All About Eve
Eve and Margo as Victims
Mankiewicz’s All About Eve uses the theatre as a medium in which the female protagonists, Eve and Margo, are victimized at the hands of varying internal and external factors. The film clearly portrays Margo as a casualty of lies and scheming, as she is swindled and exploited by Eve’s guise of meekness. Moreover, the female leads are forced into a helpless and passive role at the mercy of the male gaze, which is personified by figures such as Bill Sampson and Addison DeWitt. The power dynamic between males and females is typified in this film as it suggests there is an underlying patriarchal expectation that women should fulfil traditional roles as housewives, rather than pursuing another career. In light of these expectations, the protagonists fall victim to the theatre, which forces Margo to sacrifice her life for her career, and also fuels Eve’s ploys to seduce in order to establish herself in this cutthroat industry. Finally, Mankiewicz challenges the viewers to see Eve as a victim, first as a woman and an actress, but more so, that she is a victim of herself and her unrelenting ambition, as it ultimately leads to her downfall.
Margo, who takes Eve under her wing out of sympathy, is betrayed by the ingénue, whose scheming actions exploit the aging star’s insecurities. When the two leads first meet, Margo is immediately enraptured by a seemingly modest and hard-working girl, which leaves her exposed to Eve’s guise from the beginning. As Eve dictates her rehearsed story, an over-the-shoulder shot by the camera portrays the on-lookers (Margo, Karen and Lloyd) as part of an audience, suggesting that her tale is a performance: it is ‘make-believe’. Margo’s tears and the sharp dismissal of Birdie’s scrutinizing comment (“What a story…”) emphasises her whole-hearted sympathy for Eve. Evidently moved, the actress is conned by Eve’s recital and thus, the trust she lays in her novice heavily dictates the course of her future, effectively leaving her at the mercy of Eve. Furthermore, Eve gradually undermines her “champion’s” relationship with Bill Sampson, as she attempts “to take Bill away” (Addison) from Margo. Romantically involved with a younger man, Margo aims to tighten her stronghold on her lover as her self-confidence increasingly wanes, often reminding him not to “get stuck on some glamour puss”. Despite Bill’s reassurances of his unwavering love, Margo’s fears heighten with the rise of a younger, innocent Eve and her indisputable charm. Eve betrays Margo as she attempts to seduce Bill and as the film progresses, the audience witnesses the transition of Eve into Margo, and the ingénue deceptively “studies [Margo] as if she were a… blueprint”. Effectively, the rising star takes advantage of Margo’s hospitality and trust, upheaving her life to satiate her ambition. The aging protagonist, who offered nothing but kindness and sympathy, is emotionally tampered with and her relationship with her love is endangered by Eve’s ruthless actions, leaving her as a sufferer at the hands of lies.
Collectively, the female leads are predated by the male gaze, which compels Margo to eventually succumb to the pressures of the social milieu, and since Eve does not meet these stereotypes, which are based on patriarchal hegemony, her success is short-lived. All About Eve juxtaposes the two female leads who ultimately fulfill different roles – Eve as the over-ambitious career woman, and Margo as the docile wife – highlighting the male-controlled expectations of women during that time. The transition of Margo from an actress to a married woman (and thus achieving happiness) underlines the limits society has placed on females, leaving them confined within a single role. The film condemns the nature of the theatre (and any form of industry in which women pursue careers) depicting it as a fraudulent world blight with egotism and manipulation. Importantly, it is a male protagonist (Bill) that defines the theatre as “make-believe” to the hopeful novice, Eve. Captured with a low-angle shot, Bill is in a position of authority, symbolic of the dominance of males, reiterating that women, who are defined by men, are victims of this control. In comparison to Margo, Eve is bereft of happiness and satisfaction as she chooses not to accept a traditional role, and thus, by the limitations placed on women, her success in acting is ultimately void. After receiving the Sarah Siddons award, Eve receives a snide remark from Margo (“you can always put that award where your heart ought to be”) suggesting that by not succumbing to these expectations, Eve’s “heart” is replaced by a metal award, highlighting the false fulfillment that accompanies a career for a woman. Though Margo is portrayed happily as a married woman, she is ultimately forced into this role due to patriarchal pressures which have limited her identity, and moreover, as the embodiment of the other stereotype, Eve’s position is one that is shunned upon, and her career success is unfairly overlooked.
