The Wisdom of Eve, the short story by Mary Orr that All About Eve is based on, ends with Eve possessing a Hollywood contract and the beguiled Lloyd Richards, with no sign of an oncoming comeuppance. The film ends with Eve coerced into a (no doubt) corrosive marriage to Addison de Witt, with her own hanger-on, Phoebe, ready to undermine and use her as Eve did to Margo.
You could say that the film’s ending is an example of the moralistic demands that the Hollywood Production Code enforced upon filmmakers; bad behaviour couldn’t be left unpunished and love couldn’t be thwarted. Maybe that’s true, but I like it for a couple of reasons. Firstly, it’s a relief that Margo, the older woman, is not abandoned by her friends and younger lover. Who doesn’t want a happy ending for Margo? She’s weathered Eve’s assaults, she’s set to marry Bill, and she’s accepted her age and the effect it will have on her career.
Secondly, the scene where Addison exposes Eve’s lies and forces her to obey him is a crackling piece of sadomasochism that lets Anne Baxter show another side of Eve, and surely won George Sanders his Supporting Actor Oscar. It’s hard not to like Addison, but if he’s not going to be pals with Margo, it’s still satisfying to see him punish Eve in a way that almost seems to be on Margo’s behalf.
What about that coda, though? Is it too much? Too literal, too long, too obvious? Should the film have ended with Margo telling Eve where she can put that award before striding out of the room and locking lips with Bill as credits roll? Well… yes. Though that ending might make it even more uncomfortable that Lloyd and Karen have reconciled. And the coda does give us (in addition to more potential fodder for the reading that Eve prefers her lovers to be women) one clever moment. The final shot may have been influenced by the ending of Orson Welles’ The Lady From Shanghai, but those infinite reflections still make a statement about Hollywood and its Eves, and give an evocative image on which to end the film.