Tuesday, October 14, 2008

That would solve none of their problems, because actresses never die...

(Continued from my last post...)

The beginning of Margo and Addison's conversation is cut off in this clip, but in the first sixteen seconds the audience gets a clear picture of both characters: Addison delights in revealing to Margo that Eve is her understudy, and a very good one at that, whereas Margo can barely contain her displeasure while trying to appear wholly unsurprised. Addison's seemingly casual revelation that Margo wasn't mentioned at all during Eve's audition is very telling, both to Margo and the audience. It marks the first time that Margo truly realizes how easily she could be replaced by a younger actress. Miss Casswell's entrance is perfectly timed, both to disrupt the tension between the scene's two principal characters and to give Margo a way out of the conversation.

Her entrance into the theater says a lot with little dialogue. Notice how she dismissively throws her coat over Max's head. His reaction reveals quite a bit about his relationship to Margo; instead of getting angry, he interprets it as a warning sign of the tantrum to come, and signals to Bill, Lloyd, and Eve that they should prepare themselves, then squirms uncomfortably low in his chair when Margo addresses him directly. She cheerfully feigns ignorance, passive-aggressively dropping hints about her conversation with Addison (including, of course, my favorite phrase of the movie, which is used several times). She let's the act drop slowly, picking a fight with Lloyd over her age in relation to the characters he writes for her -- something that's been an issue, first in her own mind and later between the two of them, throughout the film -- until Bill realizes that Addison has already told her everything.

In the background, Eve slowly backs up as the fight escalates, a move that on first viewing made her seem frightened and innocent, but after having seen the entire film now appears more calculated, as if she deliberately set the argument in motion and now intends to leave before the others pick up on that fact. Bill, meanwhile, is strangely calm, perhaps foreshadowing his own argument with Margo later in the scene. He casually tosses his cigarette pack aside and lays down on the bed, patting the dog statue on his way down. That action, juxtaposed against Margo's raving in the background, is one of those small moments in the film that I think completely makes the movie. His exaggerated state of relaxation provides some measure of comedy in an otherwise dramatic scene, but it also hints to the audience that Bill is at the end of his proverbial rope.

Meanwhile, the argument rages on as Lloyd finally stands up to the diva, as Hugh Marlowe and Bette Davis deliver some of the best lines in a script known for its sparkling wit. Max Fabian intervenes only when Margo suggests that she might not perform that night, reminding her that she is bound by a legal contract, but she easily calls his bluff and he leaves the theater. Lloyd stays to get in one last parting shot, comparing Margo to a piano that can only play the music he writes for it. He leaves before she can reply, and so she turns on Bill, continuing the metaphor by asking if he is the pianist in this scenario.

The tone of the scene changes abruptly. Margo is clearly still hurt and angry, but she's far more gentle with Bill and he flat-out refuses to engage her. She notices that Eve has left, and Gary Merrill again successfully combines quiet exasperation with comic relief as Bill looks around, checks under the bed, and shrugs his shoulders. His passivity as Margo rants about Eve, Lloyd, and Addison doesn't spare him. She pauses and sweetly acknowledges how patient he's being, but in the next breath tries again to goad him into an argument.

He takes the bait when she accuses him of having directly been involved in hiding Eve from her. Eve has been a sore point in their relationship for some time, as Margo has started to sense something sinister in the girl's hero-worship of her, while Bill sees her as an innocent kid. This is made worse by Margo's insecurity about her age and the eight-year gap between them, something that Bill can more easily dismiss because he is the younger one. There are also eight years between Bill and Eve, but because Eve is younger than Bill, Margo fears that he finds her more attractive.

Bill tries desperately to convince Margo that her jealousy is unfounded, in a physically tense moment that would have much different connotations in a contemporary film, if it were included at all. There's no air of violence in this scene, however, even as Bill overpowers Margo. She squirms beneath him out of anger and denial, not fear, laughing in his face when he declares his love for her.

Bette Davis does an amazing job of portraying Margo's vulnerability through the rest of the scene, starting with the moment that Bill lets go of her. She lays still for a second, defeated, then rolls over and refuses to face him while she collects herself. She makes it clear, through her words and tone of voice, that her pride remains intact, but when Bill mentions Eve, Margo's voice softens and her insecurity becomes almost palpable. She won't even look at Bill as he begs her to put the subject of Eve to rest, and even has he breaks up with her she remains stoic, though intensely sad. It's not until after he's nearly gone that she turns and, with a fleeting, childlike smile, asks if he's going to find Eve. The scene ends with Margo sobbing alone on the stage, having lost the most important people in her life to her own pride and jealousy.

This is probably the longest blog entry I will ever write, but if you got this far then I hope you can see why I didn't want to leave anything out -- and in fact, still feel like there's so much more I could say about just those ten minutes of film.

Mankiewicz, J. L.(Writer/Director). (1950 October 13). ['Movie']. All About Eve. Twentieth Century-Fox Film Corporation.

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