Sunday, July 11, 2010

Don't Make a Scene: All About Eve

The Story: As a director, Joseph L. Mankiewicz was a hell of a writer. That's not entirely fair—I'm saying that as a filmer of his own work, his shot composition wasn't always exciting.

But he could certainly stage things brilliantly, as this scene from "All About Eve" shows.

Call it "The Beehive Scene," because that's what theater diva Margo Channing sloshingly calls the group huddled on the stairs in conversation during Bill Sampson's welcome home party—the mingling, the positioning and politics among the theater-people has long since ended, and its that twilight time of a party where folks are sticking it out for the conversation and hanging on with the established partiers until its time to grab the coats; the process has already begun. So folks are hanging out in chatty clumps, sloppy enough to talk philosophically and pontificate a bit. It is the time of a get-together when the most important things are often said and never remembered.  Brilliance in passing...and possibly passing out,  Here, the "hold-outs" have gathered on the stairs in roughly hierarchical levels. Hopeful actresses on the bottom step, directors and critics in the middle. Karen assumes Margo's spot as the Queen Bee, although smilingly, above the fray, and Max, the producer, standing apart, not an artist but a money-man.

The positioning subliminally tells you everything about the scene without anyone saying a word.

Then, Margo flies in, as charming as a battle-axe, miffed, muscateled and magnificently "mauldin and full of self-pity" (of course, a critic would like it—anything dramatic, even if its melodramatic!) and the hierarchy is disrupted, so that she may ascend.  So much vying for attention.  So little audience.

Marilyn Monroe is in this scene, one could say playing a veiled version of herself at this point—young ingenue, exploited, learning the ropes of the business before they bind her, but with an underlying smartness that she doesn't let too many people see. She's practiced, with that put-upon breathy voice and the practiced diction mouth, but there's a natural comic timing that would sustain her throughout her career. It's one of her earliest roles and she's doing arched Mankiewicz dialogue against Davis, Holm, Baxter, and Sanders and holding her own.  Not exactly "a candle in the wind."

And Anne Baxter walks a tight-rope here.  Never one of my favorite actresses (she belonged in DeMille movies: "Oh, Moses, Moses.."), with good directors she could be poignant without puffery, theatrical without bellowing to the back-row.  In this scene, the veil of civility lifts a bit...the curtain rises so you can see what's going on back-stage for just a fleeting moment of reality.  It looks charming to the audience and they titter and smile at the naivete, but it's a mistake in Eve's production—for a moment her motive is revealed (she already has a victim marked, now all she needs is a murder weapon!)—and she momentarily panics until she sees that it "plays."  Baxter does it so well, that both her audiences—the ones on the stairs, and the wall-flowers in the theaters—do not see the naked ambition behind the words, the greed, the need, the lust.

The Set-Up:  A party at Margo Channing's (Bette Davis) for her returning beau director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill).   A frustrating evening, it's been arranged by Margo to cement her relationship to him, but her assistent, Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) is the one who looks like a hero for actually doing all the work.  For the star, it is tough to be anything less than center-stage, so fasten those safety belts.

Action!

Script deletions are in red.

INT. SECOND FLOOR LANDING AND STAIRS - NIGHT

Karen and Birdie come down the stairs to Bill, Max, Addison, a blonde young lady named MISS CASWELL (Addison's protegee-of-the-moment) - and, at the feet of Bill and Addison... Eve. They are all seated on the steps.

Birdie goes through and down the stairs to the first floor.
Karen remains with the others.

Addison is holding forth:


ADDISON: Every now and then, some elder statesman of the Theater or cinema assures the public that actors and actresses are just plain folk. Ignoring the fact that their greatest attraction to the public is their complete lack of resemblance to normal human beings.

MISS CASWELL: (as Birdie and the sables pass) Now there's something a girl could make sacrifices for.
BILL'S VOICE: And probably has.

MISS CASWELL: Sable.
MAX (to Miss Caswell): Did you say sable - or Gable?
MISS CASWELL: Either one.

ADDISON It is senseless to insist that theatrical folk in New York, Hollywood and London are no different from the good people of Des Moines, Chillicothe and Liverpool. By and large, we are concentrated gatherings of neurotics, egomaniacs, emotional misfits, and precocious children- MAX (to Bill) Gable. Why a feller like that don't come East to do a play...
BILL (nods) He must be miserable, the life he lives out there-
ADDISON These so-called abnormalities - they're our stock in trade, they make us actors, writers, directors, et cetera in the first place-
MAX: Answer me this. What makes a man become a producer?
ADDISON: What makes a man walk into a lion cage with nothing but a chair?
MAX: This answer satisfies me a hundred percent.


ADDISON: We all have abnormality in common. We are a breed apart from the rest of the humanity, we Theater folk. We are the original displaced personalities...

BILL (laughs; to Eve): You don't have to read his column tomorrow -

Bill: ...you just heard it.

BILL: I don't agree, Addison...
ADDISON: That happens to be your particular abnormality.
BILL: Oh, I admit there's a screwball element in the Theater. 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, the Theater couldn't survive...

