Great films IIII
Great films IIII http://www.filmsite.org
All About Eve (1950), is a realistic, dramatic depiction of show business and backstage life of Broadway and the New York theater. The devastating debunking of stage and theatrical characters was based on the short story and radio play The Wisdom of Eve by Mary Orr. A cinematic masterpiece and one of the all-time classic films, this award winner has flawless acting, directing, an intelligent script and believable characters. The film is driven by Mankiewicz’ witty, cynical and bitchy screenplay – through the character of Addison DeWitt, Mankiewicz represented his point of view and opinions about show business. Thematically, it provides an insightful diatribe against crafty, aspiring, glib, autonomous female thespians who seek success and ambition at any cost without regard to scruples or feelings. The acclaimed film also comments on the fear of aging and loss of power/fame.
It was nominated for fourteen awards – more than any other picture in Oscar history, until Titanic (1997) duplicated the same feat forty-seven years later. The skillful film won six Oscars: Best Picture, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Director (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Screenplay (Joseph L. Mankiewicz), Best Sound Recording, and Best B/W Costume Design. Four actresses in the film were nominated (and all lost). It holds the record for the film with the most female acting nominees:
- Best Actress (two) – Bette Davis and Anne Baxter
- Best Supporting Actress (two) – Celeste Holm and Thelma Ritter
Bette Davis’ leading (but not title) role as Margo Channing has generally been considered her greatest career performance and her most memorable, signature role. [Other choices for the role included Claudette Colbert, Gertrude Lawrence and Marlene Dietrich.] Her part as an aging, 40-year old Broadway actress fit the 42-year old Davis perfectly, at a time when acting roles were drying up for her. Davis played opposite co-star Gary Merrill – with whom she had an affair during filming, and soon married (it was her fourth – and last – marriage, that lasted from 1950-1960) after waiting for each other’s divorce.
The film was adapted and transformed into a Broadway play called Applause in 1970, with Lauren Bacall (later replaced by Anne Baxter!) as Margo Channing. Eddie (Ed) Fisher’s sole scene was cut from the final version, although he still received screen credit as Stage Manager. The film is often noted as a “three suicide movie,” for the deaths of George Sanders, Marilyn Monroe (although it may have been an accidental overdose), and Barbara Bates.
The film opens with the image of an award trophy, described in voice-over by an off-camera, muted voice:
The Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement is perhaps unknown to you. It has been spared the sensational and commercial publicity that attends such questionable ‘honors’ as the Pulitzer Prize – and those awards presented annually by that film society.
We are informed about the setting – where we are and why. The elite of the theatrical world attend the annual presentation of the enviable Sarah Siddons Award for dramatic achievement in the theatre:
This is the dining hall of the Sarah Siddons Society. The occasion is its annual banquet and presentation of the highest honor our theater knows – the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement…The minor awards, as you can see, have already been presented. Minor awards are for such as the writer and director [playwright Lloyd Richards and director Bill Sampson are briefly viewed] since their function is merely to construct a tower so that the world can applaud a light which flashes on top of it. And no brighter light has ever dazzled the eye than Eve Harrington. Eve. But more of Eve later, all about Eve, in fact.
The cynical, caustic, acid-tongued New York drama critic Addison De Witt (George Sanders) introduces himself before going further:
To those of you who do not read, attend the theater, listen to unsponsored radio programs or know anything of the world in which you live – it is perhaps necessary to introduce myself. My name is Addison De Witt. My native habitat is the theater. In it, I toil not, neither do I spin. I am a critic and commentator. I am essential to the theater.
The narrator, De Witt introduces (in voice-over) a number of other main characters in the ceremony’s audience at the same table, including Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), wife of playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe):
She is the wife of a playwright, therefore of the theatre by marriage. Nothing in her background or breeding should have brought her any closer to the stage than Row E, Center. However, during her senior year at Radcliffe, Lloyd Richards lectured on the drama. The following year, Karen became Mrs. Lloyd Richards.
The next individual at the table to be introduced is Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff), the theatrical producer of the play which has won the award for Eve:
There are in general two types of theatrical producers. One has a great many wealthier friends who will risk a tax deductible loss. This type is interested in art. The other is one to whom each production means potential ruin or fortune. This type is out to make a buck.
Finally, there is Broadway actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis):
Margo Channing is a Star of the Theater. She made her first stage appearance, at the age of four, in Midsummer Night’s Dream. She played a fairy and entered – quite unexpectedly – stark naked. She has been a Star ever since. Margo is a great Star. A true star. She never was or will be anything less or anything else.
Miss Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), an actress who we soon learn “all about” in flashback, is being honored as the youngest recipient ever to win the Sarah Siddons Award as Best Actress – “such a young lady, young in years, but whose heart is as old as the theater. Some of us are privileged to know her. We have seen beyond the beauty and artistry that have made her name resound through the nation.” From the reactions of audience members who have been introduced – false smiles, unmoving faces, cynical looks, and unapplauding hands, one senses the sham of the awards ceremony for Eve:
We know her humility, her devotion, her loyalty to her art, her love, her deep and abiding love for us, for what we are and what we do, the theater. She has had one wish, one prayer, one dream – to belong to us. Tonight, her dream has come true. And henceforth, we shall dream the same of her.
As the glamorous Eve rises in a regal manner to triumphantly accept the award, the voice-over continues – as she reaches out for the award, the shot freeze-frames:
Eve. Eve the Golden Girl, the Cover Girl, the Girl Next Door, the Girl on the Moon. Time has been good to Eve. Life goes where she goes. She’s the profiled, covered, revealed, reported. What she eats and what she wears and whom she knows and where she was, and when and where she’s going. Eve. You all know All About Eve. What can there be to know that you don’t know?
In the remainder of the film, events from early October to June which led to the award ceremony are unfolded through the thoughts and actions of each important character that is in attendance.
Karen Richards, the playwright’s wife (“a lowest form of celebrity”), and Margo Channing’s best friend, relates that Eve began her life in the theater as an innocent, forlorn, star-struck fan, haunting the theater where her idol appeared, watching every performance and waiting in the back alley to see her idol arrive and leave. She worships one of Broadway’s mega-stars, actress Margo Channing, who is appearing in producer Max Fabian’s play Aged in Wood – directed by the star’s lover Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). Eve (“another tongue-tied gushing fan”) is given the opportunity to meet her idol backstage following an evening performance.
Inside the theatre, the starry-eyed, stage-struck girl wanders around: “You can breathe it, can’t you? Like some magic perfume.” In Margo’s backstage dressing room, Karen is envious of Margo’s theatrical success: “You’re talented, famous, wealthy, people waiting around night after night, just to see you, even in the wind and the rain.” But Margo doesn’t think much of her fans and audience:
Autograph fiends, they’re not people. Those are little beasts that run around in packs like coyotes…They’re nobody’s fans. They’re juvenile delinquent, they’re mental defective, and nobody’s audience. They never see a play or a movie even. They’re never indoors long enough.
