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Film / All About Eve

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"Fasten your seatbelts, it's going to be a bumpy night."
Margo Channing

All About Eve is a 1950 American drama film, written and directed by Joseph L. Mankiewicz and released by 20th Century Fox. It is based on the 1946 short story "The Wisdom of Eve" by Mary Orr.

It recounts the tale of Margo Channing (Bette Davis), a seasoned veteran of the stage and the darling of Broadway, taking under her wing Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), a young acolyte with nowhere else to go, whose motives are not what they seem. Other important characters include Addison DeWitt (George Sanders), a jaded, cynical, and frighteningly influential drama critic; Bill Samspon (Gary Merrill), Margo's director boyfriend; Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe), Margo's playwright; Karen (Celeste Holm), Lloyd's wife and Margo's closest friend and confidant; and Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter), a former vaudeville actress employed as Margo's personal assistant.

The costumes were by famed Hollywood designer Edith Head and the film score was by Alfred Newman (not that Alfred Newman!). Marilyn Monroe appears in a small early role.

All About Eve was nominated for fourteen Academy Awards (including a whopping four nominations just for the actresses) and won six, including Best Picture, Best Director, Best Screenplay, Best Supporting Actor (George Sanders), Best Costume Design for a Black-and-White film (Edith Head and Charles Le Maire), and Best Sound Recording. This is still the record for nominations, tied with Titanic (1997) and La La Land.

A Broadway musical adaptation starring Lauren Bacall, Applause, was produced in 1970.

This film provides examples of:

  • Adam and/or Eve: The movie is about a specific woman, but also about many female characters who are trying to negotiate their identity as women in the modern world. Get it? It's "All About Eve"???
  • Adaptational Karma: In the short story, Eve succeeds in her plans. The Hays Code wouldn't permit that, so we have Eve being exposed for her lies by Addison, blackmailed into obeying his every whim and the end implying she'll experience the same thing with her Loony Fan Phoebe.
  • Adaptational Name Change: Pretty much all the major characters other than Eve Harrington got different names in one way or another. Karen and Lloyd Roberts were renamed Karen and Lloyd Richards, Margola Cranston was renamed Margo Channing, and some of the characters flat out didn't appear at all.
  • Adaptation Title Change: The film is an adaptation of the short story "The Wisdom of Eve".
  • Affably Evil: Addison and Eve are both very charming, likable people... so long as you don't get in their way, or don't have some weakness they can exploit.
  • Age-Gap Romance: Discussed. Margo is eight years older than Bill. Karen points out this isn't that big of a difference, but to Margo, it is a huge difference, and she's insecure he might leave her for someone younger. Part of it is due to the fact that, as an actress, Margo doesn't feel she's allowed to be older; at forty she's already considered to be over the hill, and has to keep playing younger roles that she knows aren't really suited to her anymore. As such, her age is a major sore spot for her. There's also the unspoken but obvious Double Standard that if Bill was forty and she was thirty-two, no one would give it a second thought. Bill, for his part, genuinely couldn't care less and wishes Margo would stop worrying about it.
  • Alliterative Name: Addison at one point calls Miss Caswell "Claudia", meaning she's an example.
  • All Women Are Lustful:
    Bill (on his way to fly to Hollywood): Anything you'd like me to tell Tyrone Power?
    Birdie: Just give him my phone number. I'll tell him myself.
  • Ambiguously Gay: Modern viewers like to imagine Addison and Eve as homosexuals, Addison from his posh way of speaking and Eve from her obsession with Margo. Regardless it's revealed that Eve was run out of town for having an affair with a married man, and Addison seems to be sexually attracted to her so this one is up in the air. Eve does have enough smouldering moments with other women, such as her (supposed?) neighbor, that she could rate as Ambiguously Bi. Or possibly she's not above seducing women to get what she wants either.
  • Ambition Is Evil: Eve knows exactly what she wants and will stop at nothing to get it. Lampshaded by Addison.
    Addison: 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.
  • Anguished Declaration of Love: Bill to Margo.
    Bill: I love you. You're a beautiful and intelligent woman, a beautiful and intelligent woman and a great actress, a great actress at the peak of her career. You have every reason for happiness, every reason, but due to some strange, uncontrollable, unconscious drive, you permit the slightest action of a kid, of a kid like Eve to turn you into a hysterical, screaming harpy! Now once and for all, stop it!
  • Attention Whore: It's heavily implied Eve's primary motivation boils down to this. Pretty much everything she does is in the name of becoming a star and gaining the adoration and attention she craves.
    Eve: If there's nothing else, there's applause. I've listened backstage to people applaud. 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.
