Sunday, 15 January 2012

Scene On A Sunday: All About Eve

I have returned!
These Scene Analysis sure do take up a lot of time, but it’s fun to dig through films and take note of particular scenes and in celebration of the upcoming Oscar Ceremony I’m making my way through some Oscar winning films to resuscitate this feature. I haven’t had a general scene analysis since May (Rabbit Hole), and I haven’t done the equivalent (Sunday Openings) since August (Dangerous Liaisons). I’m heading further back in time, and starting with All About Eve.
Is this my favourite scene of the film? In a film made up of brilliant scenes it’s difficult to choose, but it is high up there because it involves almost the entire cast. I was moved to include a prelude scene, but this analysis is already long enough and I love it for the fact that it all occurs in a particularly small environment. It’s halfway through the film at Bill’s welcome home party, Margo has grown tired of her sometimes sycophantic ward, and as the night wears on she’s grown more and more drunk. But, this isn’t her scene in particular – it isn’t anyone’s. As the night draws to a close Birdie, Margo’s maid, and Karen make their way down from upstairs after retrieving a sable coat. They interrupt a discussion in progress.

Simple things in movies make me happy, and just a lovely establishing shot like this makes me immensely pleased. The film earned a whopping 14 Oscar nominations (the record, tied with Titanic). It lost the cinematography in black-and-white nod to Carol Reed’s The Third Man, but Milton R. Krasner’s work is excellent.

Addison: “Every now and then some elderly statesman of the theatre or so assures the public that actors and actresses are just plain folks; ignoring the fact that their greatest attraction to them, their public, is their complete lack of resemblance to normal human being.”

The film did win a well-deserved screenplay nod it’s not only a good screenplay in terms of the usual construction, each line lands with great effect – and there’s so much wisdom to be found in the discussions entertained by its characters. One of the themes of the film is the state of theatre, acting and art and it isn’t facetious that it is a discussion on theatre that Birdie and Karen interrupt. These are theatre folk after all…

What’s so great is that despite the significance of the words Mankiewicz doesn’t overplay its importance with close-ups. This is a typical discussion among these glamorous folk. And, a close-up would rob us of the lead-in to one of the film’s finest throwaway moments. You’d notice how Miss Caswell’s eyes (Marilyn Monroe in my favourite performance of hers) are following Birdie and the coat….

Miss Caswell: “Now there’s something a girl could make sacrifices for.”

I am so in the love with the choice to keep the camera on everyone; I don’t know who to focus my attention on. Baxter being typically silent but deadly? Sampson enjoying himself? Holm watching over everything literally and figuratively?

          Bill: “Probably has.”

          Miss Caswell: “Sable.”

Monroe’s still a relative unknown at this time, but the camera is just in love with her and perhaps because of its paucity in lines and screentime she’s just fabulous here, absolutely commanding the attention (and Edith Head’s Oscar winning costuming helps).

Max: “Sable? Did she say sable or Gable?”

A perfect line.

Miss Caswell: “Either one.”

And an even better response. I love how Holm is there reacting to everything. Karen is a simple character but Holm is just fabulous. She lost the Oscar to Josephine Hull in Harvey, but she’d have been my pick. And, the conversation which was on pause continues….

Addison: “We all have abnormalities in common. We’re a breed apart from humanity we theatre folk. We are the original displaced personalities. ”

Bill: “You don’t have to read his column tomorrow, Eve. You just heard it.”

Isn’t Anne Baxter just gorgeous? Villain or no, she’s a star and I love her performance just as much as I love Bette’s.

Bill: “I don’t agree, Addison.

Addison: “That happens to be your particular abnormality.”

Bill: “Well, I’ll admit there’s a screwball element in the theatre. It sticks out; it’s got spotlights on it and a brass band. But, it isn’t basic. It isn’t standard. If it were it couldn’t survive.”

Not to trumpet Holm again, but it takes such dedication for an actor to listen with distinction. This isn’t really her moment, but she’s so completely engrossed in the conversation, as you’d expect Karen to be and it works so brilliantly having her in the shot along with Sampson and DeWitt.