Karen begs Margo to see one of her adoring “indoors” fans: “Oh, but you can’t put her out. I promised. Margo, you’ve got to see her. She worships you. It’s like something out of a book…You’re her whole life.” Eve, seen in the alley’s shadows as “the mousy one with the trench coat and a funny hat,” is ushered into the dressing room and introduced to Margo – with unflattering cold cream on her face. The young girl Eve responds passionately toward the play: “I’ve seen every performance…I’d like anything Miss Channing played in…I think that part of Miss Channing’s greatness lies in her ability to pick the best plays.”
In a classic scene, wet-eyed Eve uses her captivating, acting abilities to tell her dressing room audience the hard-luck, melancholy tale of her life story which began in Wisconsin as an only child. “But somehow, acting and make believe began to fill up my life more and more. It got so I couldn’t tell the real from the unreal. Except that the unreal seemed more real to me.”
Her father was a poor farmer, so to help out, she quit school, moved to Milwaukee, and became a secretary – in a brewery. “…it’s pretty hard to make believe you are anyone else. Everything is beer.” There was a little theatre group there – “like a drop of rain on the desert.” Purportedly, she married Eddie, a radio technician, and during the war, he flew in the Air Force in the South Pacific. She learned she was a war widow when she was in San Francisco. Stranded, she remained there, found a job, and lived off her deceased husband’s insurance. She saved herself from devastation by attending Margo’s performances:
And there were theatres in San Francisco. And then one night, Margo Channing came to play in Remembrance and I went to see it. Well, here I am.
She had followed her acting idol from San Francisco across the country – with theatrical aspirations of her own to become a big star on Broadway. Eve’s calculated, guileless manipulation of Margo’s vanity and sentiments help her maneuver her way into Margo’s life. Everyone is taken by lovely Eve’s shy charm, helplessness, naivete, lack of pretention and passion. But Margo’s maid, friend and companion Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter) reacts sarcastically and skeptically to Eve’s fabricated, ingratiating “make-believe” image and stories:
What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end.
Margo criticizes her maid for showing outspoken callousness toward Eve:
There are some human experiences, Birdie, that do not take place in a vaudeville house – and that even a fifth-rate vaudevillian should understand and respect!
Margo’s fiancee-to-be, theatrical director Bill Sampson, a show business veteran and one of Margo’s inner circle, is on his way to Hollywood for a month-long stay and a one-picture deal: “Zanuck is impatient. He wants me, he needs me.” The earnest young woman Eve, who professes to admire Margo, quickly endears herself to the stage star, earning her a place in the star’s inner circle. Margo encourages her to “stick around” for flattery’s sake.
In flashback, Karen remembers that eventful evening: “And I’ll never forget you, Eve.” Sampson defines the word theater for Eve:
The theatuh, the theatuh – what book of rules says the theater exists only within some ugly buildings crowded into one square mile of New York City? Or London, Paris, or Vienna? Listen, junior. And learn. Want to know what the theater is? A flea circus. Also opera. Also rodeos, carnivals, ballets, Indian tribal dances, Punch and Judy, a one-man band – all theater. Wherever there’s magic and make-believe and an audience – there’s theater. Donald Duck, Ibsen, and the Lone Ranger. Sarah Bernhardt and Poodles Hanneford, Lunt and Fontanne, Betty Grable, Rex the Wild Horse, Eleanora Duse – they’re all theater. You don’t understand them, you don’t like them all – why should you? The theater’s for everybody – you included, but not exclusively – so don’t approve or disapprove. It may not be your theater, but it’s theater for somebody, somewhere…It’s just that there’s so much bourgeois in this ivory greenroom they call the theater. Sometimes it gets up around my chin.
Margo accompanies director/lover Bill (with Eve tailing along) to the airport as he prepares to leave for Hollywood – even he admits to being taken by Eve’s personality: “She’s quite a girl, this what’s-her-name…That lack of pretense, that sort of strange directness and understanding.” In the beginning, Margo also develops a protective attitude toward Eve. She confesses to Bill her feelings for the innocent kid: “Suddenly, I’ve developed a big protective feeling for her. A lamb loose in our big stone jungle.” Before Bill leaves, she also betrays her insecurities about aging – she fears losing him – a man eight years her younger – to a youthful actress:
Margo: Bill, don’t get stuck on some glamour-puss.
Bill: I’ll try.
Margo: You’re not much of a bargain, you know. You’re conceited, and faultless and messy.
Bill: Well, everybody can’t be Gregory Peck.
Margo: You’re a set-up for some gorgeous, wide-eyed young bait.
Bill: How childish are you going to get before you stop it?
Margo: I don’t want to be childish. I’ll settle for a few years.
Bill: Then cut that out right now.
Margo: Am I going to lose you, Bill? Am I?
Bill: As of this moment, you’re six years old. (Eve interrupts their kiss.)
Margo befriends Eve and takes her under her wing – she invites Eve into her home and gives her a job as her confidential assistant/secretary: “That night, we sent for Eve’s things. Her few pitiful possessions. She moved into the little guest room on the top floor. The next three weeks were out of a fairy tale and I was Cinderella in the last act.” Eve begins to take over – Margo remembers that Eve ingratiated herself into every aspect of her life – as a Gal Friday: “Eve became my sister, lawyer, mother, friend, psychiatrist, and cop. The honeymoon was on.”
After another stage performance and attentiveness from Eve, Margo tells Birdie: “You bought the new girdle a size smaller. I can feel it.” Birdie replies: “Somethin’ maybe grew a size larger.” Birdie comments on her relationship to her boss:
I haven’t got a union. I’m slave labor.
In contrast, Birdie smells trouble, and points out that Eve is assisting in things that should be done by theatrical union members. Margo catches Eve admiring herself in front of a mirror with her own stage costume – at first, she understands Eve’s envy for her career. Birdie, however, warns Margo that Eve is not what she seems and that she is being conned. Even though she works “night and day” and is loyal and efficient – “like an agent with only one client,” she is also obsessed and fascinated with Margo:
I’ll tell ya how, like, like she’s studyin’ you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints. How you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep.
Margo’s sympathy for Eve slowly turns into alienation and hostility. To Margo’s surprise, Eve has already anticipated and planned a welcome home (from Los Angeles) and belated birthday party for Bill (“a night to go down in history”), to be attended by all the leading lights of the New York theatrical world. Paranoid and suspicious, Margo smells “disaster in the air” even before the party begins. Margo is also upset with all the attention that Bill is paying to Eve in the downstairs living room – before even saying hello. She senses Eve’s conniving methods, as she overhears Bill tell Eve about the time he looked into the wrong end of a movie camera finder. Fearful that Eve is turning her attentions toward her own boyfriend, Margo sarcastically breaks up their conversation: “Remind me to tell you about the time I looked into the heart of an artichoke.”
