Wisecracking. One~liners. Devastating delivery. If you’re cynical, you might say she’s played the same part over and over again. To that I say, if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, because over and over again, a girl’s best friend is EVE ARDEN.
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Entering Moon In Gemini’s “YOU GOTTA HAVE FRIENDS!” blogathon ( click the banner to read more entries on the nature of friendship in the movies ) Eve Arden’s name comes immediately to mind . She doesn’t have ‘Oomph’ or ‘It’ or play the bombshell. Men consider her a ‘pal.’ But I think she is sexy in her own right if you like the level~headed gal, who could drink her whisky straight and tell you like it is. There’s beauty in that. Besides, I think she IS pretty attractive. If you’re a woman, she’d be a valuable ‘consigliere’ to tell you what you need to hear, not want to hear. And while she’s pinched you if she has to with her tart tongue, she’ll bite the heads off those who try to hurt you. In movies she’s rarely in a relationship though in real life she had a husband and children. Her screen self basically travels alone, a self~sufficient, self~contained, self~aware single woman. She floats through society with the greatest of ease…unencumbered, pollinating quips, wisecracks and bon mots as she rolls along. Eve Arden made 99 movies between 1929 and 1987. Younger audiences might remember her as Principal McGee in “Grease.” If they were smart like the rest of us, they’d do well to explore Eve Arden in all her younger movie career glory.
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“THE ARNELO AFFAIR” ( 1947 ) [ Vivian ]
Vivian is good friends with Ann ( Frances Gifford ) who used to be an interior decorator and who’s now a wife with a son and husband who is a workaholic. Vivian’s there for moral support and a shoulder to lean on, on her way to her own boutique, with sage advice for Ann when the more attentive and slickly handsome John Hodiak starts making a play for her and feeding her grapes. Eve’s clothes are wonderfully over the top…but it’s that same devastating delivery. And even over~the~top, Eve’s got the frame and statuesque figure to be a clothes horse like Kay Francis. << Sigh! >> Has Edith Head ever dressed Arden?
“You know Ann, just give me a plate of bacon and eggs, a full pocketbook, a chinchilla coat and a man and I’m happy. I’m such a simple girl.”
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“THE UNFAITHFUL” ( 1947 ) [ PAULA ]
Eve Arden shows who she is from the first. Her character throws a party for herself to announce she’s back on the market:
ARDEN: “The time has come to tell you why I gave this party. Come in closer. Six years ago I committed a crime against society. I married a man. Anyway I’ve taken my punishment and I was pardoned. Or was it paroled?”
ARDEN: “Don’t be crude. Now I want to pay a tribute to the man who made all this possible. Larry Hanniford. Larry take a bow. Am I embarassing you?”
Larry: “You are.”
ARDEN: “I’m so glad.”
Larry: “Besides, I only do the paperwork. The rest I leave to the ladies.”
ARDEN: “Don’t you believe it. This morning he stood in court and made a speech that belongs to History. In twenty minutes I was a free woman. I’m now again on the open market. Do I hear any bidders? My hair is my own. My teeth is my own. Well, practically everything is my own. Speak up Gentlemen.”
Husband ( enters ): “Go on! Tell ‘em! Tell ‘em all about it! Tell ‘em how wonderful you are. Then I’ll tell ‘em a few things.”
ARDEN: “Well the corpse at the post~mortem. What’s the matter, did I forget something when I packed your things? What do YOU want!”
Husband: “I wanna sock you right in the jaw.”
And that, ladies and gentlemen, is our introduction to the very caustic, newly~minted divorcee Paula in “The Unfaithful.” Arden plays Ann Sheridan’s cousin~in~law. And she’s rather a bitch.
There’s a good scene in the restaurant when Arden and her harpy side-kicks ( Peggy Knudsen and Jane Harker ) come over to give their “condolences” to Sheridan for the trouble she’s in. All they really want is to gossip and drop innuendoes. They’re pretty transparent about it.
Friend #1 [ to Sheridan ]: “…I must say you look awfully well considering what you’ve been through.”
ARDEN: “Really Joan.”
Friend #1: “Oh, I could bite my tongue in half.”
ARDEN: “You’d have plenty left.”
She feigns leaving but stays longer to get some more dirt about this scandal. But as the movie goes on, I have to say, when the chips are really down Arden comes through. Yes she chatters on…
ARDEN: “Chris! Darling you weren’t even listing to me.”
Sheridan: “Oh I’m sorry. Would you like some more coffee?”
ARDEN: “Oh Heavens no. I’m going to meet the crowd downtown and I want those cocktails to have plenty of room.”
But I do love her heartfelt change of heart when she deeply apologizes for her behavior…in her own ‘Eve Arden-ish’ way:
“Chris. I know you won’t believe this. I’m awfully sorry about all this. Too bad we were never friends. ‘Course I know you don’t approve of me. But I don’t approve of me either.”
Arden has a good strong scene with Zachary Scott when she has to tell him some hard truths about himself. No irony, no snide~ness. Just straight talk. Eve Arden is wonderful in this scene and director Vincent Sherman lets her have all of it:
This film deals with adultery and its extenuating circumstances; It doesn’t treat the wife like she’s at the Salem witch trials. I like this movie for many reasons. Eve Arden is one of them.
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“MY DREAM IS YOURS” ( 1948 ) [ VIVIAN ]
Eve co~stars with the new girl on the Warner Brothers lot: DORIS DAY in her second motion picture. Eve is on the behind~the~scene end of show biz when talent scout Doug Blake ( the affable Jack Carson ) brings this blonde bundle of energy to the West Coast to break in to that biz called show. He bulldozes Arden to take in Day as a roomie, and puts the bite on her to also take in Day’s little boy and overgrown dog:
Doug: “Vi, isn’t he wonderful?”
