Monday, December 3, 2007

An Analysis of All About Eve

Okay, I admit that I'm not much of a gay guy. Until last night, I had never seen All About Eve. One can enjoy this classic in several delicious ways. In a feminist reading, it's a story of two strong-willed women who are put in their place by an implacable patriarchy. Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) will always be at each other's throats. Men set up women to undermine each other. Men want the newer, faster, sleeker models. An aging (badly) Margo knows this, and Eve uses it as her trump card, ultimately to be trumped herself by Addison DeWitt's (George Sanders) own privileged duplicity.

An interesting character is Karen Richards (Celeste Holm). She plays the dutiful wife who is supportive of the other women. She believes in good manners. She's portrayed in the film as being either naive or duplicitous when she plays her "joke" on Margo. At the end, she's dumped by her husband for Eve, the newer model - although it's unclear how Karen's relationship with her husband is finally resolved. In any feminist analysis, though, men ultimately are the actors, and women their objects to be moved about, paraded, discarded, or, in Margo's case, married off and removed from the action.

If Karl Marx viewed this film, he might see it in a different way. I think the telling scene is where Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), the playwright, challenges Margo with the line, "I shall never understand the weird process by which a body with a voice suddenly fancies itself as a mind. Just when exactly does an actress decide they're HER words she's speaking and HER thoughts she's expressing?" Margo replies, "Usually at the point where she has to rewrite and rethink them, to keep the audience from leaving the theatre!".

This is a case of the means of production trying to control labor, and labor revolts. It's Margo's finest moment in the film - a moment when she is truly herself. In some sense, it's the film's climax. Margo clearly understands the power relationship here, even if Lloyd doesn't.

Perhaps the character who sees it all is Birdie (Thelma Ritter), Margo's maid. She understands from the beginning that Eve is nothing but trouble. Margo ignores her advice because of the chasm of class. Birdie knows all about labor, because she is labor. If this film were in color, her uniform would be pink.

Of course, if you're a gay man, you'll enjoy this film for other reasons. Bette Davis is divine. This is camp at its best. Marilyn Monroe in her Claudia Caswell character exudes sexiness, blondness, and the means to control the patriarchy. One glance, one sultry, "All I want is a drink," and men are falling all over her. Margo and Eve should take a lesson. And that dumb blond is dumb like a sly fox.

So fasten your seat belts. It's going to be a bumpy night!


Reynaldo said...

An interesting analysis--it could only have come from Happy!