Margo is clearly plagued by jealousy, “age obsession” and “paranoiac insecurity” and acerbic toward Eve – “she’s a girl with so many interests.” When Margo questions Eve’s motivations, qualities, posturings, and character with some jealousy, Bill accuses her of being unreasonable and temperamental:
Bill: We [he and Eve] started talking. She wanted to know about Hollywood. She seemed so interested.
Margo: She’s a girl of so many interests.
Bill: A pretty rare quality these days.
Margo: A girl of so many rare qualities.
Bill: So she seems.
Margo: So you’ve pointed out so often. So many qualities so often. Her loyalty, efficiency, devotion, warmth, and affection, and so young. So young and so fair.
Bill: I can’t believe you’re making this up…Of course it’s funny. This is all too laughable to be anything else. You know what I feel about this age obsession of yours. And now this ridiculous attempt to whip yourself up into a jealous froth because I spent ten minutes with a stage-struck kid.
Bill: Thirty minutes, forty minutes, what of it?
Margo: Stage-struck kid! She’s a young lady of quality. And I’ll have you know I’m fed up with both the young lady and her qualities. Studying me as if I were a play or a blueprint, how I walk, talk, think, act, sleep.
Bill: Now, how can you take offense at a kid trying in every way to be as much like her ideal as possible?
Margo: Stop calling her a kid. As it happens, there are particular aspects of my life to which I would like to maintain sole and exclusive rights and privileges.
Bill: For instance what?
Margo: For instance you.
Bill: This is my cue to take you in my arms and reassure you. But I’m not going to. I’m too mad…
Margo: (interrupting) Guilty.
Bill: …Mad! Darling, there are certain characteristics for which you are famous onstage and off. I love you for some of them in spite of others. I haven’t let those become too important. They’re part of your equipment for getting along in what is laughingly called our environment. You have to keep your teeth sharp, all right. But I will not have you sharpen them on me – or on Eve.
Margo: What about her teeth? What about her fangs?
Bill: She hasn’t cut them yet, and you know it! So when you start judging an idealistic, dreamy-eyed kid by the barroom benzedrine standards of this megalomaniac society, I won’t have it. Eve Harrington has never by a word, a look, or a suggestion indicated anything to me but her adoration for you and her happiness at our being in love. And to intimate anything else doesn’t spell jealousy to me. It spells out paranoiac insecurity that you should be ashamed of.
Margo: Cut! Brilliant! What happens in the next reel? Do I get dragged off screaming to the snake pit?
When the guests begin to arrive, Margo is again reminded of everyone’s high regard for Eve. Lloyd Richards lauds her: “I like that girl, that quality of quiet graciousness.” Karen also reinforces their regard for Eve:
Karen: Margo, nothing you’ve ever done has made me as happy as your taking Eve in.
Margo: I’m so happy you’re happy.
Margo begins to get roaring drunk and feels “Macbethish” in mood – she snidely calls Eve “the Kid” and “Junior,” feeling menaced by the deceptive young actress. At the height of her bitchery, she warns some of the birthday party guests about what to expect in the film’s most famous line – it is delivered as a lip-sneering, nasty admonition:
Lloyd: It’s very Macbethish. What has or is about to happen?
Margo: What is he talking about?
Karen: We know you. We’ve seen you like this before. Is it over or is it just beginning?
Margo: (after gulping down another martini and marching to the staircase) Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.
Margo informs theater critic Addison De Witt as he arrives that she was distinctly certain that she had removed his name from the guest list for the party. He caustically tells the aging Broadway actress to grow up:
Dear Margo. You were an unforgettable Peter Pan. You must play it again soon.
To Margo, De Witt introduces his protege/date of the moment, a bimbo date and so-called actress named Miss Casswell (Marilyn Monroe) in another very famous line:
Miss Casswell is an actress, a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art.
Eve is also introduced to De Witt as having “a great interest in the theatre,” though she feels inadequate in the famed critic’s presence:
Eve: I’m afraid Mr. De Witt would find me boring before too long.
Miss Casswell: (clarifying) You won’t bore him, honey. You won’t even get a chance to talk.
De Witt points out producer Max Fabian to starlet Miss Casswell and instructs her as he removes her white furrish shoulder wrap to expose her strapless dress with cleavage. She responds that all theatrical producers look like “unhappy rabbits”:
De Witt: Do you see that man? That’s Max Fabian, the producer. Now go and do yourself some good.
Miss Casswell: Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?
De Witt: Because that’s what they are. Now go and make him happy.
De Witt escorts Eve into the party, leaving Margo at the stairs drinking another martini. Getting more drunk [with alcoholic embalming fluid] and morbid, she prefers to hear only sad tunes on the piano as she sits on the piano bench next to the piano player. She insists that he play the same sad song, Liebestraum, for the fifth “straight time.” Bill joins her and asks about viewing the body – a comment about the funeral atmosphere hanging over the supposedly ‘happy birthday’ party. Margo is depressed about her age (in contrast to Eve’s youthful vitality) and has remained that way to spite Bill:
Bill: Many of your guests have been wondering when they may be permitted to view the body. Where has it been laid out?
Margo: It hasn’t been laid out. We haven’t finished with the embalming. As a matter of fact, you’re looking at it – the remains of Margo Channing, sitting up. It is my last wish to be buried sitting up.
She later criticizes the heartlessness of critic De Witt, when Max describes his heartburn: “Everybody has a heart, except some people.”
In the pantry, Margo promises her faithful producer Max that she will consider Miss Casswell (De Witt’s protege) as a replacement for her understudy, and will read with her during the audition to be held in a few weeks. As a swap of favors, since Margo hopes to get Eve out of her life as gracefully as possible, Margo asks Max to give Eve a job in his office, but he initially objects: “I wouldn’t think of taking that girl away from you…What would she do?…I don’t think it’s such a good idea.” After some prodding, Max accepts her suggestion.
Eve has effectively played upon Margo’s fear of getting old. The aging actress expresses her doubts about her age to playwright Lloyd, especially in playing the lead character of Cora, a young ‘twenty-ish’ woman, in his new play:
Lloyd, I am not twenty-ish. I am not thirty-ish. Three months ago, I was forty years old. Forty. Four oh – That slipped out. I hadn’t quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I’ve taken all my clothes off.
She is beginning to glimpse the downward slope and is haunted by the specter of growing old, especially when compared to her younger Bill: “Bill’s thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago. He’ll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.”
Upstairs in the bedroom toward the end of the party, Eve manipulates her way into getting an audition as Margo’s new understudy (her current one was pregnant) with the help of the playwright’s wife Karen. Even though there is never any need for an understudy, because Margo never misses a performance (“Margo just doesn’t miss performances. If she can walk, crawl, or roll, she plays…Margo must go on”) Karen promises to put in a good word for her with producer Max Fabian – without Margo’s knowledge.
Birdie enters the bedroom and describes the bed full of furs belonging to the guests at the party: “The bed looks like a dead animal act.” Birdie takes an expensive sable coat from the bed down the stairs to its departing owner, a Hollywood movie star (“she’s on her way with half the men in the joint”).