ARDEN: “Yeah, cutest little lease-breaker I ever saw. Where’s his mother?
Doug: “She’s downstairs, she wasn’t sure how you’d take this.”
ARDEN: “Yeah I’ll bet.”
He even convinces her to pawn her favorite ( and only ) mink coat to loan him the cash to put Day over. Arden’s a pal alright. Or is she a patsy? She’s a good sport about it all, ultimately looking out for Doris like a big sister… with one eyebrow raised. Arden also plays Day’s friend in “Tea For Two” in this re~working of 1920’s “No No Nanette.” It’s fun watching Arden spar with Billy De Wolfe.
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“MY REPUTATION” ( 1946 ) [ GINNA ]
Barbara Stanwyck is a strong woman in the movies, right? Well not in this 1946 “woman’s picture.” And I use strong quotes not to put the movie down in that category the way it’s usually used. But for a story specific to women who may need to give themselves permission to live again…or be responsible only to herself. Or at least Her Self FIRST. Stanwyck suffers from “DMS” = the Domineering Mother Syndrome of “Now, Voyager.” This time Mother is played by Lucile Watson, as usually played by women who look like conjugal duties clearly were a duty. Now Stanwyck doesn’t quite have the breakdown our neurotic Charlotte Vale does, but she does melt down a bit. Stany’s a widow, feeling some built up pressure from a nice steady vanilla friend of her husband’s, two growing boys and what her social set ( and Mother ) expect of her. She can’t take it. And who does she lean on? You guessed it…her best friend Ginna played by the object of my affection: Eve Arden. And you and I and Eve Arden knows exactly ‘what~she~needs.’
Jessica [crying]: “I don’t know what’s the matter with me. I seem to be going to pieces!”
ARDEN: “It isn’t only the body that breaks down, Jess. The mind can go too, you know.”
Again Arden is the urbane friend, fancy apartment. Shoulder to lean on. But this time the script actually has her as married…to the ubiquitous John Ridgely. And she’s not the domineering wife either. He good~naturedly tolerates her but keeps her in check. Arden is quieter in this movie. She invites Stanwyck out to their ski lodge to spend a weekend. Fresh air and downhill skiing will take the ‘edge’ off of what ails you. ‘Meeting cute’ will take care of the rest.
It’s a cinch that Stanwyck can’t talk to the dames in her tony set. Arden is outside the she~wolf pack.
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“ANATOMY OF A MURDER” ( 1958 ) [ MAIDA ]
This is a great courtroom drama from Otto Preminger, starring James Stewart, George C. Scott, Lee Remick, Ben Gazzara and Arthur O’Connell. Good cast, good story. Eve Arden plays Maida the office Secretary for James Stewart’s Paul Biegler. You can see she’s the chief cook and bottle washer for Stewart’s law office. She’s his quiet supportive cheerleader sitting in the courtroom. And quietly, good~naturedly admonishes him.
“If this refrigerator gets any more ish in it, it will swim upstream and spawn all by itself.”
~ OR ~
Paul: “You’re fired.”
ARDEN: “You can’t fire me until you pay me.”
She’s not harsh or brash. She downplays the brightness of her delivery. She’s quieter. She doesn’t have to punch these lines because we already know who she is. In my mind, I like to think of her Maida, and Jimmy Stewart’s Paul Biegler having a quiet drink in their office or at the local inn listening to jazz after a trying day in court.
…And then having some quiet comfort together back in her apartment. She’s a pal. She’s a woman. She’s in your corner. She’s a friend.
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“STAGEDOOR” ( 1937 ) [ EVE ]
In a sea of beautiful girls with quick quips and wisecracks, Eve Arden stands out with her cat, her champagne voice and the effortlessness of skill.
“A pleasant little foursome. I predict a hatchet murder before the night’s over.”
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And of course…
“MILDRED PIERCE” ( 1945 ) [ IDA ]
This is the creme de la creme of friendship with this film. ( Arden works again with Crawford in 1950’s “Goodbye My Fancy” ). Eve plays Ida, the first person to give Joan Crawford’s Mildred Pierce a job as a waitress. She shows her the ropes and guides her. When Mildred branches out with her own franchises, who’s right there helping manage her businesses? And who’s there to advocate for the waitresses when she has to tell Mildred Veda is borrowing money from them? Ida sees Monty Beragon for the heel he is before Mildred…is ready to admit it. Ida drops some lovely words of contempt on Monty for good measure. And she has a wonderful retort for Wally’s admiring ogle. I present IDA:
- “Leave something on me. I might catch cold.”
- “When men get around me, they get allergic to wedding rings.”
- Monty: “Oh I wish I could get that interested in work.”
ARDEN: “You were probably frightened by a callus at an early age.”
- “Oh men. I never yet met one of them that didn’t have the instincts of a heel. Sometimes I wish I could get along without them.”
- ARDEN: “Laughing boy seems slightly burned at the edges. What’s eating him?”
Mildred: “A small green~eyed monster.”
ARDEN: “Jealous? That doesn’t sound like Wally. No profit in it ~ and there’s a boy who loves a dollar.”
- “Personally Veda’s convinced me that alligators have the right idea. They eat their young.”
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D’ya want to read about some other great friendships in classic film? Well just click on Bob & Bing and read many more entries. And if you want to read a more in~depth view of Arden’s performance as Ida in “Mildred Pierce” read the blog post at Once Upon A Screen. Thank you Debra for hosting and sharing this great idea for a blogathon. Hmmmm…think I’d better call my best friend now.