‘All About Eve’ and the Gay Marriage of Careerism

In “Lost Movie Reviews From the Autostraddle Archives” we revisit past lesbian, bisexual, and queer classics that we hadn’t reviewed before, but you shouldn’t miss. This week is Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve.


The Michael Powell and Emeric Pressburger 1948 masterpiece The Red Shoes is often discussed as a tale of a woman torn between her love and her art. Domineering company director Boris Lermontov has a rule: His dancers cannot marry. And, when first hired, Victoria Page would make any sacrifice to dance. “Why do you want to dance?” Boris asks her. “Why do you want to live?” she shoots back. “Well, I don’t know exactly why, but I must,” he replies. “That’s my answer too,” Vicky says and a look of recognition, of connection, of community, of family spreads across Boris’ face.

Unfortunately for Boris, this single-minded focus doesn’t last. After becoming a star, Vicky begins an affair with hotshot composer Julian Caster. To fall in love and marry is the ultimate betrayal for Boris. It’s not the distraction as he claims — it’s the othering. When his dancers choose a life beyond dance, it’s a reminder that he cannot. His desire to control his dancers is a desire to fend off loneliness.

For Vicky, the film is about choosing between her art and her love. For Boris, the film is about the limited options for queer people in the 40’s. His sexuality is never explicitly stated, but there’s a reason why he and his male dancers are able to commit their entire lives to dance in lieu of a family. Boris is not making a choice — a choice is being made for him. And when Vicky makes a choice other than his fate, it emphasizes his lack. If he had her choice, maybe he’d do the same.

Two years later, another film about love and life on the stage captured the fervor of Hollywood. Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s All About Eve was nominated for 14 Oscars — tied for the most ever — and won 6 including Best Picture. It also cemented itself in the canon of Hollywood movies with undeniable queer subtext.

Based on a short story by Mary Orr, All About Eve is about aging stage legend — and by that I mean 40 — Margo Channing (Bette Davis) and the young Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) who infiltrates Channing’s inner circle in order to become a star. At first, Eve seems like a sincere kid, a fan who just wants to work for her idol. But, in time, her ambitions reveal themselves. She doesn’t want to be like Margo Channing — she wants to take her place altogether.

Eve becomes a manifestation of Margo’s greatest fears. There is someone younger and just as talented ready to steal her friends, her boyfriend, her roles, and — gasp! — even her awards. The arc for Margo is to grow beyond these fears in the face of their fulfillment. She gives up trying to play roles too young for her and she lets go of her jealousies. Margo’s happy ending is abandoning her careerism in order to appreciate the more important things in life. Margo Channing gets married.

Audiences have long read queerness onto Eve due to her obsession with Margo and a brief moment when she’s seen walking upstairs with her “roommate.” She also fits into the trope of the conniving lesbian — a vampire feasting on Margo’s life instead of her blood. Like in any number of lesbian vampire movies, Margo must resist the urge to return Eve’s obsession and instead marry a man.

But Eve is not the only queer character. She’s joined by acerbic theatre critic Addison Dewitt (George Sanders) who pals around in Margo’s circle even as he ruins their lives with his column. Dewitt has relationships with women, but only for professional advancement. He wants to make stars so the stars are indebted to him, so he can feel powerful and like he belongs in this world.

At a party Dewitt says, “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.” The heterosexuals around him aren’t so sure. For them, there is a life beyond theatre, an ability to assimilate into the regular family structures of society. Dewitt cannot. Like Boris Lermontov, Dewitt is married to the stage. The abnormality he speaks about isn’t a love of theatre — it’s his queerness.

In this context, Eve becomes less of a flat villain and more of an anti-hero. Who can blame her for doing everything she possibly can to get the one life available to her? When denied a spouse and children and acceptance into normal society, it’s understandable she would lie, cheat, and steal her way to a successful career.

Even in 2024 when it’s much easier to be queer, I see echoes of Eve and Boris in myself. I can legally get married, but I can’t have biological children, and my version of queerness places me outside daily normative structures. Therefore, career still feels like the primary area of societal success I can still achieve. The challenge is to let go of this way of thinking, to form new family with my partner and my friends. To strive for career success, while not losing my humanity along the way.

The entirety of All About Eve takes place over the course of a year. Eve Harrington goes from fan to award winner almost overnight. When the film ends with a fan of hers eager to continue the cycle, we’re meant to view Eve as a woman doomed to a life of misery by her own ambition. But what if, in time, she finds balance despite her limited options? What if as she gets older and settles into her fame, she is able to remove the award from her heart and fill it with feeling?

I think about the woman walking up the stairs beside her. What was their relationship? We’ve seen Eve build a career, but can she build something else? You don’t have to get married to find your family. Sometimes family is your roommate, your lover, your co-stars. Boris tried so hard to hold onto Vicky, when his male dancers were right there eager to share his life. We can all find companions who share our limitations. We can even realize those limitations are our gifts.


All About Eve is available to rent

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Drew Burnett Gregory

Drew is a Brooklyn-based writer, filmmaker, and theatremaker. She is a Senior Editor at Autostraddle with a focus in film and television, sex and dating, and politics. Her writing can also be found at Bright Wall/Dark Room, Cosmopolitan UK, Refinery29, Into, them, and Knock LA. She was a 2022 Outfest Screenwriting Lab Notable Writer and a 2023 Lambda Literary Screenwriting Fellow. She is currently working on a million film and TV projects mostly about queer trans women. Find her on Twitter and Instagram.

Drew Burnett has written 538 articles for us.

4 Comments

  1. I know this is a nitpick, but your assessment of The Red Shoes is missing essential historical context. Boris is based on the real-life director of the Ballet Russes (George Balanchine’s mentor, who continued the cycle of abuse at New York City Ballet) and the narrative is more indicative of Kate Chopin’s The Awakening. Both Vicky’s lover turned husband and her boss are maintaining a psychosexual grip on her, attempting to control her for their own purposes while her primary desire is self-actualisation through an inherently ephemeral and deeply personal art form. To claim that Boris’ decree that his dancers remain unmarried is because of his own sexuality being thwarted really absolves him of the very intentional sexual menace he directs towards all his dancers and Vicky in particular. Given the way the film reflects dynamics within the ballet world that haven’t fundamentally changed in a century or more, it seems to me that your interpretation willfully misunderstands a character who doesn’t deserve the sympathy you’ve ascribed to him. Again, a nitpick, but I’m a dance historian and this is extremely important.

    • I appreciate that historical context! I do! But I think actor Anton Walbrook’s own homosexuality detaches the character Boris from the initial historic inspiration. Whether or not the Archers intended it to read this way or not, I think Walbrook changed the character. Boris, the character as we see on-screen, has never felt sexually drawn to Vicky or the other female dancers. To me, at least.

      And I don’t think this negates the fraught narrative for Vicky! Kind of like how Mrs. Danvers’ queerness doesn’t negate sympathy for the second Mrs. de Winter in Rebecca.

  2. Could it be that the whole story about Jenny (as a director of Lez girls) and her assistant in the L word was inspired by All about Eve?
    I didn’t know about that movie but now it makes a lot more sense!

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