  • Badass Boast:
    • One from Margo, which she immediately subverts by reframing her "mass of music and fire" as "a kazoo and some sparklers."
      Margo: A mass of music and fire? That's me.
    • And:
      Addison: Take a good look at me Eve, it's about time you did. I am Addison DeWitt and I am nobody's fool, least of all yours.
  • Badass Longcoat: Addison sports one of these.
  • Badass in a Nice Suit: Most of the males as well as Margo.
  • Berserk Button:
    • Getting too friendly with Bill has this effect on Margo. Among others.
    • Don't laugh at Addison. Just. Don't.
  • Betty and Veronica: Eve seems to be playing Betty to Margo's Veronica for a while. With an emphasis on playing.
  • Bitch in Sheep's Clothing: Eve, oh so much.
  • Blackmail:
    • Eve threatens to tell Margo how Karen helped her unless Karen convinces Lloyd to cast her in his play.
    • Addison does this to Eve late in the movie; he threatens to go public with the sordid details of her past, thereby ruining her image and her career, unless she completely submits to him.
  • Bookends: All the drama started when a Loony Fan slips in Margo's life and ends with a Loony Fan slipping in Eve's life.
  • Break the Haughty:
    • Margo gets broken by Eve's increasing success and her friends seemingly turning on her, but fortunately for her, a Heel Realization averts a tragic end.
    • Towards the end, Addison's Breaking Speech to Eve makes her realize she has made a Deal with the Devil by throwing herself at his hands.
  • Breaking Lecture: Addison, to Eve. Taking her inflated ego down a notch by calling her out on all her lies. Lying about her dead fiancee, lying about being Eve's biggest most kind and devoted fan, lying where she lived in San Francisco, and her manipulation of other people around her simply for a role in a play with no remorse of what happens to those lives she's ruined. And then there's the affair she was blackmailed into leaving town about. After all of this thrown in her face, Eve is in tears.
  • Camp Straight: Addison. Who has a large formal vocabulary, fashionable sense of style and mannerisms, and in the end he tells Eve that she belongs to him.
  • Canon Foreigner: Addison DeWitt and Birdie Coonan didn't exist in The Wisdom of Eve, and are both new characters created specifically for the movie.
  • Can't Hold His Liquor: Karen, or at least Margo seems to think so when Karen starts to laugh hysterically at the fact Margo has willingly given up the part Eve was going to blackmail Karen for.
  • Casting Couch: A variation. It's hinted that Miss Caswell got her audition via Addison being persuaded to pull some strings — and in fact, Miss Caswell’s career-building strategy seems to involve a lot of flirting with men. And she’s played by Marilyn Monroe.
    Addison: Miss Casswell is an actress, a graduate of the Copacabana School of Dramatic Art.note 
  • Casting Gag: Tallulah Bankhead played Margo in a radio adaptation of the movie. For years it was rumoured that she was the inspiration for Margo.
  • Caustic Critic: Addison, to everyone else's annoyance.
  • The Chessmaster: Eve, although she is Out-Gambitted by Addison.
  • Child Prodigy: According to Addison, Margo did her first stage appearance when she was 4 years old and was acting ever since.
  • Cliché Storm: Eve's fake backstory isn't unrealistic, but it does hit on a lot of classic dramatic tropes; a farm girl yearning for more, finding solace in her dull life in the magic of acting, her true love dying a hero's death in the military leaving her lonely and lost, just waiting for some great mentor to take her under their wing... Lampshaded In-Universe by Birdie:
    Birdie: Everything but the bloodhounds snappin' at her rear end.
  • Costume Porn: There are several party scenes, allowing the main cast to be splendidly dressed. Margo's off the shoulder black evening gown for Bill's party has endured throughout pop culture. Eve also spends the last few minutes of the film wearing a stunning sequined dress and cape.
  • Cut Lex Luthor a Check: The point stands that Eve is a genuinely very good actress, and Karen and the others really did like her at first. Had she just gone to auditions and worked as Margo's assistant, maybe asking her to put in a word for her to get her a reading or something, she probably could've gotten that award the honest way after some time paying her dues. Had she not lied about her backstory, Addison wouldn't have bothered to dig into her past, and never would've found out she had an affair with her boss in Wisconsin. He wouldn't have even wanted to blackmail her in the first place had she not been so deceitful and manipulative. Basically, Eve completely screwed herself over by going about this the way she did. But Eve doesn't want to be just any actress; she wants to be Margo, and that includes having every aspect of her life... now.
  • Cynical Mentor: Margo has been in theater for many years, has seen it all, and knows just what makes audiences tick. Addison has much wisdom to offer to a promising young unknown but certainly does not feel compassion for her or for anyone else.