Another gorgeous group shot, above.

Miss Caswell: “Oh, waiter…”

Addison: “You can’t say waiter, my dear. That’s a butler.”

 Miss Caswell: “Well, I can’t yell Oh, Butler can I? Maybe somebody’s name is Butler.”

This brings me to a scene I had done on Mirror Images (HERE), and you have to admit that Marilyn looks freakishly like Katherine Heigl there. It’s ridiculously uncanny, I have yet to see My Week with Marilyn, but I wonder what the Emmy winning Heigl might have done with a role of that scope, she does have the looks and body for Marilyn, I think.

Addison: “You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point.”

Love that smile from Miss Caswell, there.

Miss Caswell: “I don’t want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.”

Max: “Leave it to me…”

Miss Caswell: “Thank you, Mr. Fabian.”

She sure is gorgeous, and watch Addison – the sly fox – looking on. Nothing gets by him, as fans of the films would remember.


Addison: “Well done. I can see your career rising in the east like the sun.”
A brilliant editing choice there to switch to Eve, you just know she’s ready for her career to reach stratospheric heights, and it has not even begun. And, then, we return to our main conversation.

Addison: “You were saying?”

Bill: “I was saying that the theatre is nine-tenths hard work. Work done the hard way – by sweat, application and craftsmanship.”

The camera moves back to Eve midway through, beautifully. After all, the climb from the bottom rung to the top in theatre takes up a great deal of the film’s theme and it’s encapsulated by Eve. Baxter has some sharp features, and her countenance tells so much here and she hasn’t had a single line as yet.

Bill: “I’ll agree to this – 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: “Yes. Yes, it does.”

It’s one of the curious things about Eve. It’s easy to just read her as a standard duplicitous villainess, but is she acting here? Or is she really that enthralled by the theatre and all it offers? I think the latter, it’s as if she isn’t even fully aware of her utterance here…

Bill: “It means concentration of desire, 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…”

And, this particular cut to Eve is important because it launches in to one of the more important monologues of the film.

Eve: “So little? So little, did you say? Why, if there’s nothing else – there’s applause.”

The musical adaptation of All About Eve, a massive Tony winner starring Lauren Baccall (who was replaced by Anne Baxter in the run) was titled “Applause”. I love that sort of symmetry.

Eve: “I’ve listened backstage to people applaud. It’s 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.”

That piece alone solidifies Anne’s worth of a nomination, she’s so in touch with her character and it’s why I can’t hate Eve Harrington. The quest for love and belonging is one which leads so many persons to evil, but Baxter is the kind of actress who doesn’t make this shrieky which is of course what makes Eve so chilling. Her sense of calm is unnerving.

I love how everyone responds to her there, Karen almost proud of her love for the theatre, Addison clearly intrigued and Bill as if uncertain of what to think. And, Eve so very contrite…but is it real or simulated?

And on Eve’s face, she notices something…

Margo: “Don’t get up. And, please stop acting as if I were the Queen Mother.”

Bette’s entrance, and one of the most memorable shots of the film. My favourite shots in the scene are still the group ones, but that one above is a beauty.

Eve: “I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to–”

Bill: “Outside of a beehive, Margo, your behaviour would hardly be considered either queenly or motherly.”

Aaah, group shots, though – watch everyone reacting to this face-off. I swear I live for these type of reactionary moments where everyone is working.

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.”

Margo: “Aren’t we, honey?”

Karen: “Margo, really…”

Another nice thing, the quick cut from Margo’s jab to Karen’s reaction.

And Bette’s face above.

Margo: “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 at the notions’ counter.”

And, that moment is all Bette’s. Powerful.

Margo: “I’m being rude now, aren’t I? Or should I say, ain’t I?”

Addison: “You’re maudlin and full of self pity. You’re magnificent.”

Lloyd: “How about calling it a night?”

I feel bad for both Merrill and Marlowe that their performances weren’t remembered more, or that their stars never rose as much as they should have.

Margo: “And you pose as a playwright? A situation pregnant with possibilities and all you can think of everybody go to sleep.”