On the stairs, De Witt is holding forth to Bill, Miss Casswell, Max, and Eve:
Every now and then some elder statesman of the theater or cinema assures the public that actors and actresses are just plain folks. Ignoring the fact that their greatest attraction to the public is their complete lack of resemblance to normal human beings.
Distracted by the sable coat passing by in Birdie’s arms, Miss Casswell describes what she would sacrifice herself for:
Miss Casswell: Now there’s something a girl could make sacrifices for.
Bill: And probably has.
Miss Casswell: Sable.
Max Fabian: Sable? Did she say sable or Gable?
Miss Casswell: Either one.
De Witt continues to talk about theater matters – “we’re a breed apart from the rest of humanity, we theatre folk. We are the original displaced personalities.” Miss Casswell interrupts him:
Miss Casswell: Oh, waiter!
De Witt: That isn’t a waiter, my dear. That’s a butler.
Miss Casswell: Well, I can’t yell, ‘Oh, butler!’ can I? Maybe somebody’s name is Butler.
De Witt: You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point.
Miss Casswell: I don’t want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.
Max: Leave it to me. I’ll get you one.
Miss Casswell: (smiling) Thank you, Mr. Fabian.
De Witt: (congratulatory) Well done. I can see your career rising in the east like the sun.
Bill describes what it takes to be a good actor or actress in the theater – hard work, sweat, application of craftsmanship, and sheer desire:
Bill: To be a good actor or actress or anything else in the theatre means wanting to be that more than anything else in the world.
Eve (softly): Yes, yes it does.
Bill: It means concentration of desire or ambition, and sacrifice such as no other profession demands. And I’ll agree that the man or woman who accepts those terms can’t be ordinary, can’t be just someone. To give so much for almost always so little.
Playing the wide-eyed innocent, Eve explains to them her insatiable love of acting and applause, and why she would be grateful for any part in the theater:
So little. So little, did you say? Why, if there’s nothing else, there’s applause. I’ve listened backstage to people applaud. It’s like, like waves of love coming over the footlights and wrapping you up. Imagine to know, every night, that different hundreds of people love you. They smile. Their eyes shine. You’ve pleased them. They want you. You belong. Just that alone is worth anything.
As she is beginning to get wise to Eve, Margo becomes more and more angry, paranoid, competitive and jealous of Eve and her duplicity. Margo’s frequent barbed insults, invectives and outbursts in front of all her guests are misinterpreted by everyone as part of her prima donna role:
Margo: (to Eve) And please stop acting as if I were the Queen-Mother.
Eve: (apologetic) I’m sorry, I didn’t…
Bill: Outside of a beehive, Margo, your behavior would hardly be considered either queenly or motherly.
Margo: You’re in a beehive, pal. Didn’t you know? We’re all busy little bees, full of stings, making honey, day and night. (To Eve) Aren’t we, honey?
Karen: Margo, really.
Margo (to Karen): Please don’t play governess, Karen. I haven’t your unyielding good taste. I wish I could have gone to Radcliffe too, but father wouldn’t hear of it. He needed help behind the notions counter. I’m being rude now, aren’t I? Or should I say, ain’t I?
De Witt: (he compliments her) You’re maudlin and full of self-pity. You’re magnificent.
Lloyd: How about calling it a night?
Margo: And you pose as a playwright, a situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of is everybody go to sleep.
In front of onlookers assembled on the stairs, the party is about to be broken up – Margo argues with her own boyfriend:
This is my house, not a theatre. In my house, you’re a guest, not a director.
Karen is thoroughly upset with Margo’s insolent behavior: “Then stop being a star. And stop treating your guests as your supporting cast…It’s about time Margo realized that what’s attractive on stage need not necessarily be attractive off.” Margo leaves their company to go upstairs to bed, thrusting parting words at Bill on the stairs: “You be host. It’s your party. Happy Birthday, Welcome Home. And we who are about to die salute you.” De Witt is sorry to leave the drama prematurely: “Too bad, we’re gonna miss the third act. They’re gonna play it off stage.”
Gradually, the film audience begins to see how the conniving Eve has played tricks on her new-found ‘friends.’ Eve feigns upset, and wonders what she has done to offend Margo and cause such hostility (“there must be some reason, something I’ve done without knowing”). Karen reassures the devastated young woman: “The reason is Margo, and don’t try to figure it out. Einstein couldn’t.” As she leaves, Eve insistently reminds Karen about her promise to aid her in becoming Margo’s replacement understudy.
A few weeks later, Margo arrives in the theatre lobby [next door to another theatre playing The Devil’s Disciple, a not-too-obvious reference to Eve herself], too late at 4 pm. to witness Miss Casswell’s audition for Aged in Wood that she had promised Max she would attend. She learns from De Witt that following the audition, the young nervous starlet was “violently ill to her tummy” in the ladies lounge. Then, Margo is stunned that Eve – as her “new and unpregnant understudy” – read in her place during Miss Casswell’s audition. De Witt then speaks reverently, after years of experience, to Margo about the truly great thespians from the past and present, and one beautiful actress that will be among them in the future:
…I have lived in the theater as a Trappist monk lives in his faith. I have no other world; no other life – and once in a great while, I experience that moment of revelation for which all true believers wait and pray. You were one. Jeanne Eagels another, Paula Wessely, Hayes. There are others, three or four. Eve Harrington will be among them.
De Witt takes perverse pleasure in telling Margo his self-serving opinion of Eve’s understudy performance – one that mesmerized the producer, director, and playwright:
De Witt: It wasn’t a reading. It was a performance. Brilliant, vivid, something made of music and fire.
Margo: How nice.
De Witt: In time, she’ll be what you are.
Margo: A mass of music and fire.
Lloyd reacted with great enthusiasm to the audition and especially to Eve’s reading – “Lloyd was beside himself. He listened to his play as if it had been written by someone else, he said. It sounded so fresh, so new, so full of meaning…She (Eve) read his lines exactly as he had written them.”
Miss Casswell emerges wobbly and weak-kneed from the ladies lounge in the lobby, telling De Witt that she feels like she just “swam the English Channel” after an awful audition:
Miss Casswell: Now what?
De Witt: Your next move, it seems to me, should be towards television.
Miss Casswell: Tell me this. Do they have auditions for television?
De Witt: That’s, uh, all television is, my dear. Nothing but auditions.
Margo storms into the theatre – she is furious when she finds out that during the audition, Eve “read with Miss Casswell” as Margo’s understudy since the star was late. And then she is told that Eve has been her understudy for over a week! The young actress had reluctantly accepted the understudy role as part of her overall calculated plan. According to playwright Lloyd, Eve “was a revelation” in the audition in the role of a twenty-four year old character – the potential displacement of her character by the younger actress (closer to the age of the stage character) incenses Margo and she threatens to abandon the performance in a “bar-room brawl” combative atmosphere. As he storms out of the theatre, Lloyd attempts to put temperamental actress Margo in her place by comparing her to a musical instrument for whom he has written a composition:
Margo: All playwrights should be dead for three hundred years!
