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?