Sunday, February 21, 2016

Don't Make a Scene: All About Eve

The Story: It wasn't her first movie role. It wasn't even her first significant movie role. But it was one where you saw the spark of an actress with good instincts and a good comedic skill getting some smart dialogue that she could make the most a scene with Bette Davis and George Sanders, yet.

Marilyn Monroe, the name given to Norma Jean Mortenson by Ben Lyon when she signed her first movie contract in 1946, had been in the studio system for four years, when she graduated from walk-on's and extra parts in 1950 to appearing in both The Asphalt Jungle and All About Eve. In 1953, she would become a star (Niagara), and then at the age of 36, 10 films and 10 years later, she would be dead. That seems unfathomable, as Monroe is so iconic and her body of work so discussed, dissected and duplicated. There was never an analogy so apt as "Candle in the Wind."

And every woman who aspires to fame seems to genuflect (and cross themselves) at her altar.

But that's all in the future here. In this role, she is another reflection in the multi-mirror of the chorus line of actresses, the ladies-in-waiting in the court of Margo Channing.* She might be a victim in this role, but she's not prey. If anything she's a hunter...after an unhappy rabbit (one of my favorite lines in a screenplay peppered with them)...going into battle with a smile on her face.

Even the Spartans didn't do that.

You can't help but smile back.

Wish me luck. The same to you.

The Set-Up: A homecoming party for director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill). His lover, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), theater diva, is throwing it for him, but it is not exactly a happy occassion. The relationship between Margo, and her assistant Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a theater fan that the actress took under her wing, has soured—problems with pecking order, it seems. She even suspects some hanky-panky between the girl and Bill, and the two pre-function by bickering over it. That's the match that sparks the roaring fire underneath the bacchanalia, and among the parasites warming themselves on it are Addison deWitt (George Sanders), acerbic theater critic ("I am essential to the theater -- as ants to a picnic, as the boll weevil to a cotton field") and his latest "protégé," Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe).** Moments after Margo has uttered the immortal line—"Fasten your seatbelts. It's going to be a bumpy night"—she sweeps up the stairs,
exchanges pleasantries with some of the guests and bon mots with Addison, the way Miss Manners would in high dudgeon.

Claws out! Action!

She arrives at the landing just as Addison comes up with Miss Caswell. Margo takes a drink from a passing tray.
MARGO(to Addison) I distinctly remember striking your name from the guest list. What are you doing here?
ADDISON Dear Margo. You were an unforgettable Peter Pan - you must play it again, soon. You remember Miss Caswell?
MARGO I do not. How do you do?
MISS CASWELL We never met. That's why.
ADDISON Miss Caswell is an actress. A graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Arts.
ADDISON (his glance is attracted by Eve coming downstairs) Ah... Eve.
EVE(deferentially) Good evening, Mr. deWitt.
MARGO I had no idea you knew each other.
ADDISON This must be, at long last, our formal introduction. Until now we have met only in passing...
MISS CASWELL That's how you met me. In passing.
MARGO(smiles) Eve, this is an old friend of Mr. deWitt's mother - Miss Caswell, Miss Harrington...(the two girls say hello)
MARGO Addison, I've been wanting you to meet Eve for the longest time-
ADDISON (murmurs) It could only have been your natural timidity that kept you from mentioning it...
MARGO You've heard of her great interest in the Theater-
ADDISON We have that in common.
MARGO Then you two must have a long talk-
EVE I'm afraid Mr. deWitt would find me boring before too long.
MISS CASWELL You won't bore him, honey. You won't even get to talk.
ADDISON (icily) Claudia dear, come closer.
(She does, and he points)
ADDISON This is Max Fabian. He is a producer. Go do yourself some good.
MISS CASWELL (sighs) Why do they always look like unhappy rabbits?
ADDISON Because that is what they are. Go make him happy.
Miss Caswell drapes her coat over the rail, heads for Max. Addison puts Eve's arm in his.

All About Eve

Words by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Pictures by Milton R. Krasner and Joseph L. Mankiewicz

All About Eve is available on DVD from Fox Home Video.

* All the actors give her a break, too. Look at Bette Davis in this scene. She punctuates Monroe's lines with an expressive blast of cigarette smoke, giving them just an extra beat of attention and time for a laugh. That's generosity.

** In one of those instances where one can point to the public assisted Internet Movie Database (IMDb) and say "You just can't trust it!," the character is called "Miss Casswell," which is not the spelling in the script—there are lots of typo's in the official "All About Eve" script, but the Caswell name is spelled consistently. I'm sure someone thought it was a nice joke, but it shows the kind of smirking disrepect that dogged Monroe throughout her career—and long after.

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