“Funny business, a woman’s career – the things you drop on your way up the ladder so you can move faster. You forget you’ll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That’s one career all females have in common, whether we like it or not: being a woman. Sooner or later, we’ve got to work at it, no matter how many other careers we’ve had or wanted. And in the last analysis, nothing’s any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed, and there he is. Without that, you’re not a woman. You’re something with a French provincial office or a book full of clippings, but you’re not a woman. Slow curtain, the end.”
When a supposedly naïve Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) gets a golden ticket to meet her stage idol Margo Channing (Bette Davis), her sweet nature and unspeakable good qualities quickly earn her a spot in the actress’ heart.
Eve quickly lands a job as Margo’s personal assistant, and eventually begins to impress Margo with her hard work and attentiveness. It would seem impossible to come up with anything negative to say about Eve.
As their time together grows though, Margo starts to notice certain things about Eve. Eve begins to mimic the characteristics, movements, and clothing of Margo. At this point the “Honeymoon” ends.
Margo’s insecurities about her age (40), and her looks, quickly get transferred onto Eve. Margo, much to the chagrin of her friends, begins to belittle Eve publicly, an act that Eve accepts with great humility.
It is at this point of the story that there is a nearly seamless transition in the mood. This occurs when Eve becomes Margo’s understudy, a choice that would seem obvious due to the fact that she has seen every performance of this play, and Margo misses a performance, giving Eve the opportunity to shine, even if only for one night.
Eve’s performance is met with quite a good reception, and no one feels stronger about it than Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a well-known theatre reviewer.
Dewitt wants to run an article on Eve for his paper, so he convinces her to come to dinner with him. During the interview Eve breaks her sugary sweet character and says something negative about her mentor Margo.
The result of this is a purging of any friendship that had once existed between Eve and Margo, and the destruction of virtually every friendship she has.
It is at this point that Eve suggests that she be given the part in Lloyd Richards’ (Hugh Marlowe), a long time collaborator of Margo’s, new play. When Margo backs out of the project Eve finally has her chance to shine, but her true character is revealed, and it is not a pleasant one.
Joseph L. Mankiewicz’s (Writer, Director) vision for this film was crystal clear. From the first minute of the film it grabs hold of you and pulls you through the ups-and-downs of its characters lives.
The acting is superb (there were five Oscar nods for acting alone in this flic), and despite the fact that there are arguably five main characters, each actor is able to establish his or herself as a dominant screen presence. For some indication on just how good the acting is in this film one should note that Marilyn Monroe’s performance was overshadowed to the point that she was almost unnoticeable, and that is not a knock on her at all.
Another area in which the film succeeds is its ability to tell a story from women’s perspectives, while still appealing to men, and never once having to resort to sex. Bette Davis, Anne Baxter, and Celeste Holm all share the role of lead, and battle for the attention of the viewer, without ever detracting from one another.
The truly great thing about this film though, is its dialogue. Joseph L. Mankiewicz deserves all the credit in the world for his Wilde like word play. Nearly every line in this film is quotable. The characters speak with a profound sense of purpose that makes dinner parties feel like war rooms, and theatre stages feel like presidential podiums.
This is a great movie as a whole. But as a literary work it is a masterpiece that should be experienced by everyone.