Margo’s absence of a domestic life to maintain her career and Eve’s need to appeal to the male gaze for self-preservation are hardships caused by the theatre. Eve’s first appearance in the film occurs in a dirty, dark alleyway next to a theatre, symbolizing the malignant nature of the world she is about to enter. All About Eve suggests the theatre is male-dominated, and for actresses to receive recognition they must engage the male gaze. During Bill’s party, the characters are captured sitting on the flight of stairs, the two starlets, Eve and Claudia, are on the bottom rung which is symbolic of their position in the theatre’s hierarchy. To proceed further, the hopefuls must sway their male counterparts: Miss Caswell uses her sexual prowess to seduce Max Fabian, and is lauded for her efforts by DeWitt, who claims her “career [will] rise… like the sun”. Simultaneously, Eve attempts to allure Bill and Lloyd, suggesting that even the scheming ingénue relies on the support of the male protagonists to reach stardom, using intimacy as a tool to achieve this. Thus, the theatre views actresses as objects of sexuality, as mindless “[bodies] with a voice”, rather than seeing them as women. To become something, the actresses are forced to accept this patriarchal view of their gender, sexualising themselves to appease the men of the theatre. Additionally, to remain a successful actress, Margo had to sacrifice her domestic life, which is an integral part of the “traditional” role of a woman. The exchange between the aging star and Karen in the car highlights the toll the theatre has taken on a wary, beaten-down Margo. Captured through high-angle shots, Margo is portrayed as a victim as she battles her conflicting identities: that of being a wife or as a successful career woman. Perhaps at the lowest point in the film, she describes the detrimental effects of her journey in the theatre as she lost fundamental parts of her identity “on [her] way up the ladder”, only to realize that “[she’ll] need them again” to achieve a domestic life. In light of the societal norms of her time, these losses are profound, and the dual roles of being an actress and a woman leaves her a casualty of the theatre.
Furthermore, the Eve’s downfall is caused by her inability to see past her overpowering ambition as it traps her in the firm grasp of Addison DeWitt, alienates those who were genuinely loyal to her, and eventually imprisons her in the cutthroat cycle that exists in the theatre. The young actress’ ambition is depicted by the repeating motif of the staircase, which she is often captured with, highlighting her desire to climb the rungs to stardom. Her aspirations lead her to exploit DeWitt’s ability to secure the young starlet’s future in the theatre. However, once the ingénue’s façade is exposed by DeWitt, he commands his dominance over her (“you’ll belong to me”) and her future is thus controlled by him, leaving her trapped by her own determination. In the confrontation scene, the professional character assassin is captured from low angle shots whilst Eve remains seated at first, establishing his imperious stance over her. Moreover, the audience is forewarned that the protagonist will face the same loss Margo suffers during her decline as an actress. Eve’s reflection is shrouded by ambition and narcissism, distorting her perception of reality and she therefore remains woefully unaware of her future. The appearance of her understudy, Phoebe, and the final scene used as parallels drawn with the relationship between the star (Margo) and her devious novice (Eve). The concluding camera shots are of Phoebe covetously grasping Eve’s prize, curtseying and bowing, surrounded by huge mirror reflections of herself as an adoring audience, crowding the frame space. Self-love, self-adulation, craving fame and glory, this is no longer the story of All About Eve, for there is nothing more to tell about Eve, whose decline has been foreseen. This reiterates that the cyclic nature of deposing old stars and bringing in new ones will not stop, and the manipulative young actress will in turn be manipulated by future actresses to come. Thus, Eve is a casualty of the future, and her inescapable situation, perhaps, leaves her as the most victimized character of all.