Lloyd: That would solve none of their problems, because actresses never die. The stars never die and never change.
Margo: You may change this star any time you want for a new and fresh and exciting one, fully equipped with fire and music. Anytime you want, starting with tonight’s performance….
Lloyd: I shall never understand the weird process by which a body with a voice suddenly fancies itself as a mind. Just when exactly does an actress decide they’re her words she’s saying and her thoughts she’s expressing?
Margo: Usually at the point when she has to rewrite and rethink them to keep the audience from leaving the theatre.
Lloyd: It’s about time the piano realized it has not written the concerto!
Margo turns and speaks to Bill, her director and fiancee, who is lying on a bed on the stage set and smoking a cigarette: “And you, I take it, are the Paderewski who plays his concerto on me, the piano?” Margo refers to Eve as “Princess Fire and Music,” and refers to herself as “nothing but a body with a voice, no mind.” She also rails at him – she refuses to calm down and heavy-handedly berates him for scheming behind her back:
Bill: The gong rang, the fight’s over. Calm down.
Margo: I will not calm down.
Bill: Don’t calm down.
Margo: You’re being terribly tolerant, aren’t you?
Bill: I’m trying terribly hard.
Margo: But you needn’t be. I will not be tolerated and I will not be plotted against.
Bill: Here we go.
Margo: Such nonsense. What do you all take me for – Little Nell from the country? Been my understudy for over a week without my knowing it, carefully hidden no doubt.
Bill strikes back at the unglued Margo for her insane jealousy and frequent tantrums:
I am sick and tired of these paranoiac outbursts…For the last time, I’ll tell it to you. You’ve got to stop hurting yourself and me and the two of us by these paranoiac tantrums…You’re a beautiful and an intelligent woman, and a great actress. A great actress at the peak of her career. You have every reason for happiness…but due to some strange, uncontrollable, unconscious drive, you permit the slightest action of…a kid like Eve to turn you into an hysterical, screaming harpy. Now, once and for all, stop it!
Margo calms down enough to admit in a dignified way: “I’ll admit I may have seen better days, but I’m still not to be had for the price of a cocktail, like a salted peanut.” Bill gives Margo an ultimatum – her nonsensical outbursts and jealousy of Eve must cease and they must find peace. She remains suspicious of his motives, thinking that he is leaving to find Eve. So he walks out on her and the couple break up temporarily. The camera fades to black as she is left alone on the stage.
Karen aids Eve’s calculated rise and conquest of the stage a second time with a “perfectly harmless joke,” to teach Margo a lesson in humility after hearing from Lloyd about her rudeness: “She can play Peck’s Bad Boy all she wants and who’s to stop her? Who’s to give her that boot in the rear she needs and deserves?” Now sympathizing with Eve, Karen plots to create the circumstances for Margo to be stranded out of town on a “cozy weekend” night:
(In voice-over) Newton, they say, thought of gravity by getting hit on the head by an apple. And the man who invented the steam engine – he was watching a tea kettle. Not me. My big idea came to me just sitting on a couch. That boot in the rear to Margo. Heaven knows she had one coming. From me, from Lloyd, from Eve, Bill, Max, and so on. We’d all felt those size 5’s of hers often enough. But how? The answer was buzzing around me like a fly. I had it. But I let it go. Screaming and calling names is one thing, but this could mean…Why not? Why, I said to myself, not? It would all seem perfectly legitimate. And there were only two people in the world who would know. Also, the boot would land where it would do the most good for all concerned. And after all, it was no more than a perfectly harmless joke that Margo herself would be the first to enjoy. And no reason why she shouldn’t be told about it – in time.
While returning from a country place, Margo is unable to catch her train to get to the New York stage on time for her Monday evening performance. This allows Eve to go on stage in Margo’s place for the first time. Margo and Karen wait in the car that has conveniently run out of gas while Lloyd walks ahead. Margo has a moment of self-reflection about her real persona, full of weaknesses and vain insecurities. She really has no idea who she is beyond her public persona in the cannibalistic occupation of acting:
Margo: So many people know me. I wish I did. I wish someone would tell me about me.
Karen: You’re Margo, just Margo.
Margo: And what is that besides something spelled out in lightbulbs, I mean, besides something called a temperament which consists mostly of swooping about on a broomstick and screaming at the top of my voice. Infants behave the way I do, you know. They carry on and misbehave. They’d get drunk if they knew how, when they can’t have what they want. When they feel unwanted or insecure or unloved.
Letting her “hair down,” she also honestly describes how she has been hardened and has paid the price in human relationships, especially with Bill, by her successful exhibitionist career and her worries about aging:
Margo: Bill’s in love with Margo Channing. He’s fought with her, worked with her, and loved her. But ten years from now, Margo Channing will have ceased to exist. And what’s left will be – what?
Karen: Margo, Bill is all of eight years younger than you.
Margo: Those years stretch as the years go on. I’ve seen it happen too often.
Karen: Not to you, not to Bill.
Margo: Isn’t that what they always say?…About Eve, I’ve acted pretty disgracefully toward her too.
Margo: Don’t fumble for excuses, not here and now with my hair down. At best, let’s say I’ve been oversensitive to her…to the fact that she’s so young, so feminine and so helpless, too so many things I want to be for Bill. Funny business, a woman’s career. 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. There’s one career all females have in common – whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And, in the last analysis, nothing is any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed – and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a – a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain. The End.
Eve performs as the understudy in Margo’s absence. Knowing ahead of time that Margo would not be there to perform – even before the car ran out of fuel – Eve calculatedly invited all the top New York theater critics to her show that afternoon. According to De Witt, in voice-over:
Eve, of course, was superb. Many of the audience understandably preferred to return another time to see Margo. But those who remained cheered loudly, lustily, and long for Eve. How thoughtful of her to call and invite me that afternoon. And what a happy coincidence that several representatives of other newspapers happened to be present. All of us invited that afternoon to attend an understudy’s performance about which the management knew nothing until they were forced to ring up the curtain at nine o’clock. Coincidence.
De Witt overhears an encounter between Eve and Bill in her dressing room after her magnificent performance and theatrical debut. The young star ‘comes on’ to Bill with her big doe eyes, but he doesn’t consider himself a “Svengali” and rebuffs her tempting advances:
Bill: …you did it. With work and patience, you’ll be a good actress if that’s what you want to be.
Eve: (purring) Is that what you want me to be?
Bill: I’m talking about you and what you want.
Eve: So am I.
Bill: What have I got to do with it?
Bill: Names I’ve been called, but never Svengali. Good luck.
Eve: Don’t run away, Bill.
Bill: From what would I be running?
Eve: You’re always after truth on the stage. What about off?
Bill: I’m for it.
Eve: Then face it. I have. Ever since that first night here in this dressing room.
Bill: When I told you what every young actress should know?