Bill: “It’s a good thought.”
For example, Bill’s reactions to Margo are just on point here – albeit quietly so.

Margo: “It won’t play.”

Karen: “As a nonprofessional, I think it’s an excellent idea. Excuse me.”
Aaaah, Karen – always such a lady.

Karen: “Undramatic, perhaps, but practical.”

And, I just love the paucity of close-ups.

Margo: “Happy little housewife.”

Bill: “Cut it out.”

My favourite Bill moment of the scene. It’s so funny how almost everyone is so protective of Karen, she’s the only one who’s not a theatre folk of course – and seems immediately gentler.

Margo: “This is my house, not a theatre. In my house you’re a guest, not a director.”

Karen: “Then stop being a star. And stop treating your guests like your supporting cast.”
But, Karen is no simp. She can stand up for herself.

Lloyd: “Now, let’s not get into a big hassle.”
If there’s any weakling in the bunch (character wise, not performance wise), it’s Lloyd.

Karen: “It’s about time we did. It’s about time Margo realise what’s attractive on stage need not necessarily be attractive off.”

Another key line in the way of themes, and I’m glad Celeste gets it. we love Margo’s machinations on screen, but we would slap her in real life.

Margo: “All right! I’m going to bed.”

She says it as if it’s a threat.

I love her not-quite-a-retreat

Margo: “You be host. It’s your party. Happy birthday, welcome home. And we who are about to die salute you.”

Bill: “Need any help?”

Margo: “To put me to bed? Take my clothes off, hold my head, tuck me in, turn out the lights, tiptoe out…? Eve would. Wouldn’t you Eve?”

Poor Eve…

Eve: “If you’d like…”

Margo: “I wouldn’t like.”

And she leaves.


And because this not a film to languish, things move right along. Miss Caswell retrieves her drink from Max who must have appeared during the spat. I love that this moment is there, both for allowing Bette’s departure to move to something else, and because something as throwaway as a request for a drink is actual realised – bit things like this add to the continuity in films.
Max: “Oh, I forgot I had it.”

Miss Caswell: “I didn’t.”

And, then Bill leaves too.

Addison: “Too bad. We’re gonna miss the third act. They’re gonna play it offstage.”

And, I suppose Eve is “acting” here but damn she sure does go for broke perhaps because the always gregarious Karen is watching.

Lloyd: “Coming Max?”

Karen: “In a minute…”

Karen: “Eve…you mustn’t mind Margo too much, even if I do.”

Eve: “There must be some reason. Something I’ve done, without even knowing…”

Karen: “The reason is Margo, and don’t try to figure it out. Einstein couldn’t.”

Eve: “But, if thought I’d offended her…of all people…”
I love the two shots above.

Karen: “Eve. I’m fond of Margo, too. But, I know Margo, and everyone now and then there’s nothing I want to do so much as to kick her right straight in the pants.”

Eve: “Well…she has to pick on someone. I’d have it just as soon be me.”
      Notice how the above shot (and once again) is similar to the one with Margo and Eve, but so much gentler with Karen and Eve.


Lloyd: “Max is gonna drop us.”

Eve smiles, I suppose she’s happy with her work…

Eve: “Mrs. Richards. You won’t forget will you? …What we talked about before?”

Karen: “No, Eve, I won’t forget.

And the lovely Karen responds positively…

Just a bit of information, that painting is The Tragic Muse with Sarah Siddons, the name of the society award which Eve wins at the film’s end. How’s THAT for symmetry?

Am I the only one who loves Celeste as much in this? Is Anne as good as Bette? Is Marilyn as hilarious as I find? How much do you like this scene as representative of All About Eve and its excellence?

1 comment:

ruth said...

It's ridiculous that I have not seen this film!! I promise to see this before the end of the year, Andrew. Funny that I had just seen Anne Baxter and Celeste Holms during my Gregory Peck marathon, and Baxter was playing against type as a tomboy in a Western (Yellow Sky)! Definitely not a lady like in this one. And Celeste looks so different here than in the film I saw too, Gentleman's Agreement.