All About Eve and the Roles that Women Play
Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve explores the inability of women to find fulfillment in the roles offered by the theater. For a “true star” like Margo or simply a “carbon copy” like Eve or Phoebe in the harsh world of the theater, Mankiewicz suggests that it is almost impossible for a woman to reach fulfillment. This dilemma is largely due to the transitory nature of success, and the possibility of another star constantly in the making. As a result, only the role of the self-effacing and docile female can succeed in the world of theater.
Mankiewicz suggests that women can only find fulfillment in the role of a docile and humble housewife, while the men must be the breadwinners of the family. This is exemplified by Karen, the ideal female spouse whom supports her husband’s endeavors and does not cultivate a separate image apart from that of being his wife. Moreover, whilst Karen may be the “lowest form of celebrity”, she enjoys an ostentatious and lavish lifestyle, as indicated by her array of magnificent costumes throughout the film. Unlike Margo, Karen yields no anxieties nor any “paranoiac insecurities”, but rather displays undying devotion to both her friend and husband, and is thus praised by Lloyd as his “loyal little woman”. Not only does this reflect the paternalistic values eminent in society in the 1950s, but is also an endorsement, on behalf of Mankiewicz, for those female characters who accept their subservient roles.
It is through Karen that Margo realizes her desire to play the role of a humble housewife is greater than that of a professional woman. Such two roles are constantly conflicting in Margo’s life, and are the primary cause of her deep rooted anxieties. Whilst seemingly at the height of fame and power, she expresses her discomfort in the incongruity of playing women who are half her age when revealing to Lloyd that she has reached the big “four-oh,” at Bill’s birthday party. Moreover, as Margo wearingly sits by the piano brooding, requesting for Liebestraum to be played on repeat, close ups of her face reveal her fear of becoming an ageing actress capable of being marginalized by a younger and attractive understudy. Ultimately, and despite her numerous accolades, Margo finds her professional career to be unfulfilling, as she reveals to Karen with an air of resignation that “nothing is good unless you can look up just before dinner…and there he is.” To reinforce his ideal that women must sacrifice their professional careers for a happy domestic life, Mankiewicz juxtaposes Margo’s anxieties with her genuine happiness when casting Bill adoring looks in the Cub Room, the night before their marriage.
The role of the “carbon copy” as played by both Eve and Phoebe, reveal both the exclusivity of the theater and the transitory nature of success. Eve’s introduces herself to Margo through playing the role of the wounded war widow, literally climbing the theater’s stairs in an attempt to reach the top of the professional ladder. At the height of her deceptive powers, she begins by makes herself indispensable to Margo, adopting the roles of her “sister, lawyer, mother, friend, psychiatrist and cop” in an attempt to ingratiate herself to her, and ends by blackmailing Karen in the ladies’ room to obtain the role of Cora in Lloyd’s play. However, when accepting the Sarah Siddons Award, close ups of Eve’s expressions reveal her disappointment at Margo and Karen refusing to congratulate her, Margo instead prodding her with the trophy, murmuring, “Go put that where your heart ought to be.” Furthermore, Mankiewicz’s introduction of Phoebe through the reflection of Eve’s mirror, suggests to the audience that there will always be an infinite reflection of “carbon cop[ies]” willing to do “all that, just for a part in a play”. Therefore, in the viperous and competitive world of theater, Mankiewicz infers that success is transitory, and that the demise of one star will lead to the birth of another.
Therefore, despite being at the height of their fame and success, both Eve and Margo suffer in the professional world of the theater. This is a result of the infinite role of the “carbon copy” which leads to their demise, and therefore revealing the transient nature of success. It is only Karen, who vicariously lives through her husband and accepts her subservient role as a docile housewife, who is content with the role that she plays.