  • Dawson Casting: In-universe; Margo feels washed-up for playing a character so much younger than her actual age.
  • Deal with the Devil: Eve's growing complicity with Addison comes to have unforeseen costs.
  • Double Entendre:
    • In the title, "Eve" can refer to the main character, or to women in general.
    • Also:
      Lloyd: She apologized, didn't she?
      Karen: On her knees, I've no doubt!
    • Some subtle, non-sexual ones in the play titles: aging actress Margo stars in Aged In Wood. Eve spends a sizeable portion of the plot gunning for the lead in the play Footprints on the Ceiling. Indeed, in the course of doing this her persona does "flip over".
  • Drowning My Sorrows: Margo, at Bill's welcome home party. At one point, she's drunk by the piano, asking the pianist to play the same melancholy piece over and over.
  • Even Evil Has Loved Ones: Addison mentions that Eve's parents are worried about her — having not heard from her in three years.
  • Even Evil Has Standards: Addison has no issues with Eve doing everything possible to succeed. Unless those things include easily discovered lies, hurting those who loved and cared about you, and using pity for those who have died in the military.
    • Though there is a possibility of alternative interpretation: Addison could in fact be hinting that he himself couldn't care less, but the public will.
  • Everybody Smokes: This being the mid-20th century, almost every character is seen lighting, smoking, or putting out a cigarette in almost every scene. Addison even has a fancy cigarette holder.
  • Everyone Has Standards: Addison admonishes Eve for insulting the memory of dead heroes and the women who loved them. He's also not impressed at Eve's attempts to break up Bill and Margo, and later Lloyd and Karen, purely to further her career.
  • Evil Brit: Addison is completely merciless in his theatre reviews and in his personal life (the other characters remark that he doesn't get heartburn from being around Eve because he has no heart to burn), and is played by (Russian-born) English actor George Sanders using his natural accent.
  • Eviler than Thou: Addison shows Eve that in the end, he's bigger and badder than she could ever be, reducing her to a miserable, teary-eyed mess.
  • Extreme Doormat: Eve towards Margo, though this turns out to be a means to an end; if she takes whatever abuse Margo hurls at her while playing at being The Ingenue, everyone turns on Margo for being so mean to poor, defenseless Eve. It also means Margo doesn't suspect her at first, since Eve's just so darned helpful and complacent.
    Eve: Well, if [Margo]'s got to pick on someone, I'd just as soon it was me.
  • Face of an Angel, Mind of a Demon: Eve does look pretty beautiful and appealing which only makes her reveal as a deceiver even more surprising.
  • Flat Character: Max Fabian is introduced during the opening scene but during the actual film, he doesn't get a lot to do aside from being a Plucky Comic Relief and plot device.
  • Foreshadowing: A subtle example at the beginning; everybody applauds at the beginning when Eve is set to receive the Sarah Siddons award — everyone, that is, except Margo and Karen. Also, when Eve first meets Margo and Lloyd, she specifically mentions the play Lloyd is currently writing. Finally, there's the scene later where Margo catches Eve taking a bow to an empty stage, holding the dress Margo just wore in the play.
  • Funny Foreigner: Max Fabian, who's a source of comic relief and is the only one in the main cast outside the Anglosphere.
  • Gentleman Snarker: Addison snarks at practically everything, in a gentlemanly drawl.
  • The Ghost: A Hollywood starlet attends Bill's birthday party and leaves it before we even get to see her. All we see is her expensive sable coat.
  • Good Is Not Dumb: Bill is one of the nicest characters in the film. While he thinks Margo is being too hard on Eve and is just paranoid - the second Eve makes a move on him, he understands exactly what she's up to, rebuffs her and is on Margo's side from that point on. Notably Lloyd assumes Eve was manipulated by Addison into giving that interview, while Bill doesn't.
  • Good Smoking, Evil Smoking: Eve is first seen lighting a cigarette at the end, when she meets Phoebe, to signal that the roles have been swapped at last.
  • Green-Eyed Monster:
    • Margo.
      Bill: You have every reason for happiness, but due to some strange, uncontrollable, unconscious drive you permit the slightest action of a kid like Eve to turn you into a hysterical, screaming harpy!
    • Eve is also envious of Margo's success.
  • Hair-Trigger Temper: Margo, in spades. Lampshaded by Bill when he finally gets fed up of "these paranoiac outbursts".
  • Heel Realization: Margo has one partway through the film. Right before Eve makes her villainy known.
  • Here We Go Again!: At the end, it's rather heavily intimated that Phoebe may be planning to do the same thing to Eve that Eve has done to Margo.