Eve: When you told me that whatever I became, it would be because of you…
Bill: Makeup’s a little heavy.
Eve: …and for you.
Bill: You’re quite a girl.
Eve: You think?
Bill: I’m in love with Margo. Hadn’t you heard?
Eve: You hear all kinds of things.
Bill: I’m only human, rumors to the contrary. And I’m as curious as the next man.
Eve: Find out.
Bill: The only thing – what I go after, I want to go after. I don’t want it to come after me. (pause) Don’t cry. Just score it as an incomplete forward pass.
After Bill departs and Eve rips her wig from her head, De Witt enters and advises her to quit being so fake, modest and humble:
De Witt: But if I may make a suggestion…I think the time has come for you to shed some of your humility. It is just as false not to blow your horn at all as it is to blow it too loudly.
Eve: I don’t think I have anything to sound off about.
De Witt: We all come into this world with our little egos, equipped with individual horns. Now if we don’t blow them, who else will?
Eve: Even so, one pretty good performance by an understudy – it’ll be forgotten by tomorrow.
De Witt: It needn’t be.
Eve continues to exploit De Witt to the fullest – he invites her to dinner. As she changes her clothes, he gathers information from her for his column. There is so much he wants to know about her background, so he slyly asks about the start of her idolatrous emulation of Margo: “I’ve heard your story in bits and pieces – your home in Wisconsin, your tragic marriage, your fanatical attachment to Margo. It started in San Francisco, didn’t it?” Eve remembers that she was first dazzled by Margo on the stage at the Shubert Theatre in San Francisco. A turning point in the film, De Witt crowns the Shubert Theatre as “an oasis of civilization in the California desert,” a “fine old theatre…full of tradition, untouched by the earthquake, or should I say, fire.” When De Witt presumes they will have a “special night” together, Eve seductively implores:
Eve: You take charge.
De Witt: I believe I will.
The next morning’s papers, thanks to De Witt’s engineering, carry articles praising Eve’s performance as Margo’s understudy. De Witt and Eve are at the Twenty-One Restaurant to meet a movie talent scout (“a sun-burned eager beaver”) for lunch the same day, although “Eve has no intention of going to Hollywood.” Karen, who is to meet Margo at the same restaurant for lunch, is given Addison’s “poison pen” review in the paper to read.
The insidious column also angers Margo, who reads the plaudits for Eve’s youthful role and a scathing interview in which Eve makes unflattering statements about aging actresses who play inappropriate, younger roles:
And so my hat, which has lo these many seasons become more firmly rooted about my ears, is lifted to Miss Harrington. I am once more available for dancing in the streets and shouting from the housetops…Miss Harrington had much to tell and these columns shall report her faithfully about the lamentable practice in our theatre of permitting, shall we say, mature actresses to continue playing roles requiring a youth and vigor which they retain but a dim memory…about the understandable reluctance on the part of our entrenched first ladies of the stage to encourage, shall we say, younger actresses about Miss Harrington’s own long and supported struggle for opportunity.
She is incensed about Eve’s role in gathering critics (especially De Witt) to attend her understudy performance, and by her aggressive rise to stardom: “The little witch must have sent out Indian runners, snatching critics out of bars and steam rooms and museums, or wherever they holed up. Well, she won’t get away with it, nor will Addison De Witt and his poison pen. If Equity or my lawyer can’t or won’t do anything about it, I shall personally stuff that pathetic little lost lamb down Mr. De Witt’s ugly throat.” Bill arrives and sympathizes with Margo’s reaction, calling De Witt’s writing “that piece of filth.” They are reconciled to each other.
In their own apartment with Karen, Lloyd inaccurately blames Addison for being behind Eve’s ambitious quest: “It’s Addison from start to finish. It drips with his brand of venom. Taking advantage of a kid like that, twisting her words, making her say what he wanted her to say.” Eve has begun to win over Karen’s husband Lloyd – she has convinced him that she would be “fine for the part” – a starring role in his new play Footsteps on the Ceiling, to be put into production right away, playing the “younger” character of Cora (a role that Margo was originally to play). This could occur if Margo could be talked into going on tour with Aged in Wood.
Karen suspects that Eve will stop at nothing to get the part: “Eve would ask Abbott to give her Costello.” When he takes Eve’s side, Lloyd detects bitter cynicism in Karen’s voice when she denounces Eve as a “contemptible little worm.”
Lloyd: For once to write something and have it realized completely. For once not to compromise.
Karen: Lloyd Richards! You are not to consider giving that contemptible little worm the part of Cora.
Lloyd: Now just a minute.
Karen: Margo Channing’s not been exactly a compromise all these years. Why, half the playwrights in the world would give their shirts for that particular compromise.
Lloyd: Now just a minute.
Karen: It strikes me that Eve’s disloyalty and ingratitude must be contagious.
Lloyd: All this fuss and hysteria because an impulsive kid got carried away by excitement and the conniving of a professional manure-slinger named De Witt. She apologized, didn’t she?
Karen: On her knees, I’ve no doubt. Very touching. Very Academy of Dramatic Arts.
Lloyd: That bitter cynicism of yours is something you’ve acquired since you left Radcliffe.
Karen: That cynicism you refer to I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys.
Later that night in The Cub Room after the evening’s theatrical performance (after which Eve gave her notice as Margo’s understudy), the two couples (Margo and Bill, and Karen and Lloyd) meet for a bottle of wine to celebrate a special occasion. Bill now announces with a toast his proposal of marriage to Margo – the next day at 10 at City Hall they will acquire a marriage license:
Bill: The so-called art of acting is not one for which I have a particularly-high regard…But you may quote me as follows. Quote: ‘Tonight, Miss Margo Channing gave a performance in your cockamamie play the like of which I have never seen before and expect rarely to see again.’ Unquote….I shall propose the toast. Without wit. With all my heart. To Margo. To my bride-to-be.
Margo: Glory, Hallelujah.
Asked by Karen what she will wear to her wedding, Margo replies: “Something simple. A fur coat over a nightgown.” Eve, who just happens to be in the same restaurant dining with De Witt, sends a note to Karen, urgently requesting to speak to her in the ladies room. In her inimitable manner, Margo asks the waiter for more champagne:
Margo: Encore du champagne.
Waiter: More champagne, Miss Channing?
Margo: That’s what I said, bub.
