My “Noirvember” picks will be continually updated as the month wears on and I make my next choice!
Noirvember is upon us. I love film noir, so every month is “Noirvember” for me, but I thought I’d try to actively participate in the event this year. Previously, I lurked in conversations and posts and read about it, but didn’t actually contribute.
For those who are unfamiliar with “Noirvember,” it is simply a portmanteau of the words “Noir” and “November.” It is a term used to describe what is essentially a month-long celebration of film noir. Noirvember was invented by a poster (@oldfilmsflicker on Twitter) who just wanted an excuse to catch-up on film noir. It has since evolved and become a full-fledged event.
I have seen a lot of film noir and have a lot of favorite films and performers. While I definitely want to revisit some old favorites, I also want to watch some “new to me” film noir. I don’t have a particular list of 30 film noir to watch, as I wanted my list to flow organically. However, so that I had some semblance of organization and didn’t spend my entire evening trying to decide what to watch, I’ve decided to play a game with my selections. Each successive film will feature a performer from the previous film. E.g. “The Big Heat” features Glenn Ford and Gloria Grahame. “Sudden Fear” features Grahame and Joan Crawford.
It is my hope that my final film of the month will link back to the first.
All About Eve, the showbiz drama to end all showbiz dramas, starts in the present time at an annual theater award banquet. Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), the evening’s recipient of the most prestigious award–The Sarah Siddons Award (for distinguished achievement), is set to take the stage. The evening seems like a pleasant affair, but the narrator Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), quickly informs us that all is not what it seems. As Eve ascends the steps and is about to take the award from the presenter, the picture freezes. In a knowing and almost sarcastic tone, we are advised that we will “learn all about Eve” shortly. The film quickly segues into a flashback, where we, as the viewer, assume that we will be taken on a journey to find out how Eve earned herself the prized Sarah Siddons Award trophy. When I first saw this film, I knew that Eve had to have done something scandalous or nefarious to get there–and if you’re like me, this premonition will only hook you into wanting to take the ride to learn ALL ABOUT EVE.
Trust me. It’s worth it. That Eve is a real piece of work.
We first meet Eve outside of a theater on a dreary evening in New York City. It is pouring outside and Eve, wearing a raincoat and bucket hat is huddled next to one of the side doors. She has just come from seeing her idol, Margo Channing (Bette Davis), perform in her latest play, “Aged in Wood.” Karen Richards (Celeste Holm), a friend of Margo’s and wife of the play’s author, Lloyd (Hugh Marlowe), spots Eve outside. Karen remarks to Eve that she’s seen her outside of the theater every evening after a performance. Eve (who at this point seems like a genuine, starstruck young woman), comments that she loves Margo Channing and has seen every performance of this play. She even remarks that she’d first seen Margo perform in San Francisco, where she became an instant fan. Karen invites Eve inside to meet her idol.
The wheels are in motion…
Inside the theater, we meet Margo and all of her other theater friends and colleagues. Aside from Karen and husband Lloyd, there’s Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) (Margo’s boyfriend and director of the play) and Margo’s assistant Birdie (Thelma Ritter) (also a former vaudevillian). They’re laughing about an interview Margo gave and Karen introduces Eve to Margo and appeases to her ego by gushing over her. After prompting her to tell the group how she found Margo and ended up in New York City, Eve gives her first of many excellent performances. Eve tells a sob story about how she came from Milwaukee, WI and worked in a dead end career as a secretary in a brewery.
EVE: “When you’re a secretary in a brewery, it’s pretty hard to make believe you’re anything else.”
She then discusses how she dabbled in theater in her town, but of course, Eve with her fake humility, says she was awful. It was at this theater where she met “Eddie” who was a radio technician, but was also in the Air Force. Then Eddie was sent into combat when “The War” came. Eve went back to work at the brewery and lived for Eddie’s once a week letters. She saved her vacation time and money to be able to meet Eddie in San Francisco for a vacation. Eddie never showed up. He was killed in combat. Now in San Francisco, Eve decided to look stay in town and look for work. One night, Margo Channing came to town to perform “Remembrance” at the Shubert Theater, which Eve attended, and ultimately led to her following Margo back to New York and brings us to the current events. The group is sympathetic to Eve’s story and instantly feel compassionate toward her plight. The only person who is not convinced is Birdie.