  • How We Got Here: The film opens at the award ceremony, then flashes back to show the events of the previous year, and finally ends up at the ceremony again.
  • Hypocritical Humor: After the incident mentioned under Sweet and Sour Grapes below, Karen just bursts out laughing at the situation - baffling the others. As she keeps on laughing, Margo - who has been a Lady Drunk more than once in the film - takes Karen's glass away.
  • I Just Want to Be You: Eve deeply envies Margo's life, and wants it for herself; the career, the fame, the man, everything.
  • I Never Said It Was Poison: Eve is caught out in her lies when she says she saw Margo perform at the Shubert Theatre in San Francisco — a city which doesn't have a Shubert Theatre. Addison lampshades this; saying after all the other well thought out stories she made up about herself, that one was far too easy to expose.
  • I Take Offence to That Last One: Out of all the insults Margo hurls at her, Birdie retorts most to "fifth-rate vaudeville star".
    Birdie: I closed the first act for eleven years and you know it!"
  • Info Dump: The opening narration of the film, where Addison explains who each of the primary characters are and what their situation is.
  • Informed Ability:
    • We see a sliver of the incredible performance Eve gives that's supposed to kick-start her acting career... but considering her character is performing fabulously throughout the film, we can assume she's great.
    • And Margo Channing, the great lady of the theater, compared to Helen Hayes and Jeanne Eagels by Addison: all we see of her performance in Aged in Wood is a glimpse of the curtain call.
  • Insufferable Genius: Margo, Bill, Addison, and (most of all) Eve.
  • It's All About Me: Addison and Eve. Ironically, Margo is almost as self-centered as the woman who idolizes her.
  • Jerk with a Heart of Gold: Margo is very cynical and sharp-tongued, with a low opinion of most people but she has a good heart and decides to give Eve a chance. No good deed goes unpunished!
  • Jerk With A Heart Of Jerk: So Addison reveals he's onto Eve's lies and knows her actual backstory, and starts calling her out on how stupid and ill-judged her faux-backstory was. Think this means he's going to reveal himself as a Jerk with a Heart of Gold? Does this mean Even Evil Has Standards? Not particularly — he's more than happy to keep it all under wraps, in exchange for Eve putting herself at his mercy in such a way that's just short of outright slavery. And although he can tell immediately that "Phoebe"note  has the same designs on Eve that Eve had on Margo, far from being worried for Eve, he seems amused by the idea that she might be hit by a bolt of Laser-Guided Karma.
  • Lady Drunk: Margo in the movie's famous quote, detailed above.
  • Large Ham: Margo is quite dramatic, which makes sense if she's a theatre actress.
  • Lemony Narrator: The film is partially narrated by Addison, who has a rather low opinion of the other principal characters, and of humanity in general.
  • Loony Fan: Margo is the only source of happiness in Eve's life from before the two even meet in person, and the focus of her activities for a long time afterwards. The ending shows that Eve may have gained a Loony Fan of her own.
  • Louis Cypher: Some say there's more than a faint whiff of the demonic about Addison. How exactly did he know how Margo really missed that performance?
  • Love Triangle:
    • Between Margo, Bill and Eve.
    • And Eve attempts one between her, Karen and Lloyd.
  • Manipulative Bastard: Most of the important characters are skilled at manipulating others' emotions. Some elevate it to an art form.
  • Meaningful Echo: "Don't get up. And don't act as if I were the Queen Mother."
  • Meaningful Name: More than a few. Eve is named after the first woman, which makes her character seem generic while allowing the film's title to have a double meaning. Her surname, Harrington, could be taken as a reference to "Red Herring". Margo is to Bill Sampson what Delilah was to Samson in that she robs him of his power. Addison DeWitt's name is both a reference to the adder that offered Eve the apple in the garden and of course his wit: Addison The Wit.
  • Ms. Fanservice: Well, Miss Caswell is a lot more than that. But as she's played by classic screen beauty Marilyn Monroe, and spends most of her screen time done to the nines — wearing a tight strapless dress — you bet she qualifies.
  • Multiple-Choice Past: It turns out Eve has been lying about her background and true identity as part of her plan to manipulate her way into becoming Margo's understudy.
  • Naïve Newcomer: Eve, when she first meets Margo. Or rather this is what she pretends to be.
  • Never a Self-Made Woman: Karen sees herself as this, as she's only known for being married to a playwright. She however is not an example in the film itself — as she's an active character defined more by her relationship to Margo than Lloyd.
  • No Guy Wants to Be Chased: Bill implies this to Eve when she tries to seduce him. The other reason, of course, is that he's already taken and he's just disgusted with her true nature.
