Sunday, December 10, 2017

Don't Make a Scene: All About Eve

The Story: I've done previous "Don't Make a Scene" features with All About Eve: "Eve's Story," and one featuring Marilyn Monroe and my favorite exchange from it. I could probably do one for just about every section of the film, as it crackles (and cackles) with good dialogue, good ideas, great performances, and is wickedly good fun.

Then, there's this one that has been waiting in the wings for awhile, ending with the ninth greatest film dialogue of AFI's 100 Great Movie Quotes. The scene is full of great lines, zingers, bon mots and neat turns of phrase, zestily delivered, but that capper, timed for effect, presentation, and ominous portent has been embraced, borrowed, purloined, and championed by drama queens of both (and all) sexes.

The Set-Up: Margo Channing (Bette Davis) is not in a role she wants to play. While beau Bill Simpson* (Gary Merrill) has been off to Hollywood to direct a film, Margo has been having issues with problem she's none too acquainted with—self-doubt. She's worried about her relationship with Simpson—that he might have been stepping out with younger women on the West Coast—and her personal assistant Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who seems to be encroaching on Margo's life. Before Simpson's combination welcome home/birthday party there's a little pre-function friction after Margo happens upon him talking to Eve. Once she leaves, Margo and Bill are reunited (where's that seat belt?).


(Eve)leaves. A short lull. Margo looks into cigarette boxes. Bill eyes her curiosity, crosses to the fire. 

BILL Looks like I'm going to have a very fancy party... 
MARGO I thought you were going to be late- 
BILL When I'm guest of honor? 
MARGO I had no idea you were even here. 
BILL I ran into Eve on my way upstairs; she told me you were dressing. 
MARGO That never stopped you before. 
BILL Well, we started talking, she wanted to know all about Hollywood, she seemed so interested... 
MARGO She's a girl of so many interests. 
BILL It's a pretty rare quality these days. 
MARGO She's a girl of so many rare qualities. 
BILL So she seems. 
MARGO (the steel begins to flash) So you've pointed out, so
often. So many qualities, so often. Her loyalty, efficiency, devotion, warmth, affection - and so young. So young and so fair... 
Bill catches the drift. Incredulously. 

BILL I can't believe you're making this up - it sounds like something out of an old Clyde Fitch play... 
MARGO Clyde Fitch, though you may not think so, was well before my time! 
BILL (laughs) I've always denied the legend that you were in 'Our American Cousin' the night Lincoln was shot... 
MARGO I don't think that's funny! 
BILL Of course it's funny - this is all too laughable to be anything else. You know what I think about this - 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- 
MARGO Twenty minutes! 
BILL Thirty minutes, forty minutes! What of it? 
MARGO Stage-struck kid... she's a young lady - of qualities. 
MARGO And I'll have you know I'm fed up with both the young lady and her qualities! Studying me as if - as if I were a play or a set of blueprints! 
MARGO How I walk, talk, think, eat, 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! 
MARGO It so 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 - guilty. 
BILL Mad! 
BILL Darling, there are certain characteristics for which you are famous - on stage and off. I love you for some of them - and in spite of others. I haven't let those become too important to me. They're part of your equipment for getting along in what is laughably called out environment - you've got to keep your teeth sharp. All right. But you will not 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! 
BILL Eve Harrington has never by word, look, thought or 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 a paranoic insecurity that you should be ashamed of! 
MARGO Cut! Print it! What happens in the next reel? Do I get dragged off screaming to the snake pit? 
EVE'S VOICE (quietly) Miss Channing? 
Bill and Margo look off. Eve is in the room. They have no way of knowing how long she's been there. 
EVE The hors d'oeuvres are here. Is there anything else I can do? 
MARGO Thank you, Eve. I'd like a Martini - very dry.
BILL I'll get it. 
(he crosses to Eve) 
BILL What'll you have? 

Eve, involuntarily, looks to Margo. 
MARGO A milkshake? 
Eve smiles, turns to Bill. 

EVE  A Martini. Very dry, please... 
Bill smiles back and starts across the landing toward the pantry. As he crosses the stairs, Karen, Lloyd and Max come up from the street level below. General greetings. Bill continues up to pantry. Eve and then Margo come up to add their welcome...
EVE (to Karen) May I have your coat? 
KAREN Don't bother, I can take it up myself... 
EVE Please... 

Karen yields with a "thank you, Eve-." Eve goes up with the coat. Lloyd looks after her approvingly. 
LLOYD I like that girl. That quality of quiet graciousness...  MARGO  ... Among so many quiet qualities. 

They start for the living room. 
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. 
MAX Look, you haven't been running a settlement house exactly - the kid's earned her way. You had a pretty mixed-up inventory when she took over - merchandise laying all over the shop... 
LLOYD You've got Margo mixed up with a five-and-ten-cent store...
MARGO Make it Bergdorf Goodman... and now everything is on its proper shelf, eh, Max? Done up in little ribbons. 
MARGO I could die right now and nobody'd be confused. How about you, Max? 
MAX How about me what? 

They've come to a halt near the fireplace. 
MARGO Supposed you dropped dead. What about your inventory? 
MAX I ain't gonna die. Not with a hit. 
KAREN This is the most ghoulish conversation... 

Bill brings two Martinis. He hands one to Margo. 
MARGO (it drips ice) Thank you. 
BILL Nothing, really... 
MARGO The kid - junior, that is - will be right down. Unless you'd like to take her drink up to her... 
BILL (smiles) I can always get a fresh one. Karen - you're a Gibson girl... 

He hands Eve's drink to Karen. Max has wandered off. Other guests are arriving. Margo gulps her drink, hands Bill the empty glass. He puts it on a passing tray. Margo takes a fresh one at the same time. 
LLOYD The general atmosphere is very Macbethish. What has or is about to happen? 
MARGO (to Bill) What is he talking about? 
BILL Macbeth. 
KAREN (to Margo) We know you, we've seen you before like this. Is it over - or just beginning? 
Margo surveys them all.

MARGO Fasten your seat belts. 
MARGO It's going to be a bumpy night.

All About Eve

Words by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Pictures by Milton Krasner and Joseph L. Makiewicz

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

* When I published this on another site it provoked a bit of a reaction. I had Gary Merrill's character's name as "Bill Simpson." Someone wrote in saying "Gary Merrill's name is Bill SAMPSON. It's hard to take you seriously when you make mistakes like that." Two things struck me about that: 1) anyone would take me seriously and 2) Although I recall the name being SAMPSON in the film, in IMDB it's SIMPSON (so I put it that way), Wikipedia has it as SAMPSON. TCM has it as Simpson [Sampson]. And in the film?  Take a look.
Anyway, I'll stick with Simpson, even though it SOUNDS like Sampson in the film. SOME-body got it wrong...and I still take All About Eve seriously.

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