she will do everything to get her way.


Mirrors are a sign of how appearances may not necessary be reliable. In the beginning, when Margo looks into the mirror, Margo sees Eve appearing like an adoring fan. However, in truth, Eve is about to steal her identity. Moreover, in the final image of the film, Phoebe looks into an endless repetition of herself on the mirror. This is a symbol of how there are many characters like Eve and Phoebe.

Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter)

Character Analysis

An Award-Winning Performance

Remember how the biblical Eve was tempted by a snake? Well, in this film, Eve is the snake.

Eve Harrington's a manipulative fame-hungry actress wannabe who doesn't care who she hurts as she claws her way to the top. Addison takes her for a sociopath who's incapable of real human emotion. She uses a soft-hearted Karen to meet Margo Channing under the pretense of being an innocent, adoring fan. She slithers her way into Margo's life and studies her, figuring out what she'll have to do to replace Margo as the grande dame of the Broadway theater.

Roger Ebert thought that while Margo was a three-dimensional character, Eve was a "type"—the ambitious ingénue out to make it at all costs (source). Is that true? You could make the point that Eve isn't this one-dimensional. We do think she respects Margo's talent. She knows she's picked one of the best actresses to model herself on. Plus, Eve is a fast learner, and she has real talent—it's hard to fake that. A woman this evil has to be a great actress in order to convince others that she's a modest, decent person.

Her #1 Fan

We first meet Eve as a star-struck young woman hovering in the shadows waiting for her theater idol to exit the stage door. She just so happens to approach Margo's best friend Karen on her way out of the theater. Karen just has to take this #1 fan to see Margo:

KAREN: I'm going to take you to Margo…

EVE:(hanging back) Oh, no...

KAREN: She's got to meet you.

EVE: No, I'd be imposing on her, I'd be just another tongue-tied gushing fan...

Eve's always gushing about the theater—the perfume, the applause—it's all magic, according to Eve. She sells herself as completely devoted to the theater. Of course, Eve knows exactly what's she's doing. She's flattering Margo, who loves to be flattered, and before you know it she's making herself indispensable; she knows it's a vulnerable time for Margo because Bill's away in Hollywood.

Pretty soon she gets a little too indispensable. Here's how Margo describes it:

MARGO: The next three weeks were out of a fairy tale, and I was Cinderella in the last act. Eve became my sister, lawyer, mother, friend, psychiatrist and cop - the honeymoon was on...

Honeymoon's Over

Margo's saying this with benefit of hindsight, but at the time she doesn't know what Eve's up to. By the time we uncover Eve's true motivations, it's too late. Eve manipulates her way into a role as Margo's understudy, then makes a shameless pass at Bill:

BILL: I'm talking about you. And what you want.

EVE: So am I.

BILL: What have I got to do with it?

EVE: Everything.

Fortunately Bill doesn't buy it; this is his first inkling that Eve isn't what she seems. Things go downhill from there, as everyone catches on to Eve. She tricks Karen into making Margo miss a performance, then threatens to expose her if she doesn't get Lloyd to cast her in his next play:

KAREN: A part in a play. You'd do all that just for a part in a play?

EVE: I'd do much more for a part that good.

Eve wows the audience as Margo's understudy, and, just by absolute sheer coincidence, all the famous theater critics attended that night.

Standing No-Vation

Eve doesn't know when to stop. As Karen says in one of our favorite lines, "Eve would ask Abbott to give her Costello." Eve wants to steal away Bill from Margo, and that fails, because Bill has honor. Plus, he doesn't like to be pursued. He wants to be the one who goes after women, not vice versa. Then she tries nailing Lloyd by faking some emotional meltdown to get him over to her apartment in the middle of the night.

Eve also makes the mistake of using an even bigger manipulator in her schemes, the devious theatre critic Addison DeWitt. When Addison realizes he's been had—that Eve is telling people he manipulated her words—he takes over, calling Eve out on all her lies and threatening to expose her if she doesn't obey him. Her name isn't even Eve; it's Gertrude Slojinski, not that there's anything wrong with that.

Addison, being even more of a manipulator and narcissist than Eve, knows he's got her. He's the critic who can derail her career with a single bad review. As long as she dances to his tune, he can make sure she's Broadway's next big star. Eve makes a deal with the devil, and wins the prestigious Sarah Siddons award, being sure to fawn over all her "friends" who helped her along the way.

EVE: [...] and it was Karen who first brought me to one whom I had always idolized, and who was to become my benefactor and champion. A great actress and a great woman— Margo Channing.

What a sweetheart.

At the end of the movie, we're happy to see history, or in this case her story, repeat itself, as Eve seems to take Phoebe on as her protégé; did she forget what she herself did to Margo? Perhaps those stars in her eyes really do blind her to the truth. As Phoebe secretly puts on Eve's elegant coat and bows in the mirror holding the statuette, we can sure see what's coming even if Eve can't.

Eve Harrington's Timeline

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