  • Oh, Crap!: Eve remains defiant during the early stages of Addison's declaration that she belongs to him now and his revelation that he knows her real name (Gertrude Slescynski) and that her parents haven't heard from her for three years. But her defiance turns to horrified panic when he reveals that he knows she had an affair with her married boss at the brewery in Milwaukee and was paid $500 to leave town to avoid a scandal, as she realises that if she doesn't submit to Addison, he will completely destroy her dreams of stardom.
  • Older Hero vs. Younger Villain: Margo Channing has hit her 40s three months prior to the film's events, Eve on the other hand is probably in her mid-to-late-20s.

  • Old Maid: Margo is starting to become aware that she's hit forty and Bill is eight years younger; worrying that she's too old to have a future with him. Part of her dislike of Eve (at first anyway) is fear that Bill will fall for a younger girl instead.

  • One Head Taller: Addison is this to Eve. This is particularly noticeable at the end when he hits her.
    Eve (opens the door insistently): Get out!
    Addison: You're too short for that gesture.
  • Only Sane Man: Bill, to some degree, and also Karen, are the only characters in the film who aren't massively screwed up and manipulating others for their own gain.
  • The Only Way They Will Learn: Doubly subverted. Karen deliberates on her plan to help Margo to get over herself. She finishes with "there's not even a reason why I shouldn't tell her," then, as she picks up the phone, adds, "in time." Subverted again, when it turns out Karen is the one without a clue.
  • Out-Gambitted: Eve's attempts to find fame for herself go quite far... Except her wishes to marry Lloyd. Turns out making allies with Addison was a mistake.
  • O.O.C. Is Serious Business: It's clear Eve is screwed when she suddenly screams at Addison about the affair that got her run out of her previous town.
  • Permission to Speak Freely: Birdie starts off her early rants about Eve with a variation on this.
  • Pet the Dog: Margo gets a couple that take the edge off her very abrasive personality and emphasizes that she is in fact a Jerk with a Heart of Gold, unlike Eve.
    • She's genuinely moved by Eve's story, and snaps at Birdie to shut up when she makes a joke about it.
    • One of the first major signals (to the audience, at least) of what Eve is really up to is when she takes Margo's costume from Aged in Wood and holds it in front of herself in front of a mirror. Rather than get annoyed or paranoid, Margo seems to find it endearing, watching with a small smile before letting Eve know she's there.
    • When she first realizes Eve is trying to replace her, she tries to set her up with a job someplace else, rather than just kick her out.
    • After the weekend away, she sincerely apologizes to Karen for being so nasty lately, and opens up about her insecurities. Karen dearly regrets her role in making Margo miss her performance because of this.
  • Pimped-Out Cape: Eve has one when she gets her award, that Phoebe tries on when she shows she has the same ambitions.
  • Pimped-Out Dress:
    • The lead role in Aged in Wood calls for one.
    • When Eve gets her acting award, she wears a dress loaded with pearls.
  • Pretty in Mink:
    • Margo's dress for her party has mink trimmed sleeves and mink trimming the pockets on her skirt.
    • At Margo's party, quite a few of the guests go gaga over a sable coat. Karen even says her new mink looks pitiful next to it. Even Eve can't help petting the fur as she talks to Karen.
    • Miss Caswell arrives at the party wearing a white ermine wrap.
    • Margo jokes that she'll just wear a fur coat and a nightgown to her wedding.
  • Properly Paranoid: Margo who cops onto Eve's ruse early on, whereas her friends don't see it.
  • Pyrrhic Victory: Eve gets everything she wanted, at the cost of being under Addison's abusive thumb for what will probably be the rest of her life. The other characters, who used to genuinely like her and want to help her out, now see her for the Manipulative Bitch she is, and have thoroughly turned on her. And her newfound fame has attracted her a stalker of her own.
  • Real Award, Fictional Character: At the opening of the film, Eve is being awarded the Sarah Siddons Award for Distinguished Achievement, an award for acting. This was a fictional award at the time but was later Defictionalized as a regional award in Chicago. The musical adaptation Applause changes it to The Tony.
    • Life Imitates Art: In a bit of Irony, Celeste Holm won the award in 1968, while Lauren Bacall won it in 1974 for Applause playing Bette Davis' role. Davis herself won an honorary Siddons in 1973.
  • Real Life Writes the Plot: Bette Davis's voice is so raspy in this film because her marriage was breaking up and she was screaming at her husband all the time.
  • "The Reason You Suck" Speech:
    • Margo gets one from Bill when he tears into her for letting her paranoia regarding Eve shatter her career and personal life.
