Much like Billy Wilder’s Sunset Blvd., Joseph L. Mankiewicz made a movie about obsessive actresses released in the same year. While the content of the story is similar, All about Eve inhabits an entirely different world. Being set in a New York theater about an actress who is working actress (Margo Channing, played by Bette Davis), there is a very different set of obsessions, excesses, excuses, lies, and self-centered personalities represented in this film than in Sunset Blvd.
The actors portrayed in All about Eve are controlled by their obsession with the myth of perfection. With live performances every night, physical beauty and the appearance of perfection are the highest priorities. Writers, directors, and everyone else behind the scenes are second-class citizens in the world depicted in All about Eve, because the audience is so enamored by the actors that they forget anyone else is involved beyond the people they see. The characters all carry out their lives and careers as if this is true.
Margo has long been playing characters far too young for her, but she can still give the audience the perception of perfection they’re looking for, so nobody cares until Eve (Anne Baxter) comes into the picture, and certainly everything that follows is all about her. She comes into the life of the theater seemingly innocently and without any ulterior motives. Of course, this is entirely a facade.
While Eve has no acting or other theater experience, she shares the obsession with perfection with the actors she comes to know. Margo is her picture of that perfection. She idolizes Margo so much that, by following her so insistently, she works so hard at becoming Margo that she trades her own identity and personality with her desire to become Margo, to take her place that is.
Eve’s attempt to take over the theater and the lives of those in it is an opportunity for Margo and the rest of the people involved to re-evaluate their lives. Is the theater worth selling their souls to as Eve has done and as each of them has in different ways in the past? Is the pretension of perfection worth a Norma Desmond-esque descent into narcissistic despair? Many characters (actors, a director, screenwriter, spouse, a theater critic, and a stage manager) are weaved together in the web of Eve’s jealous deceit and control. They are faced with the question of whether they will allow Eve to keep them bound in the traps of the world they’ve created for themselves or if they will start living lives beyond Eve’s control. How they respond to Eve determines whether or not they will be able to escape. Their lives, their careers, and their futures are indeed “all about Eve.”
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’ Guys and Dolls (1950)