BIRDIE: “What a story! Everything but the bloodhounds snappin’ at her rear end”
After accompanying Margo and Bill to the airport so he can catch his flight to Hollywood, Eve ends up being invited to live in Margo’s home and work as her assistant. For awhile, Eve dotes on Margo and Margo is in bliss. However, Eve has an ulterior motive. By taking care of Margo and all her affairs for a few weeks, she can learn all there is to learn about Margo Channing and her friends and colleagues. At the theater, Margo catches Eve on the theater stage, modeling Margo’s costume and pretending to bow and accept applause from an invisible audience. When Eve realizes that she’s been caught, she has a look of terror on her face, but Margo chalks up Eve’s reaction to embarrassment and assumes that Eve’s actions are those of a wannabe theater actress.
Later that evening, Margo receives a phone call at 3:00AM. Apparently, she had placed a call from New York to California at 12AM (Pacific Time) to wish Bill a Happy Birthday. Margo assumes that Eve placed the call on her behalf. It is apparent that Margo is confused and not sure if Eve’s intentions were pure or if there was some underlying motive. The next morning, Margo and Birdie discuss Eve and Birdie’s instinctive dislike of her.
MARGO: She (Eve) thinks only of me, doesn’t she?
BIRDIE: Well let’s say she thinks only about you, anyway.
MARGO: How do you mean that?
BIRDIE: I’ll tell you how: like…like she’s studying you, like you was a play or a book or a set of blueprints–how you walk, talk, eat, think, sleep…
MARGO: I’m sure that’s flattering. There’s nothing wrong with it.
Margo asks Eve about the phone call. Eve admits that she forgot to tell Margo about the phone call. She then nonchalantly mentions that she also sent a telegram to Bill for his birthday and smirks as she leaves and closes the door. The musical score then pops in with its wonderful shrieking violins and loud crescendos. This music is a continual theme and is heard throughout the film each time Eve does something else nefarious.
From this point on, Eve’s behavior just gets more brazen as she works to take over Margo’s career. Some of the things she does:
Eve finds out Margo’s understudy is pregnant and under the guise of humility, manages to manipulate Karen into asking Max into giving the role of Margo’s understudy to her.
Margo arrives late for an audition with another Addison DeWitt protegee, Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe). Eve, Margo’s understudy, auditions with Miss Caswell instead. She gives a brilliant performance (according to Addison). Later, after Margo feuds with Lloyd about Eve (and Lloyd vents to Karen), Karen decides to play a joke on Margo to teach her a lesson and cause her to miss a performance (and help out Eve at the same time). This will later backfire on Karen big time.
Eve goes on stage in Margo’s place and wins rave reviews. Just by “sheer coincidence,” Addison and all the other top theater critics in town just happened to be in the audience when Eve made her stage debut. Hmm. Isn’t that curious?
Having taken over Margo’s role, Eve tries to take over Margo’s boyfriend Bill, the director of “Footsteps on the Ceiling.” It doesn’t work. “Just score it as an incomplete forward pass,” he tells her. From here on, Bill is suspicious of Eve. Addison also witnesses Eve’s attempt to seduce Bill.
Eve then has a friend call Lloyd in the middle of the night to tell him that Eve is having some sort of emotional breakdown and that he needs to come over right away. He comes to her hotel. Eve then presents this as Lloyd leaving Karen in the middle of the night and coming to her. She is convinced that she will marry Lloyd and he will write plays and she’ll star in them.
Addison, under the pretense to find out more about Eve’s background, states that he is going to write a column about her. Actually performing a fact-checking mission, Addison asks Eve about her backstory. He also does end up writing a column about his interview with Eve where he (and Eve) tear Margo apart.
Eve blackmails Karen into convincing Lloyd to give her the coveted role of Cora (the role written for Margo) in “Footsteps on the Ceiling.” Eve threatens to expose Karen’s scheme and how it caused Margo to miss the performance that allowed Eve to be “discovered.”
Margo however, has the last laugh. During Bill’s welcome home party, already feeling irritated and upset with Eve, Margo introduces Eve to Addison, the acerbic theater critic who writes very blunt and sometimes scathing newspaper columns about the theater world. Margo knows that if there is anything to find out about Eve’s true intentions, Addison will find out.
At first Addison appears to have been taken in by Eve. He takes her under his wing (along with Miss Caswell) as a protegee. He’s present for her audition with Miss Caswell and he is present when Eve goes on in Margo’s place. It is assumed that he probably helped to arrange for all the local critics to be present. However, Addison catches on to Eve and works to expose her for the fraud and sociopath she really is (takes one to know one, right?).
Then comes one of the best, most delicious scenes in the film. Eve, after all her backstabbing, lying, selfishness, etc. is finally exposed for the fraud she is and Addison uses her manipulation tactics against her. He exposes the fact that Eve didn’t leave Milwaukee willingly. She was having an affair with the boss and the boss’ wife had her husband followed by detectives. Eve and the boss’ affair wasn’t proven–but she was given $500 to get out of town. She never went to San Francisco. She used the $500 to go to New York. There was no Eddie. No Shubert Theater (it doesn’t even exist in San Francisco!). He exposes her real name. It’s not Eve. It’s Gertrude. She has parents whom she hasn’t seen or talked to for three years.