Everyone is curious about Eve and Margo questions “what’s going on in that feverish little brain waiting in there.” When Eve speaks to Karen in the ladies room, she first disclaims, over-dramatically, the hurtful statements she made in Addison’s column although she accepts the responsibility and the disgrace. She also describes how she has “been told off in no uncertain terms all over town” when loyal Margo Channing supporters came to the aging actress’ defense and caused a backlash against her. Then in a quick turnaround, she blackmails Karen into pressuring Lloyd to use her in the lead youthful role in her husband’s new play: “If you told him so, he’d give me the part. He said he would…It’s my part now…Cora is my part. You’ve got to tell Lloyd it’s for me.” She threatens Karen with divulging the “perfectly harmless joke” played on Margo, accentuating the fact that “Addison could make quite a thing of it – imagine how snide and vicious he could get and still tell nothing but the truth.” She effectively blackmails Karen to get her the acting part as a “simple exchange of favors”:
If you told him (Lloyd) so, he’d give me the part. He said he would…It’s my part now…Cora is my part. You’ve got to tell Lloyd it’s for me…Addison wants me to play it…Addison knows how Margo happened to miss that performance, how I happened to know she’d miss it in time to call him and notify every paper in town…If I play Cora, Addison will never tell what happened, in or out of print. A simple exchange of favors. I’m so happy I can do something for you at long last. Your friendship with Margo – your deep, close friendship. What would happen to it, do you think, if she knew the cheap trick you played on her for my benefit? You and Lloyd. How long, even in the theatre, before people forgot what happened and trusted you again? No, it would be so much easier for everyone concerned if I would play Cora. So much better theatre too.
It is now obvious that Margo’s view of the young actress was correct. Many fall victim to Eve’s Machiavellian, cold-blooded, destructive plans to further her own ends. Karen is astounded: “You’d do all that just for a part in a play.” Eve replies, predictably: “I’d do much more for a part that good” before returning to her seat at Addison De Witt’s table.
To Karen’s surprise – before she can completely relate her conversation with Eve – Margo confides to Lloyd that she doesn’t want to play the part of Cora in the new play Footsteps on the Ceiling, now that she is becoming a “married lady”:
Never have I been so happy…I’m forgiving tonight, even Eve, I forgive Eve…Do you know what I’m going to be?…A married lady…No more make believe off stage or on. Remember, Lloyd? I mean it now…I don’t want to play Cora…It isn’t the part. It’s a great part in a fine play. But not for me anymore. Not for a four-square, upright, downright, forthright married lady…It means I finally got a life to live. I don’t have to play parts I’m too old for, just because I’ve got nothing to do with my nights.
Margo retires from the intrigues of the stage in favor of marriage. Relieved, Karen doesn’t have to convince her husband to cast Eve instead of Margo after all. Yet, in voice-over, Karen fears she’s losing her husband with the rift growing daily with him due to his association with the conniving Eve. Fighting (“always over some business for Eve”) ensues in rehearsals with Eve playing the part of Cora. Eve breeds dissension between Lloyd and Bill (“somehow Eve kept them going”):
Lloyd never got around somehow to asking whether it was all right with me for Eve to play Cora. Bill, oddly enough, refused to direct the play at first – with Eve in it. Lloyd and Max finally won him over. Margo never came to rehearsal. Too much to do around the house, she said. I’d never known Bill and Lloyd to fight as bitterly and often and always over some business for Eve, or a move, or the way she read a speech. But then I’d never known Lloyd to meddle as much with Bill’s directing, as far as it affected Eve, that is. Somehow Eve kept them going. Bill stuck it out. Lloyd seemed happy. And I thought it might be best if I skipped rehearsals from then on. It seemed to me I had known always that it would happen, and here it was. I felt helpless, that helplessness you feel when you have no talent to offer – outside of loving your husband. How could I compete? Everything Lloyd loved about me, he had gotten used to long ago.
Late one night, Karen answers a phone call for her husband from Eve Harrington’s worried neighbor, reporting that “she isn’t well, she’s been crying all night, and she’s hysterical and she doesn’t want a doctor.” Lloyd quickly volunteers to immediately come over and attend to Eve. With a worried look on her face, Karen senses further disruption in her marriage. Her suspicions prove to be correct. The camera pans from the neighbor to the right where enchantress Eve sits on the stairs – she is behind the set-up to call Lloyd and steal him away from his wife in the middle of the night.
The new play’s out-of-town opening (“Max Fabian presents Footsteps on the Ceiling, a new play by Lloyd Richards”) is scheduled for the Shubert Theater in New Haven, Connecticut (“It is here that managers have what are called out-of-town openings which are openings for New Yorkers who want to go out of town”). On the day of the opening, Eve encounters De Witt outside the Taft Hotel next to the theater and they walk along as De Witt predicts that Eve will become a major star after the triumphant opening and her playing of the lead role in Lloyd’s play. At her hotel room door, he questions about how she can calmly nap so easily in the afternoon before her debut show:
Eve: What a heavenly day!
De Witt: D-Day.
Eve: Just like it.
De Witt: And tomorrow morning, you will have won your beachhead on the shores of immortality.
Eve: Stop rehearsing your column. Isn’t it strange, Addison? I thought I’d be panic-stricken, want to run away or something. Instead, I can’t wait for tonight to come, to come and go.
De Witt: Are you that sure of tomorrow?
Eve: Aren’t you?
De Witt: Frankly, yes.
Eve: It will be a night to remember. It will bring me everything I’ve ever wanted. The end of an old road. The beginning of a new one.
De Witt: All paved with diamonds and gold?
Eve: You know me better than that.
De Witt: It’s paved with what, then?
Eve: Stars…Plenty of time for a nice long nap. We rehearsed most of last night.
De Witt: You could sleep now, couldn’t you?
Eve: Why not?
De Witt: The mark of a true killer. Sleep tight, rest easy, and come out fighting.
Eve: Why did you call me a killer?
De Witt: Oh, did I say killer? I meant champion. I get my boxing terms mixed.
In her expensive suite, an experienced De Witt clearly sees Eve’s duplicitous and manipulative nature, similar to his own selfishness. He is one of the few who immediately recognized her cold and calculating heart and saw through her scheming charade from the very beginning. He is not too startled to learn that Eve has designs on taking Lloyd from Karen for her own purposes. According to Eve’s way of thinking, Lloyd (“commercially the most successful playwright in America…and artistically the most promising”) is planning to marry her. With Lloyd serving as her husband and playwright, Eve would have the pick of parts in her future as he would write plays specifically for her:
Lloyd Richards. He’s going to leave Karen. We’re going to be married…Lloyd loves me, I love him…I’m in love with Lloyd…Oh Addison, won’t it be just perfect? Lloyd and I – there’s no telling how far we can go. He’ll write great plays for me, I’ll make them great.
De Witt objects to her “unholy alliance” with Lloyd and confronts her with the fact that she had never been the innocent Eve Harrington – she was using Lloyd to get “a run-of-the-play contract.” He is angered that she is playing him off against Lloyd, a ‘divide-and-conquer’ weapon in her arsenal. He wonders whether he is being made a fool too, like everyone else:
Eve: (starry-eyed) The setting wasn’t romantic, but Lloyd was. He woke me up at three o’clock in the morning banging on my door. He couldn’t sleep, he said. He’d left Karen. Couldn’t go on with the play or anything else until I promised to marry him. We sat and talked until it was light. He never went home.
De Witt: You ‘sat and talked’ until it was light?
Eve: We ‘sat and talked’ Addison. I want a run-of-the-play contract.