    • Eve gets one from Addison, as detailed in Eviler than Thou above.
  • Rich Bitch: Margo is a successful actress who has a negative attitude towards her fans and often takes out her anger and frustration with the world on her friends but she's still a loving, loyal woman who gave Eve a chance and befriended her.
  • Rule of Symbolism:
    • We don't learn about Eve's true nature when we see her at the very beginning of the movie receiving the prestigious Sarah Siddons Award for theater performance. However, right before Eve touches the award, she's frozen. The freeze-frame allows us to fly backward through time and learn everything Eve did to get her conniving little hands on that award. By the time we know the whole story, the award is more than an acting accomplishment. Yes, Eve earned it by her performance on-stage, but her performance off-stage was equally impressive. The people Eve stomped on to get to this point — Margo, Karen, and the gang — know this better than anybody. The award returns a few minutes later when Eve leaves it in a taxi cab. Was she tired, or did she not really care about the award as much as she acted like she did in her acceptance speech? Either way, the award is picked up by a girl calling herself Phoebe, who's insinuated herself into Eve's life even faster than Eve wormed her way into Margo's. We last see Phoebe holding the award and looking at herself in Eve's tripled mirror. There are hundreds of Phoebes and hundreds of awards, making us wonder just what else people will do just to get this flimsy-looking trophy. The award seems to represent all the worst of the theater world—its superficiality, cutthroat ambition, and fleeting fame.
    • All the important women in this film are rich, so we always see them in luxurious furs. They live in New York City. It gets cold there. More than just looking pretty, the furs begin to represent a difference between New York theater actors (i.e. real actors) and Hollywood actors (i.e. terrible horrible no-good celebrities). A Hollywood actress arrives at Margo's party, and we never even see her, but we do see her sable coat. Karen makes a smart observation, saying, "Women with furs like that where it never gets cold..." When Birdie comes to retrieve the coat, she has to ask which one is sable. To Birdie, Margo's assistant who doesn't have a fur coat, it's nothing more than just another fur coat. When Karen asks what she expects, Birdie says, "A diamond collar, gold sleeves — you know, picture people..." She doesn't realize she's not far off, considering all the outlandish outfits that show up on the red carpet... When Margo announces that she and Bill are getting married, someone asks her what she'll wear. She says, "Oh, something simple. A fur coat over a nightgown." That's a loaded image. It contains glamour and sex, but also suggests that those fancy furs are covering up something much more ordinary. They're like that glittery trophy—they look good but don't necessarily mean anything. Underneath, even the stars are just real people.
    • Mirrors are a big part of any actor's dressing room. Not because they're vain, although they may be, but because it's necessary for an actor to know what she looks like. In this film, the mirrors are all about self-reflection—the psychological kind. When we're first introduced to Margo Channing, she's looking in a mirror and taking her face off, so to speak. Also her hair. We see Margo stripped down, looking at herself. Margo the woman, not Margo the actress. As we learn, though, Margo has blurred the two. Just as we look at her reflection and wonder who she is, she wonders the same thing. Mirrors have a similar function in the role of Eve, but with a twist. Critic Kate Bellmore suggests that Eve is a psychopath and that the mirrors help to visually represent her mental illness. It's almost as if Eve has to look in the mirror to remind herself who she's supposed to be at any given moment. If the shape-shifter lets her guard down, the whole act is up. Finally, mirrors play a part in the movie's final scene with Phoebe. The phrase "smoke and mirrors" comes to mind here. In fact, Margo smokes like a chimney, and there are plenty of scenes where she's enveloped in a cigarette haze, too—another way of suggesting her identity crisis. The mirrors represent one of Joseph Mankiewicz's favorite themes, which Harvard Film Archives describes as "the theater as a mirror game of real life in which human identity is revealed to be mercurially unstable, an illusion founded in role-playing and disguise".
  • Servile Snarker: Birdie, Eve's housekeeper. There's little she doesn't snark at and she's the first who realizes there's something off about Eve.
  • Shout-Out: Shakespeare is referenced frequently, especially Macbeth.note  Margo also quotes from Julius Caesar ("the evil that men do"), though she can't remember the whole quote.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Leaning towards cynicism. Most people in this universe are selfish, cynical jackasses who lack the ability to care about others. Lloyd and Karen are trapped in a loveless marriage by the end of the film, Eve is still deprived of real love and under the thumb of Addison but the only characters in the film who are truly loyal to one-another, namely Margo and Bill are the only characters who get their happy ending. Addison seems pretty content with his lot in life though that's more a case of The Bad Guy Wins.
