Jan 17, 2014

All About Eve: The Gayest Movie Ever Made

The Four Friends
All about Eve (1950) is gayest movie ever made with no "real" gay characters.

Bette Davis stars as Margo Channing, a renowned theatrical actress who just reached age 40.  She is dating director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill), who is 8 years younger, and playing a 24-year old in a Broadway play written by Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe).  Lloyd is married to Margo's best friend, Karen (Celeste Holm).

They're so very close that they're like a family.  Or, rather, a group marriage.  Each seems completely in love with each of the others.



Margo and her Lesbian Assistant
There are such strong, and obvious, homoromantic links between Margo and Karen, and to a lesser extent between Bill and Lloyd, that I was certain that all of the performers were gay in real life.

I didn't find any evidence, but Bette Davis's campy, over-the-top delivery made her a drag queen icon, and she was a gay ally in real life.

Margo also has a "companion," a protective mother hen named Birdie, obviously played as a lesbian by character actor Thelma Ritter.




Eve glares at Marilyn Monroe
And a colleague, the snarky, elitist theater reviewer Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), who is not only gay-coded himself, but frames the entire close-knit, insular world of the theater as queer:

"We all have abnormalities in common. We're a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we theatre folk. We are the original displaced personalities."

Into this close-knit, insular world comes Eve Carrington (Anne Baxter), an ingenue who presents herself as a naive fan, and so enchants the theatre folk that Margo offers her a job as her assistant. Eve's feigned adoration of Margo is overbrimming with breathless lesbian desire.

You know what happens next --it's been remade, revisioned, parodied, and ployed a hundred times since.  Even cannily works behind the scenes to take Margo's place, lying, cheating, manipulating, blackmailing, seducing, betraying.  She ends up in the starring role in Lloyd's new play, and achieves stardom.  But at what cost? She's lost all of her friends among the theatre folk.  She's an outsider among outsiders.

Enter Phoebe (Barbara Bates), a devoted fan who ingratiates herself into Eve's life....and so the cycle repeats itself.

Charles Busch as Bette Davis
Upon rewatching All about Eve, I was surprised by a moment of blatant heterosexism.  Margo has devoted her life to her theatrical career, but mourns "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."  Being a woman -- that is, defining herself through her relationship with a man.

Otherwise it's a marvelously bumpy night, with witty dialogue,  gay subtexts everywhere, an overarching gay symbolism... come on, somebody involved in this production must have been gay! Maybe director Joseph L. Mankiewicz? Producer Darryl F. Zanuck?  Cinematographer Milton R. Krasner

See also: Whatever Happened to Baby Jane