MARGO: […] You know, I can remember plays about women — even from the South— where it never even occurred to them whether they wanted to marry their fathers more than their brothers...
LLOYD: That was way back...
MARGO: Within your time, buster. Lloyd, honey, be a playwright with guts. Write me one about a nice, normal woman who shoots her husband.
We don't learn what Margo's current play is about, but it seems like she's playing a Southern Belle. We see right off the bat what kind of roles she's really after—roles that match her assertive personality.
MARGO: Bill's thirty-two. He looks thirty-two. He looked it five years ago, he'll look it twenty years from now. I hate men.
Margo vents something many women, especially female actors, feel, and that's the relative agelessness of men. Harrison Ford and Robert Redford can play heartthrobs into their 70s and 80s. Women in their 40s struggle to get romantic roles. Angela Lansbury played Laurence Harvey's mother in 1962's The Manchurian Candidate when she was 3 years older than him. That was the 60s and wouldn't happen today, though. Oh wait. Sally Field played Tom Hanks' mother in Forrest Gump when she was 10 years older than he. Susan Sarandon, 24 years older that Melissa McCarthy, played her grandmother in Tammy (2014).
MARGO: Lloyd, I'm not twentyish. I am not thirtyish. Three months ago, I was forty years old. Forty. Four oh. That slipped out. I hadn't quite made up my mind to admit it. Now I suddenly feel as if I'd taken all my clothes off...
This scene is shocking because women, especially women in the entertainment industry in the 1950s, would never admit their true age, especially if they were "over the hill," i.e., probably 35. It seems like, for an actress, that hill comes along at about 25 years old.
BILL: Only thing, what I go after, I want to go after. I don't want it to come after me.
Bill puts Eve in her place after she makes a pass at him. It's not her role to do that—he needs to be in control. We wish he would have left it at "I'm in love with Margo. Haven't you heard?"
MARGO: Funny business, a woman's career. The things you drop on your way up the ladder, so you can move faster. You forget you'll need them again when you get back to being a woman. That's one career all females have in common— whether we like it or not—is being a woman. Sooner or later we've all got to work at it, no matter what other careers we've had or wanted... and, in the last analysis, nothing is any good unless you can look up just before dinner or turn around in bed and there he is. Without that, you're not a woman.
This is a moving speech, but we can't call Margo Channing a feminist. She's not looking to change this ideal. She wants to conform to it. It's sad that even such a strong person needs a husband to feel like a real woman.
KAREN: The cynicism you refer to, I acquired the day I discovered I was different from little boys!
Karen didn't just realize that boys and girls are different physically, but they have different places in society. Karen has had to accept that, but she isn't necessarily happy about it.
BILL: Bill's here, baby. Everything's all right now.