  • Small Role, Big Impact:
    • Addison DeWitt gets a rather minor role throughout the film with one scene in at Margo's party and a handful of other scenes with spying on Eve, and damn is that scene at the ending important!
    • Birdie. Despite disappearing from the plot around the halfway mark, she's the one who initially saw through Eve's deceptions and she's the one who warned Margo about Eve's true intentions and is responsible for her growing suspicions. Without her, Eve probably would have gotten away with more of her deceptions.
  • Smug Snake: Eve. When Addison decides to get tough with her, her confidence drops and she breaks like a twig.
  • Snark-to-Snark Combat: Pretty well any big scene between the major characters is conducted largely as a duel of irony and sarcasm, especially if Addison or Margo are involved.
  • The Sociopath: You could make a definite case for Addison and Eve. The latter manipulates and controls everyone around her, while the former is a master at blackmail.
  • Spit Take: Max when Margo asks him to give Eve a job.
  • Spoiled Sweet: Karen is implied to have come from money and gone to a finishing school, which is where she met Lloyd. She's the kindest and nicest of her social circle.
  • Spot the Imposter: A subtle but key example as Addison and Eve talk about her past with Eve saying she saw Margo perform at the Shubert in San Francisco which Addison describes as "an oasis in the California desert." This comes up when Addison demolishes Eve's entire façade in the film, noting that San Francisco has no Shubert Theater and "it was an easy lie, unworthy of you."
  • Stage Names: Eve's real name is Gertrude Slescynski. Fittingly for an aspiring star of the time, she has been going by the more Anglo sounding Eve Harrington.
  • Stalker with a Crush: Eve is definitely a stalker who is drawn to Margo, but whether it's a crush, envy, obsession, some twisted form of admiration, or something else is unclear. She's definitely drawn to Margo specifically, though, and seeks to take on her life.
  • Stepford Smiler: Margo becomes like this when Addison tells her Eve is now her understudy, and manages to maintain that all through when Addison, and then Bill and Lloyd, praise Eve's performance as revelatory (which Margo interprets as, among other things, a knock on her own performance).
  • Sweet and Sour Grapes: Eve blackmails Karen with a choice - use her influence with Lloyd to have her play the part of Cora in 'Footprints on the Ceiling', or she'll have Addison publish the story about Karen sabotaging Margo thereby destroying their friendship permanently. Karen barely has time to consider it when Margo announces she'll take time off from the theatre to get married, meaning Karen has to do absolutely nothing at all.
  • The Stoic: Acerbic, icy, and unflappable, Addison is a Stoic to the very end, even when he would be entirely justified in showing some emotion. He feels passion only for the theatre, such as his joyful reverence for Margo Channing even when she is having a theatrical temper tantrum. In one scene, Eve is able to make him lose his temper, something no one else ever comes close to doing.
  • Subverted Suspicion Aesop: The entire plot of the movie. Both Birdie and Margo are suspicious of Eve's motives after a while, every other character thinks she's just being paranoid but it turns out Eve is out to sabotage Margo's career to further her own.
  • Team Mom: Karen as the only non-theatre person in the group, tends to be rather motherly and affectionate towards everyone. Margo at one point irritably asks her to stop playing "governess".
  • Theatre is True Acting: The two lead characters, Margo and Eve, are both stage actresses, and everyone thinks very highly of their craft. While their thoughts on film are never mentioned, television is specifically derided as a lesser art form. The ditzy, less-talented Miss Caswell bombs an audition for a stage show, and is told she can still have a career... on TV. It's clearly meant as a jab, albeit one she's too naïve to get.
  • Title Drop:
    • In Addison's opening monologue.
      Addison (in voiceover): Eve... but more of Eve, later. All about Eve, in fact.
    • The phrase "about Eve" crops up pretty regularly.
  • Unusual Euphemism: Margo introduces Miss Casswell to Eve as "an old friend of Mr DeWitt's mother", in mockery of Eve's youth and perceived naïveté.
  • Unwitting Instigator of Doom: None of Eve's schemes could have gotten started without Karen.
  • The Vamp: Eve is revealed to be one. She's willing to seduce Bill or Lloyd to advance her career and Addison finds out she has done this before.
  • Very Loosely Based on a True Story:
    • The short story the film was adapted from is based on something that happened to Viennese actress Elisabeth Bergner; she allowed a young fan to become part of her household and took her on as an assistant. This unnamed person (the actress only referred to her as "that terrible girl") merely tried to undermine her. Writer Mary Orr expanded on this, giving the girl a more ruthless personality and allowing her to succeed in building a career herself.
    • A similar incident happened to actress Talulah Bankhead - where she had a bitter rivalry with her understudy during a Broadway production of The Skin of Our Teeth. According to legend, the understudy (Lizbeth Scott) victimised the actress. For years it was even assumed Margo was based on Talulah Bankhead.
