Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Script review – “All About Eve” (1950) by Joseph Mankiewicz

It’s not really believable that a stalker goes from dresser to understudy to star within the space of a year, but such is the confidence and quality of the writing you don’t really notice. It helps that the theme of the story is archetypal: a young understudy wanting to knock off the magnificent yet aging champ. Reading this again I’m struck how many great lines and speeches belong to supporting characters like Birdie, Addison, Karen (love her description of her husband – “he looks so pathetic whenever he does anything physical”) and Bill (whose speeches about the theatre are perhaps the best ever on the topic); even Lloyd, who you don’t remember as being great because of Hugh Marlowe’s dopey performance, but he’s got some crackers, including calling Addison a venomous fishwife .

The characters are amazing: the bulk of attention goes to Margot, prima donna, likeable, funny, aging, but the others are good too: the possibly psychotic Eve, all Uriah Heep fawning and ambition, who seems to believe the lies she says (a lesbian too? She walks upstairs with her roommate, “arm in arm”); dopey Lloyd, clever with words but a babe in the woods in the real world, totally susceptible to the charms of the writer; cocky Bill, super director, not necessarily faithful to Margot provided he does the chasing; Machiavellian Addison, who enjoys Eve for her evilness, but is hurt and angered when she laughs at him. It's not a perfect script: Why did Mank have two party scenes in a row? The ending sequence goes on far too long – with Eve thanking everyone, then meeting Phoebe.

It’s worth reading the script for some wonderful big print, such as the description of Bridie “She was conceived during a split week in Walla Walla and born in a carnival riot”. Also of the ladies room in the Stork Club – “having never been there I can’t imagine what it looks like, but I imagine…” etc.

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