Then Addison delivers the gut punch:
ADDISON: “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 or be loved, insatiable ambition–and talent. We deserve each other.”
Addison blackmails Eve and states that she now belongs to him. She has no choice but to acquiesce, otherwise, she’ll lose the theater career she worked so hard for (worked hard in a different way, but it was probably hard work nonetheless).
Back in the present day, the screen unfreezes, and Eve accepts her award. She gives some fake praise to her “friends” and colleagues thanking them for helping her get the Sarah Siddons Award. After the ceremony, Margo gives Eve a pretty good burn and pretty much tells her exactly what she thinks of her. This is also one of my favorite parts of the movie.
MARGO: “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.”
Yikes. You go, Margo.
Finally, it’s karma’s turn.
Eve returns home from the ceremony to discover a young girl asleep in her room. The girl wakes, introduces herself as “Phoebe,” and informs Eve that she’s president of the “Eve Harrington Fan Club” at her high school. She idolizes Eve and wants to be a theater actress. Hmm… sound familiar? Phoebe continues to appeal to Eve’s ego and soon finds herself working as Eve’s assistant in the hotel room. Hmm… Addison quickly stops by to bring Eve back her award that she left in the back of the limo. Eve has Phoebe answer the door.
ADDISON (to Phoebe): “Hello there. Who are you?”
PHOEBE: “Miss Harrington’s resting, Mr. DeWitt. She asked me to see who it was.”
ADDISON: “We won’t disturb her rest. It seems she left her award in the taxicab. Will you give it to her?”
(Phoebe holds the award and looks at it with the awe of a stage struck fan girl. Addison knows this look)
ADDISON: “How do you know my name?”
PHOEBE: “It’s a very famous name, Mr. DeWitt.”
ADDISON: “And what is your name?”
PHOEBE: “I call myself Phoebe.”
ADDISON: “Why not? Tell me Phoebe, do you want some day to have an award like that of your own?”
PHOEBE: “More than anything else in the world”
ADDISON: “Then you must ask Mrs. Harrington how to get one. Miss Harrington knows all about it.”
(Addison closes the door with a smirk on his face, knowing the fate that awaits Eve).
Game. Set. Match.
Phoebe takes Eve’s award to the bedroom to pack it in Eve’s trunk (per Eve’s request) and spots Eve’s rhinestone studded cape draped across the trunk. She puts it on, grabs the award and practices accepting the award in Eve’s three-way mirror. In the closing scene, the mirror’s reflection shows a bunch of Phoebes. This is a very effective scene and provides the film’s motif: “There is always someone smarter, more attractive, funnier, etc. waiting in the wings.”
Unrelated to Eve:
What happens to Birdie? She goes to deliver the sable coat to the owner and never returns. One can assume that perhaps Eve was so efficient that Birdie wasn’t needed and lost her position. However, she appears to have been a good friend of Margo’s, so that seems unlikely. Thelma Ritter, where did you go?
And thus begins one of the all-time funniest screen performances. Jack Lemmon, who landed the role of Jerry/Daphne in Some Like it Hot after Jerry Lewis turned it down (thank goodness), delivers an Oscar-nominated performance and frankly, just one of the best portrayals ever to grace the silver screen. His little cackles, facial expressions, mannerisms, everything he implements to create “Daphne,” are fantastic. He makes the film. Without him, it might have been funny, but not hysterical. Don’t get me wrong, co-stars Marilyn Monroe, Tony Curtis and Joe E. Brown had their moments, but Some Like it Hot belongs to Jack Lemmon.
In other hands, like original choice Jerry Lewis’ for example, the role of Daphne could have easily evolved into something absurd and obnoxious. Lemmon’s portrayal is absurd, but in a good way. What makes his portrayal so successful is that he commits to the role. He is in no way self conscious about dressing in drag. What makes his introduction of Daphne so funny is how he suddenly embraces his persona while being introduced to Sweet Sue. Jerry and Joe had already agreed that they would be Geraldine and Josephine, respectively, and suddenly Jerry blurts out “Daphne.” “I never did like the name Geraldine,” he says. His enthusiasm is a contrast to the scene just a minute prior where complains about his outfit and shoes and then sees lead singer, Sugar Kane (Marilyn Monroe), walk down the train platform and is disillusioned that their charade is even going to work.
JERRY: “Look at that. Look how she moves. That’s just like Jell-O on springs. They must have some sort of built-in motor or something. I tell ya, it’s a whole different sex.”