MISS CASWELL (to a passing butler): Oh, waiter...

The butler goes right by.

ADDISON: That isn't a waiter, my dear. That's a butler.
MISS CASWELL: Well, I can't yell "Oh, butler," can I? Maybe somebody's name is Butler...

ADDISON: You have a point. An idiotic one, but a point.

MISS CASWELL: I don't want to make trouble. All I want is a drink.

MAX (getting up): Leave it to me to get you one...

MISS CASWELL (pitching): Oh, thank you, Mr. Fabian.

Max leaves with her empty glass.

ADDISON: Well done. I see your career rising in the East like the sun...

ADDISON (to Bill): ... you were saying?
BILL: I was saying that the Theater is nine-tenths hard work.

BILL: Work done the hard way - by sweat, application and craftsmanship.

BILL: I'll agree to this - that to be a good actor, actress, or anything else in the Theater, means wanting to be that more than anything else in the world...

EVE (abruptly): Yes. Yes, it does.

BILL (goes on): It means concentration of ambition, desire, 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...

Eve speaks almost unaware of what she says. She looks at no one in particular, just off...

EVE: So little. So little, did you say? Why, if there's nothing else - there's applause.

EVE: It's like - 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...

She becomes aware of Addison's strange smile, of Bill's looks of warm interest. She's embarrassed, she turns away - then scrambles to her feet as Margo approaches with Lloyd from the direction of the pantry.

Margo's had too much to drink. Her fake smile fades as Eve
gets up. She's unpleasant and depressed.


MARGO: Don't get up. And please stop acting as if I were the queen mother.
EVE (hurt): I'm sorry, I didn't mean to-
BILL (sharply): Outside of a beehive, Margo, your behavior would hardly be considered either queenly or motherly!

MARGO: You're in a beehive, pal, didn't you know?

MARGO: We're all busy little bees, full of stings, making honey day and night-
(to Eve)
- aren't we, honey?

KAREN: Margo, really...

MARGO: Please don't play governess, Karen...

MARGO: I haven't your unyielding good taste, I wish I'd gone to Radcliffe too...

MARGO: ...but father wouldn't hear of it...

MARGO: - he needed help at the notions counter...

MARGO (to Addison): I'm being rude now, aren't I?

MARGO: OR should I say "ain't I"?

ADDISON: You're maudlin and full of self pity. You're magnificent.

Max has come up with Miss Caswell's drink.
LLOYD: How about calling it a night?
MARGO: And you pose as a playwright. A situation pregnant with possibilities - and all you can think of is everybody to go to sleep...

BILL: It's a good thought.

MARGO: It won't play.

KAREN: As a nonprofessional, I think it's an excellent idea. Undramatic, but practical...

As she speaks, she makes her way to Lloyd's side.

MARGO: Happy little housewife...

BILL: Cut it out.

MARGO: This is my house, not a theater! In my house you're a guest, not a director-!
KAREN: Then stop being a star - start treating your guests as your supporting cast!
ADDISON: Hear, hear...

LLOYD: Now let's not get into a big hassle-
KAREN: It's about time we did! It's about time Margo realized that what's attractive on stage need not necessarily be attractive off.
MARGO: (suddenly) All right! I'm going to bed.

MARGO: (to Bill)
You be the host. It's your party. Happy Birthday, welcome home, and we-who-are-about-to-die-salute-you.

She starts upstairs.

BILL: Need any help?

MARGO: (pauses, smiles) To put me to bed? Take my clothes off, hold my head, tuck me in, turn off the lights, tiptoe out...?

MARGO: Eve would. Wouldn't you, Eve?

EVE: If you'd like.

MARGO: I wouldn't like.

She goes up, exits out of sight. A pause. Miss Caswell reaches up to take the drink out of Max's hand.

MAX: I forgot I had it.

MISS CASWELL: I didn't.

Bill gets up and goes after Margo...

ADDISON: Too bad! We'll miss the third act. They're going to play it off stage.


"All About Eve"

Words by Joseph L. Mankiewicz

Pictures by Milton R. Krasner and Joseph L. Mankiewicz

"All About Eve" is available on DVD from Fox Home Entertainment.


2 comments:

Andrew: Encore Entertainment said...

Don't do this, now I want to go watch this again. I just love Monroe here (I don't care for her much elsewhere) she does a good job of stealing the scenes she's in and delivers one of my favourite line readings of the entire film (which I love) "Well, I can't yell "Oh, butler," can I? Maybe somebody's name is Butler... " Just brilliant.

Yojimbo_5 said...

Yeah, she's great here, isn't she? Before "The Method" grabbed her, and turned her "I'm a Star!" quality into Hard Work. Check out "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes" to see her firing on all cylinders (and it's an interesting Howard Hawks film, too).

I think I could take every scene of "All About Eve" and make a "Don't Make a Scene" out of it (I've done three now!) The one I want to tackle is the later one between Addsion and Eve...and Margo's maudlin "matron" monologue in the car....now don't you get ME started!;)