  • Victory Is Boring: Once Eve finally manages to win the Sarah Siddons Award — which she had spent the entire film manipulating events and everyone her for — she says in her speech that she feels connected to her community... but her manipulations to get there alienated herself from many of the most important people in her life (Margo, Karen, Lloyd, and Bill). She leaves the awards and doesn't even want to go to the after-party. Instead, she goes home, and she even forgets her award in the car, as she's ultimately unhappy about her situation. It is ironic that after all the lengths that Eve went to become famous and affirmed by the public, she can barely appreciate the rewards of her hard work because she has no friends. Unless you count Addison, and even he's more of a frenemy if anything.
  • Villain Protagonist: Eve Harrington turns out to be this when she revealed to be manipulating everyone and lying about her background to rise to stardom. Not to mention ruining everyone's careers and reputations without showing any remorse.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Eve, whilst Addison coldly and efficiently obliterates her entire facade in private. She still goes on to win the award we see her win at the start of the film and is clearly going to be successful, but she's a shadow of her former self.
    Addison: To begin with, your name is not Eve Harrington. It's Gertrude Slescynski.
    Eve: What of it?
    Addison: It's true your parents were poor. They still are. And they would like to know how you are, and where. They haven't heard from you for three years.
    Eve: What of it!? (She stomps away from Addison.)
    Addison: A matter of opinion, granted. It's also true that you worked in a brewery... but life in the brewery was apparently not as dull as you pictured it. In fact, it got less and less dull, until your boss's wife had your boss followed by detectives.
    Eve (whirls round, enraged): She never proved anything, not a thing!
    Addison: But the $500 you got to get out of town brought you straight to New York, didn't it? [a horrified Eve flees into the bedroom and slams the door; Addison calmly opens it again and enters] That $500 brought you straight to New York, didn't it?
    Eve (breaking down): She was a liar! SHE WAS A LIAR!
    Addision (icily): Answer my question, weren't you paid to get out of town? (Eve falls onto the bed, sobbing; Addison impassively stands over her.) There was no "Eddie", no pilot. You've never been married. That was not only a lie, it was an insult to dead heroes and the women who loved them. (He sits on the bed and leans close to Eve.) San Francisco has no Shubert Theater! You've never been to San Francisco, (he grabs Eve and turns her face toward his) that was a stupid lie, easy to expose, not worthy of you!
    Eve (through tears): I had to get in to meet Margo! I had to say something, be somebody, MAKE HER LIKE ME!
    Addison: And she did like you! She helped and trusted you. You paid her back by trying to take Bill away.
    Eve: That's not true—!
    Addison: I was there! I saw you and heard you through the dressing room door. (Eve falls back and continues sobbing.) You used my name and column to blackmail Karen into getting you the part of Cora, and you lied to me about it.
    Eve (pounding the mattress): NO! NO! NO!...
    Addison: I had lunch with Karen not three hours ago; as always with women who try to find out things, she told more than she learned. (Eve continues sobbing; Addison sits up straight again.) Now, do you want to change your story about Lloyd beating at your door the other night?
    Eve (completely broken): Please... please...
  • Vitriolic Best Buds: Margo's relationship with nearly every other character, especially Karen. She snipes at just about everybody, but she has a good heart and everyone knows that, which is why they stick around. Karen even says that while she's often mad at Margo, she's never truly angry with her.
  • Walking Spoiler: Good luck talking about Phoebe (or whatever her real name is) without revealing that Eve ends up filling up Margo's position as the stalking victim.
  • Wham Line: A seemingly distraught Eve is lamenting to Karen that Addison Quote Mined his column about her to paint her in a negative light, and Karen asks if there is anything she can do. Eve's tone of voice suddenly cools as she grabs Karen's wrist in a vicelike grip...
    Eve: There is something you can do. Something most important.
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Birdie completely disappears without explanation halfway through the film.
  • Wide-Eyed Idealist: Karen, which allows Eve to manipulate her with ease.
  • Womanchild: Margo Channing's prone to occasionally throwing tantrums due to her age insecurities. Luckily, she aware of this and often tries to contain herself.
    Margo: Infants behave the way I do, you know. They carry on and misbehave — they'd get drunk if they knew how — when they can't have what they want. When they feel unwanted or insecure … or unloved.
  • World of Snark: Margo, Addison, Bill, Lloyd and sometimes Karen snark their way through life in the film.
  • You Keep Using That Word: Margo gets very annoyed when Bill keeps using the word 'paranoiac' to describe her behaviour.