The train ride from Chicago to Miami is one of the funniest scenes in the film. Jerry is painfully aware that he’s supposed to be a woman–an awareness that only gets more cumbersome when he’s partying with a dozen girls inside his upper berth. When Sugar invites herself into his “room” (if you can call it that), he has to remind himself “I’m a girl. I’m a girl” only to lament, “I wish I were dead.”
Another of my favorite scenes is when Sweet Sue (the band manager) emphatically states “There are two things I will not put up with during working hours: liquor and men!” To which Jerry (as Daphne), who has completely embraced his female alter ego (and is bordering on trying too hard to be believable as a woman), says:
JERRY: “We wouldn’t be caught dead with men! Rough, hairy beasts with eight hands. And they all just want one thing from a girl!”
The funniest part of that exchange is the disgusted look he makes afterward. Pretty much everything “Daphne” says is hilarious.
The best part of Some Like it Hot is Daphne’s budding romance with Osgood Fielding III (Joe E. Brown), the oft-married (and oft-divorced) mama’s boy millionaire, who spends his time hanging out at the Seminole Ritz Hotel in Miami, always looking for his next ex-wife. When Sweet Sue and Her Society Syncopaters enter the hotel lobby, Osgood immediately has his sights set for Daphne. While the subplot featuring the budding romance between Shell Oil-heir “Junior” (Tony Curtis doing his Cary Grant impression) and Sugar is amusing, the Daphne/Osgood courtship is comedy gold.
While the audience and Jerry know that this relationship has no future, watching the millionaire become more and more enamored with Daphne is hysterical. The tango scene where they literally tango until dawn (originally meant as a scheme for Joe bring Sugar to rendezvous in Osgood’s yacht, without Osgood being present, of course). Jerry is really into their dancing and is having the time of his life. The tango night leads to Osgood proposing to Jerry and giving him a diamond bracelet as an engagement present. The scene where Jerry announces his engagement is one of the best parts of the film:
JOE: “What happened?”
JERRY: “I’m engaged.”
JOE: “Congratulations. Who’s the lucky girl?”
JERRY: “I am!”
JERRY: “Osgood proposed to me. We’re planning a June wedding.”
JOE: “What are you talking about? You can’t marry Osgood.”
JERRY: “Do you think he’s too old for me?”
When Joe tries to talk some sense into Jerry by asking the obvious question (well obvious in 1959 that is), “why would a guy want to marry a guy?” Jerry answers, “Security.” Then goes on to say:
JERRY: “I don’t expect it to last. I’ll tell him the truth when the time comes.”
JOE: “Like when?”
JERRY: “Like right after the ceremony. Then we get a quick annulment, he makes a nice settlement on me and I keep gettin’ those alimony checks every month.”
Throughout this entire scene, Jerry is shaking maracas and humming the tango. He is excited about his proposal, even though he knows that he can’t really marry Osgood. Though as someone who hocked his overcoat to gamble money on a dog at the track (and lost), the prospect of being financially secure is probably an enticing one and he’s probably considering it, even though realistically, it can’t happen. Jerry’s maracas weren’t originally in the script; however, they were added after preview audiences laughed so hard that much of Jerry’s dialogue was lost. Director Billy Wilder added the pauses and maracas and re-shot the scene so that the humor and the dialogue would remain intact.
The ending scene between Jerry and Osgood is one of the funniest (and most perfect endings) in film. The moment has come when Jerry really needs to come clean about his true identity and call off the engagement. He tries to hint to Osgood the reason why he can’t marry him:
Osgood wants Jerry to wear his mother’s wedding gown:
JERRY: “I can’t get married in your mother’s dress…she and I, we are not built the same way.”
OSGOOD: “We can have it altered.”
Jerry tries again:
JERRY: “I’m not a natural blonde.”
OSGOOD: “Doesn’t matter.”
JERRY: “I smoke. I smoke all the time!”
OSGOOD: “I don’t care.”
JERRY: “I have a terrible past. For three years, I’ve been living with a saxophone player.”
OSGOOD: “I forgive you.”
JERRY: “I can never have children.”
OSGOOD: “We can adopt some.”
Exasperated, Jerry finally lays it all out on the table:
JERRY: “I’m a man”
Then, one of the greatest lines and endings of all time:
OSGOOD: “Well, nobody’s perfect.”
How will Jerry ever get out of this mess?
Nothing to do with Jack Lemmon, but this is one of my favorite lines from “Some Like it Hot,”
DOLORES: Have you heard the one about the one-legged jockey?
…then later, we hear the punchline…
DOLORES: “Don’t worry about me baby, I ride side-saddle!”