An Award-Winning Performance
Remember how the biblical Eve was tempted by a snake? Well, in this film, Eve is the snake.
Eve Harrington's a manipulative fame-hungry actress wannabe who doesn't care who she hurts as she claws her way to the top. Addison takes her for a sociopath who's incapable of real human emotion. She uses a soft-hearted Karen to meet Margo Channing under the pretense of being an innocent, adoring fan. She slithers her way into Margo's life and studies her, figuring out what she'll have to do to replace Margo as the grande dame of the Broadway theater.
Roger Ebert thought that while Margo was a three-dimensional character, Eve was a "type"—the ambitious ingénue out to make it at all costs (source). Is that true? You could make the point that Eve isn't this one-dimensional. We do think she respects Margo's talent. She knows she's picked one of the best actresses to model herself on. Plus, Eve is a fast learner, and she has real talent—it's hard to fake that. A woman this evil has to be a great actress in order to convince others that she's a modest, decent person.
Her #1 Fan
We first meet Eve as a star-struck young woman hovering in the shadows waiting for her theater idol to exit the stage door. She just so happens to approach Margo's best friend Karen on her way out of the theater. Karen just has to take this #1 fan to see Margo:
KAREN: I'm going to take you to Margo…
EVE:(hanging back) Oh, no...
KAREN: She's got to meet you.
EVE: No, I'd be imposing on her, I'd be just another tongue-tied gushing fan...
Eve's always gushing about the theater—the perfume, the applause—it's all magic, according to Eve. She sells herself as completely devoted to the theater. Of course, Eve knows exactly what's she's doing. She's flattering Margo, who loves to be flattered, and before you know it she's making herself indispensable; she knows it's a vulnerable time for Margo because Bill's away in Hollywood.
Pretty soon she gets a little too indispensable. Here's how Margo describes it:
MARGO: The next three weeks were out of a fairy tale, and I was Cinderella in the last act. Eve became my sister, lawyer, mother, friend, psychiatrist and cop - the honeymoon was on...
Margo's saying this with benefit of hindsight, but at the time she doesn't know what Eve's up to. By the time we uncover Eve's true motivations, it's too late. Eve manipulates her way into a role as Margo's understudy, then makes a shameless pass at Bill:
BILL: I'm talking about you. And what you want.
EVE: So am I.
BILL: What have I got to do with it?
Fortunately Bill doesn't buy it; this is his first inkling that Eve isn't what she seems. Things go downhill from there, as everyone catches on to Eve. She tricks Karen into making Margo miss a performance, then threatens to expose her if she doesn't get Lloyd to cast her in his next play:
KAREN: A part in a play. You'd do all that just for a part in a play?
EVE: I'd do much more for a part that good.
Eve wows the audience as Margo's understudy, and, just by absolute sheer coincidence, all the famous theater critics attended that night.
Eve doesn't know when to stop. As Karen says in one of our favorite lines, "Eve would ask Abbott to give her Costello." Eve wants to steal away Bill from Margo, and that fails, because Bill has honor. Plus, he doesn't like to be pursued. He wants to be the one who goes after women, not vice versa. Then she tries nailing Lloyd by faking some emotional meltdown to get him over to her apartment in the middle of the night.
Eve also makes the mistake of using an even bigger manipulator in her schemes, the devious theatre critic Addison DeWitt. When Addison realizes he's been had—that Eve is telling people he manipulated her words—he takes over, calling Eve out on all her lies and threatening to expose her if she doesn't obey him. Her name isn't even Eve; it's Gertrude Slojinski, not that there's anything wrong with that.
Addison, being even more of a manipulator and narcissist than Eve, knows he's got her. He's the critic who can derail her career with a single bad review. As long as she dances to his tune, he can make sure she's Broadway's next big star. Eve makes a deal with the devil, and wins the prestigious Sarah Siddons award, being sure to fawn over all her "friends" who helped her along the way.
EVE: [...] and it was Karen who first brought me to one whom I had always idolized, and who was to become my benefactor and champion. A great actress and a great woman— Margo Channing.
What a sweetheart.
At the end of the movie, we're happy to see history, or in this case her story, repeat itself, as Eve seems to take Phoebe on as her protégé; did she forget what she herself did to Margo? Perhaps those stars in her eyes really do blind her to the truth. As Phoebe secretly puts on Eve's elegant coat and bows in the mirror holding the statuette, we can sure see what's coming even if Eve can't.