In some instances one cannot simply challenge an authority figure outright. Authority is brought on by age, sophistication and the people one is associated. In Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve (1950) the character Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is a famed and respected actress, while initially Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is a starry eyed no name. In this film, Eve challenges the authority of Margo, undermining Margo’s relationships and her career in her efforts to gain fame and fortune. She does not do so to her face however, such as From Here to Eternity’s Prewitt or Streetcar’s Stella. In Margo’s presence Eve feigns innocence in much the same way that Blanche in Streetcar does, challenging the authority of those around her by manipulation and acting.
Margo is portrayed as a fiery woman, who isn’t afraid to speak her mind even in the presence of men. The way she acts in the presence of men, given the context of the 1950s, is one of the things that gives her such power. It is apparent that she isn’t inhibited, and Eve knows this. When Eve is first introduced to Margo she is in an understated coat and hat. She is very modest, pretending to be shy and intimidated. Though even from Eve’s introduction into the story it is clear that she has motives other than just meeting her “idol”. After Margo leaves the room, Eve asks Margo’s boyfriend Bill (Gary Merrill) why he is going to Los Angeles and is almost a little too interested. Margo’s assistant and friend Birdie (Thelma Ritter) even notices that Eve is a little off. She notes that Eve studies Margo, as though Margo is a blueprint for success. And she is.
Among Margo’s friends she holds no more authority than the average person. But in the context of Eve, she is above her in age, experience and wisdom. If Eve is to surpass Margo she must do so secretly. In order to do this though she must find a weakness in Margo. That weakness is the fact that Margo is aging, is in a kind of “professional menopause, and feels the dazzling star of her celebrity fade” (DiMare 7). Eve preys upon this weakness, and attempts to infiltrate Margo’s personal and professional life, lowering her self-esteem. One of the way in which she does this is by trying to seduce Bill. Eve feigns innocence in front of Margo, but after finding a place in show business as an actress and gaining more significance, she attempts to go after what she has wanted since the beginning: Bill.
The person Eve is here is not the same one she is to the faces of the people she is trying to associate herself with. Eve uses her sexuality to undermine the relationship between Bill and Margo. Their relationship is even portrayed as an authoritative figure in itself: Margo a prominent actress and Bill a successful director, a dynamic duo of sorts. Eve goes so far as to try and take that authority upon herself, attempting to adopt the role of successful actress with a successful director boyfriend. However, the plan backfires as Bill is steadfastly in love with Margo, and now does not trust Eve. This is the first seen in which we see Eve act as her true self.
Eve’s youth is also a challenge to Margo’s authority. Usually authority comes with age and experience, which at the age of 40 Margo has. However, Eve’s beauty, freshness and youth threaten Margo. Her very presence shakes Margo’s core, as Margo starts to doubt herself and sees someone who is more desirable take her place. Margo who was once a confident, proud individual is brought to her lowest point personally by a youthful manipulator. In this way, Eve dethrones Margo. Eve takes on fame, by infiltrating Margo’s professional circle, becoming her understudy, and performing in a show. By being youthful on her own, and by having that youth be recognized as something essential in show business, she upstages the aging Margo.
Her performance in Aged in Wood is commended, so it’s not as though she manipulates people into liking her performance, or becoming successful. She has talent. Her talent also goes to challenge Margo’s authoritative position in the theatre, as Margo falls from grace and professionals come to prefer the freshness of Eve to the consistency of Margo.
Ultimately, Eve uses her sexuality to attempt to overthrow Margo and gain a position of her own authority, as a successful actress in the theater. Even to feign innocence, she must present the façade of being a doe-eyed, pure little girl, with good intentions, who only wants to impress her idol. This repression of sexuality is what gives her the ability to manipulate successfully. She isn’t portrayed as a femme fatale. She’s not a bombshell, and most certainly not a homewrecker. She’s meek and meager little Eve, the same front that Streetcar’s Blanche puts on. To portray oneself as innocent one must in turn portray themselves as sexually repressed. “Sexual innocence, then, is an important concept in how society understand what it means to be feminine” (Mitchell 344). If femininity during the 1950s is defined by an ignorance of male affairs (sex, work and influence), and feminism is partially defined as a female taking on stereotypically masculine qualities of the era (power, rights) then innocent little Eve must pose as no threat at all because she is seemingly not aware of her sexuality and therefore not feminist. No one suspects that she has other motives until it is too late. We also see her using her sexuality in the opposite way, to assert her authority over Margo, in the scene where she attempts to seduce Bill. We see this is the true eve. Eve manipulates those around her through a bending and tweaking of the way she portrays her sexuality. By doing this she attempts to undermine their authority. I have to read this is somewhat anti-feminist, though, as Eve, being very aware of the effects of sexuality (even when it isn’t literally sexual), uses it not as a defense mechanism, or a way to defend her honor, but as a way to bring herself selfishly to the top, and in a woman’s line of work no less.
Curator: Hailey Mawhinney