Bette Davis. Man, could that woman smoke a cigarette! She knew it, too. “I have to admit, I did use smoking to good effect,” she said in her autobiography. “The way I see it, in my films, drinking is the action and smoking is the reaction.” In “All About Eve” she plays an aging actress and what drives her to drink and smoke to such good effect are the underhanded actions of her protégé (Eve) who’s out to steal her roles and even her fiancé. Almost manages to do it too, although Davis gets in a couple of zingers along the way.
“All About Eve” was marketed as a woman’s picture, and if you want to know what that means, ask Karen, the wife of playwright Lloyd Richards. She’s learned the hard way not to trust other women: “The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!” She launched Eve on her destructive path, and briefly gave rein to her her worst instincts. Unlike Eve, she suffers for it.
Not that women had it easy in postwar America. Davis’s character knows the cost of fame: “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 get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted.”
So the picture shows us how the world works, confirming the audience, girls and boys alike, in its cynicism. Along the way, we witness some awfully good performances, which serve almost to remove the sting. But not entirely.