Study Guide

All About Eve Themes

  • Art and Culture

    Pity poor Broadway. She used to be the birthplace of fame and celebrity—the dream of actors, the place where dancers prayed for a part in a chorus line. Today, Hollywood's supplanted Broadway as the celeb incubator (let's not even get started on TV and YouTube). A recent scientific survey by Shmoop of People magazine revealed the ratio of movie stars to Broadway actors was 53 to 1 (the one being Bellamy Young, who only really got famous on TV). Today, unless you live in New York City, you might not hear about most Broadway stars unless it's Tony Awards night on TV or if their plays are made into movies. If Broadway shows really need to boost ticket sales, they put a Katie Holmes or Bruce Willis in the cast.

    Some critics thought that All About Eve was really all about the competition between Hollywood and the Broadway theater, where you'd go to see serious drama with serious actors who weren't just, heaven forbid, movie stars. The Broadway theater considered Hollywood crass and inferior; in this movie, Hollywood turns the tables. All About Eve shines a spotlight on the conflict between the stage and Hollywood, and the behind-the-scenes drama of a celebrity vs. her art.

    Questions About Art and Culture

    1. Does Margo value the art of acting more than celebrity? What about Eve?
    2. Why has the professional relationship between Lloyd and Margo been successful for so many years? Why is there now tension between playwright and actress?
    3. Addison, a critic, says he is "essential to the theater." Do you agree? What would theater be without critics?
    4. What other performing arts does this film remind you of? How would the movie be different if set in Hollywood, or a dance company?

    Chew on This

    In All About Eve, Hollywood makes fun of Broadway in a Hollywood movie about Broadway making fun of Hollywood.

    Eve goes to Hollywood because she knows that's her best shot at super-celebrity, no matter what she says about her devotion to the theater.

  • Youth

    In 1950, Margo Channing was constantly criticized in the press for being too old for the roles she played. In 2015, 37-year-old Maggie Gyllenhaal was deemed "too old" to play love interest to a 55-year-old man (source). My, how far we haven't come since 1950. One reason All About Eve still resonates today is its sharp commentary on age, especially in showbiz, where a 37-year-old woman is about 77 in Hollywood years. If our culture in general is youth-obsessed, then we demand eternal youth from our idols, particular the female variety. Of course there are exceptions like Meryl Streep and Helen Mirren, but they're the…exceptions.

    Questions About Youth

    1. Is Margo "too old" to play the roles Lloyd writes for her? What's the solution? Should they find a younger actress or should Lloyd write roles for older actors?
    2. Why is Margo insecure about the eight-year age difference between herself and Bill? What if the ages were reversed? How would their relationship differ?
    3. How has age discrimination in the entertainment business changed in the years since All About Eve premiered? Has it changed at all?

    Chew on This

    All About Eve is a paradox. It's a film about how there are no roles for aging actresses, yet it stars an older actress in one of her most iconic roles. Art imitated life for Bette Davis.

    The older men in the movie—Max Fabian, Addison— have success and clout and are hardly concerned about their ages. It's the women who have the cause to worry. Bill never worries about being taken seriously in the biz just because he's only 32.

  • Manipulation

    Actors are masters of manipulation; it's how they make their livings. Christian Bale isn't really Batman. Zoe Saldana isn't a blue alien (or a green one). Julianne Moore isn't really the most amazing woman on the planet. (Just kidding, she is.) Where does the acting end and the real person begin? The performers in All About Eve grapple with this question, some of them manipulating others intentionally, and some of them unsure how to stop manipulating themselves.

    Questions About Manipulation

    1. Eve is full of lies. Do you ever believe anything she says? What about Eve is genuine, and what is an act?
    2. How do Eve and Addison use each other to manipulate Margo and pals? When Addison catches on, how does he manipulate Eve? And why? What does Addison have to gain?
    3. Why does Karen decide to trick Margo into missing her performance? Why does she side with Eve in this instance? Was Eve just using Karen?

    Chew on This

    Margo has been an actress for so long, she's confused herself with "Margo Channing" the legend.

    Eve deserves her Sarah Siddons Award because she is a fantastic actress. She tricked everyone into believing she was a decent person.

  • Admiration

    People worship celebrities. They're not called "stars" because they're hot balls of burning gas… (okay, some of them are.) They're stars because they seem to be on a different level than the rest of us, something for us lowly humans to literally look up to. Most celebrities crave attention and we're happy to give it to them. Where's the line between admiration and obsession, though? Wherever it is, in All About Eve, Eve definitely crosses it. The ruthless quest for fame and adulation is one of the film's main themes. Eve thinks fame will make her immortal, but…oh, wait. We're still talking about Bette Davis' performance 65 years later, aren't we…

    Questions About Admiration

    1. Eve wins an acting award even though earlier she had been blacklisted by Margo's friends. What changed? Do her other peers actually admire her acting?
    2. Aside from acting, does anyone respect Eve after everything she does? Does Addison actually respect Eve in his own weird way?
    3. What do Bill and Margo admire about each other despite all their conflict?

    Chew on This

    Eve truly admires Margo, but that doesn't stop her from using Margo to her own advantage.

    Eve doesn't really admire Margo—she just wants what she has. She's emotionally incapable of genuine human emotion.

  • Women and Femininity

    All About Eve is filled with strong women characters—Margo Channing is as powerful, outspoken, and successful as they come. She's got a younger boyfriend. She's tough as nails. Screenwriter Joseph Mankiewicz hated the fact that older women actresses had few career options, and that's what appealed to him about the story (source). Is this a feminist film, then?

    Nope. Margo gives up her lofty ambitions when she gets married; she turns down a new play to spend time with Bill and tells Karen that a woman is nobody without a man to wake up next to. She finally gets her priorities straight. It's 1950, after all. Bette Davis said that one reason her marriages failed is that her husbands got tired of being "Mr. Davis." (Source)

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. Are women in the entertainment industry treated differently today than they were in the time of All About Eve?
    2. Why does Margo leave acting in favor of being a wife?
    3. Does Karen actually have any influence over her husband?
    4. Would All About Eve work if the genders were reversed, if it were about male actors instead of female actors?

    Chew on This

    The film's message is that women really can't "have it all." That they even don't really want it all.

    All About Eve may actually seem anti-feminist— Eve is conniving, Margo chooses wifehood over a career, etc.— but the movie features three strong female leads, which is something you can't say about many modern-day dramas.