Written and directed by Joseph Mankiewicz, an ambitious young actress manipulates her way into a star’s life and then into her roles.
Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter) gets the top theater award for the year. Karen Richards (Celeste Holm) recalls a year earlier when she introduces the fan Eve to actress Margo Channing (Bette Davis) in her dressing room. Eve tells how her husband was killed in the war, and how she admired and followed Margo to New York. Director Bill Sampson (Gary Merrill) is going to Hollywood, and Eve asks him why. Eve checks his bags, and Bill kisses Margo goodbye. Eve moves into Margo’s guestroom.
In the next month Eve helps Margo stay in contact with Bill. Margo asks her acerbic maid Birdie Coonan (Thelma Ritter) why she doesn’t like Eve. Birdie says that she is studying Margo. Bill returns to a party and talks with Eve. Margo gets jealous, and Bill defends Eve. Critic Addison De Witt (George Sanders) arrives with Miss Caswell (Marilyn Monroe) and sends her to producer Max Fabian (Gregory Ratoff) while he talks to Eve. Margo gets drunk and asks Max to give Eve a job in his office. Margo admits to playwright Lloyd Richards (Hugh Marlowe) that she is forty but says she can play 20-year-old Cora. Eve tells Karen she wants to be Margo’s understudy. Addison, Bill, and Eve discuss the theater and its sacrifices. Margo shows contempt for Lloyd and Karen.
Margo arrives late, and Addison tells her that Eve read for Miss Caswell’s audition brilliantly. Margo quarrels with Bill, Lloyd, and Max. Bill tells Margo to stop her tantrums and says he loves her, suggesting marriage. She declines, and he says goodbye.
Lloyd tells Karen about the audition. She arranges for the car to run out of gas on a weekend with Margo so that Eve can play her role. Eve invited Addison and other critics. Addison overhears Eve failing to seduce Bill. Addison then invites Eve to dinner and interviews her.
Karen shows Addison’s column to Eve. Bill comes in and consoles crying Margo. Lloyd tells Karen that Eve could play Cora in his next play. Bill and Margo go out with Lloyd and Karen and tell them they are getting married. Karen gets a note to meet Eve, who implies that Addison tricked her. Eve asks Karen to let her play Cora, and she threatens to tell Addison what Karen did. Margo tells Lloyd that she does not want to play Cora, and Karen laughs.
Bill directs Eve in rehearsal and quarrels with Lloyd. Eve gets Lloyd to come over at night. The next day Eve tells Addison that she is going to marry Lloyd; but Addison says she can’t marry Lloyd because she belongs to him. Addison knows her real story and reduces her to tears. He says they are alike and belong together.
Eve accepts her award and thanks Max, Karen, Margo, Bill, and Lloyd. Eve tells Addison that she is not going to Max’s party and suggests he take her trophy. In her apartment Eve finds a young actress named Phoebe (Barbara Bates). Addison rings and gives the trophy to Phoebe. She tries on Eve’s robe, holds the trophy, and bows to the mirror.
This drama portrays clever theater people battling to enhance their careers as the ruthless Eve overcomes all obstacles in her way. Yet she finds herself left without her friends except distant fans and the cynical critic.