De Witt: There never was and there never will be another like you…(rising) What do you take me for?
Eve: I don’t know that I’d take you for anything.
De Witt: Is it possible, even conceivable, that you’ve confused me with that gang of backward children you play tricks on? That you have the same contempt for me as you have for them?…Look closely, Eve. It’s time you did. I am Addison De Witt. I am nobody’s fool. Least of all – yours.
Eve: I never intended you to be.
De Witt: Yes you did and you still do…It’s important right now that we talk – killer to killer.
Eve: Champion to champion.
De Witt: Not with me, you’re no champion. You’re stepping way up in class.
Eve: Addison, will you please say what you have to say, plainly and distinctly, and then get out so I can take my nap.
De Witt: Very well. Plainly and distinctly…Lloyd may leave Karen, but he will not leave Karen for you.
Eve: What do you mean by that?
De Witt: More plainly and more distinctly? I have not come to New Haven to see the play, discuss your dreams, or pull the ivy from the walls of Yale. I’ve come here to tell you that you will not marry Lloyd or anyone else for that matter because I will not permit it.
Eve: What have you got to do with it?
De Witt: Everything, because after tonight, you will belong to me.
Eve has underestimated De Witt’s own ambitions. He has his own designs on Eve, hoping to have her all to himself as his mistress – this is the price Eve must pay. When she chuckles at the thought of belonging to him (“Belong to you? That sounds medieval, something out of an old melodrama”), he slaps her sharply across the face, insulted: “Now remember as long as you live, never to laugh at me. At anything or anyone else, but never at me.”
In a dramatic confrontation, he demolishes her manufactured sob story she told at the beginning of her idolization of Margo: “To begin with, your name is not Eve Harrington. It’s Gertrude Slescynski.” He knows all about her real, sordid background: her parents were poor and hadn’t heard from her for three years; she was paid $500 to leave her brewery job and get out of town after an alleged scandalous affair with the boss; there was no pilot husband named Eddie who was killed in the war; and she was never married. De Witt reveals the crowning lie that would expose her:
De Witt: San Francisco has no Shubert Theater. You’ve never been to San Francisco! That was a stupid lie, easy to expose, not worthy of you.
Eve: I had to get in to meet Margo! I had to say something, be somebody, make her like me!
Although Margo at first liked her, Eve betrayed her trust by “trying to take Bill away.” De Witt overheard her attempt to seduce Bill after her understudy performance. And she also used De Witt’s name and column to blackmail Karen into getting her the part of Cora, and then lied to the critic about it. De Witt gloats: “I had lunch with Karen not three hours ago. As always with women who try to find out things, she told more than she learned. Now do you want to change your story about Lloyd beating at your door the other night?”
De Witt agrees to settle for her, even though she has ruthlessly betrayed her friends and lied about her past – undoubtedly, she is an ambitious, shameless and opportunistic actress, without feelings or scruples.
That I should want you at all suddenly strikes me as the height of improbability, but that, in itself, is probably the reason. You’re an improbable person, Eve, and so am I. We have that in common. Also a contempt for humanity, an inability to love and be loved, insatiable ambition – and talent. We deserve each other…and you realize and you agree how completely you belong to me?
Devastated, Eve listlessly nods agreement that she belongs to him – she has suddenly become the victim of her own trap, unable to escape and still become a success. Eve protests that she couldn’t possibly go on stage that night. De Witt thinks otherwise:
Couldn’t go on! You’ll give the performance of your life.
The film dissolves back to the awards ceremony, where Eve has just received the Sarah Siddons Best Actress of the Year trophy. “And she gave the performance of her life. And it was a night to remember that night.” Eve gives credit for her acting to her “friends in the theatre and to the theatre itself” with proper humility and gratitude – her words ring with hypocritical emptiness. “In good conscience, I must give credit where credit is due” – to those in the audience who have helped her the most – Max, Karen, Margo, Bill and Lloyd – are also those she has used, discarded, and hurt the most. She tells the audience, during “the happiest night of my life” that although she is leaving for Hollywood to make a film, her heart will remain in the theater on Broadway – “three thousand miles are too far to be away from one’s heart.” And she will be back to reclaim her heart soon, if they want her back.
After the ceremony, Margo ‘congratulates’ Eve:
Nice speech, Eve. But I wouldn’t worry too much about your heart. You can always put that award where your heart ought to be.
Eve decides to forgo a celebratory party at Max’s, and gives the award to De Witt to take there in her place. Tired, Eve is dropped off from their shared taxi ride at her hotel/apartment and is startled by a breathless fan club president from Brooklyn, a pretty, star-struck teenager named Phoebe (Barbara Bates) who has fallen asleep in a chair in her suite. At first, Eve is ready to call the authorities, but then flattered by the attention, sees a striking resemblance to herself in the young protege – she’s a little ‘Eve’ of her own. Phoebe is writing a report on her idol: “About how you live, what kind of clothes you wear, what kind of perfume and books, things like that.” She aspires to be like some of the Brooklynites who became famous in Hollywood:
Well, lots of actresses come from Brooklyn. Barbara Stanwyck and Susan Hayward. Of course, they’re just movie stars.
When De Witt delivers the award statuette that had been left in the taxi cab, Phoebe answers the door, and recognizes Addison De Witt (revealing she is as knowledgeable as Eve was earlier in the film). [De Witt presumes, probably accurately, that “Phoebe” is only a stage name.] She takes the award from his hands:
Phoebe: I call myself Phoebe.
De Witt: And why not? Tell me, Phoebe, do you want someday to have an award like that of your own?
Phoebe: More than anything else in the world.
De Witt: Then you must ask Miss Harrington how to get one. Miss Harrington knows all about it.
In an ironic, but pungent ending or postscript, the film audience realizes that it won’t be long before Phoebe, like Eve, will be rising the ladder of success at any cost. Eve will be conned in much the same way that Margo was earlier. By an offscreen Eve, Phoebe is asked:
Eve: Who was it?
Phoebe: Just a taxi driver, Miss Harrington. You left your award in his cab and he brought it back.
Eve: Oh. Put it on one of the trunks, will you? I want to pack it.
Phoebe: Sure, Miss Harrington.
Taking the award to Eve’s bedroom, Phoebe sets the award on a trunk, but then she sees Eve’s glittering outer coat on the bed. She hesitates and then quietly puts it on and clutches the award to her breast in front of a large four-mirrored cheval – one in which Eve would admire herself. Gracefully and with grave dignity, Phoebe poses before the mirror that provides infinite reflections, representing the thousands of Eve Harringtons out there. She steps forward and bows, again and again and again, acknowledging imaginary applause from an audience during a curtain call. Phoebe represents the new wave of thousands of ingenue actresses ready to replace the aging, over-age 40 leading ladies who have reached their upper limit during their brief ‘lives’ as actresses. The cycle of stardom repeats itself in cynical fashion – for every star, there is someone younger and more ambitious in the wings.