Narrative Devices in ‘All About Eve’
Director Joseph Mankiewicz’s All About Eve utilizes a circular narrative to conceal the truth of Eve’s story. However, the impact that Eve’s story ultimately has on Margo is more important than Eve’s story itself. This is because fabricated nature of Eve’s story allows for it to be easily rewritten by other “carbon copies” like Phoebe, therefore rendering it worthless.
There lies great irony in Mankiewicz’s title for the film, “All About Eve”, as the story of Eve is never told by Eve herself, but rather through the narration of all those she has betrayed. Consequently, on a broader scale, the film is an exploration of the nature and effect of one’s duplicity. Through introducing the key characters of the narrative in the Sarah Siddon’s Dining Hall, and then utilizing a flashback to follow their retrospective trajectory, Mankiewicz makes the betrayal that Karen and Margo feel, as a result of Eve’s beguiled manipulation, palpable to the audience. Therefore, Eve is introduced to the audience just as Karen was – in the shadows of a doorway, shrouded by darkness. That such darkness is an allusion to Eve’s deceitful nature is unnoticed by the film’s viewers, but rather, highlights the seeming impecuniosity of Eve. As such, the obsequiousness revealed by Eve through her thorough research on the careers and lives of Margo, Lloyd, and Bill is slightly unsettling, and further develops into disconcertion at her ability to make herself indispensable to Margo, through becoming her “sister, lawyer… and cop”. The pinnacle of discomfort however, is experienced in Mankiewicz’s first explicit disclosure of Eve’s subterfuge, as she is rejected by Bill and childishly tears at her wig, before instantly switching from fury to charm at the sound of Addison’s knock. Therefore, Mankiewicz circular narrative effectively conceals Eve’s deception, hence making her behavior more abhorrent to the audience.
Although the story of Eve is significant to Mankiewicz’s narrative, it is not necessarily the most important. Rather, it is the impact of Eve’s story on Margo which is most enthralling. Mankiewicz first introduces Margo through the narration of Addison Dewitt, where she is unquestioningly defined as a “true star”. She is centralized in the frame and controls the caustic banter between her and the Richards, backstage, and is greatly disparaging of her fans. Thus, Margo is initially presented as the stereotypical celebrity who has outgrown her fame. However, whilst seemingly at the height of her career, the close-up of her face as she farewells Bill at the airport and questions, “am I going to lose you Bill?”, reveals a woman who is deeply insecure, and hesitant to trust. Therefore, as Margo falls victim to Eve’s manipulation, but is marginalized by her close friends as a result of their trust in Eve’s “quiet graciousness” and “rare qualities”, Mankiewicz evokes great sympathy from the audience. It culminates in the confessional scene between Margo and Karen, where Mankiewicz reveals that Eve’s machinations have unburied deeper uncertainties within Margo’s life. The dialogue carries great pathos, as Margo admits to feeling nothing more than “insecure, unwanted and unloved.”
Hence, Margo’s transformation ultimately prevails over the story of Eve, which is rendered worthless by Phoebe’s rewriting of it. In the final scenes of the film, Margo finds genuine fulfillment in her role as a docile and humble housewife, whereas Eve is left wounded by the hollow victory her trophy represents. Whilst the men of the room rise to applaud Eve, she is demoralized upon seeing that Karen and Margo do not clap. Addison’s description of Eve from the first scene of the film – that “no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve” – is far more telling in the final scene, where the audience learns that through her skillful appropriation of Margo’s identity, Eve literally blinded those around her in an attempt to succeed in the world of theater. However, the infinite reflections of Phoebe holding up Eve’s costume in the mirror, indicates to the audience that there will always be another “carbon copy”, willing to do “all that, just for a part in a play.” As such, the value of Eve’s narrative is reduced.
Therefore, while Mankiewicz’s circular plotline allows for Eve’s deception to unfurl in an engaging manner, such deception’s impact on Margo is of greater significance. Margo’s transformation and self-growth allows for her narrative to be most important, whereas Eve’s story is rewritten by Phoebe, another “carbon copy” like herself, and is therefore of no value.