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The Three Faces of Eve
Fox Studio Classics

The Three Faces of Eve
Fox Home Entertainment
1957 / B&W / 2:35 anamorphic 16:9 / 91 min. / Street Date October 5, 2004 / 14.98
Starring Joanne Woodward, David Wayne, Lee J. Cobb, Edwin Jerome, Alena Murray, Nancy Kulp, Douglas Spencer
Cinematography Stanley Cortez
Art Direction Herman A. Blumenthal, Lyle R. Wheeler
Film Editor Marjorie Fowler
Original Music Robert Emmett Dolan
Written by Nunnally Johnson from a book by Corbett Thigpen, Hervey M. Cleckley
Produced and Directed by Nunnally Johnson

Reviewed by Glenn Erickson

Joanne Woodward became a star in her third film with The Three Faces of Eve, a movie that sounds like an actor's stunt but turns out to be an interesting true-life tale of a woman stricken with multiple personalities. Top Fox writer-director Nunnally Johnson transformed an clinical case study into the acting sensation of its year; for better or worse, Ms. Woodward's low-key, hype-free performance was looked upon as a breakthrough in screen acting.


Georgia TV repairman Ralph White (David Wayne) brings his mousy wife Eve (Joanne Woodward) to psychiatrists Luther and Day (Lee J. Cobb and Edwin Jerome), practitioners who have never seen a case as rare as hers. The shy Eve has a second secret personality hidden within, a coarse and provocative woman named Eve Black who has been buying expensive dresses and sneaking out to dance with soldiers when Ralph is away. When Eve tries to harm her daughter Bonnie, she spends time in and out of the asylum, where Dr. Luther finds that she can shift between personalities with alarming rapidity. Ralph has little faith in psychiatric voodoo and divorces Eve, and Dr. Luther discovers within Eve a third personality that seems far more balanced than the other two, and must struggle for possession of Eve's body.

Introduced by Alistair Cook way before his Masterpiece Theater days, The Three Faces of Eve oozes credibility, something Nunnally Johnson must have known would be strained by this Jekyll & Hyde & Hyde-er tale taken from a true account. According to disc commentator Aubrey Solomon, several Hollywood actresses fled from the difficult part. For Joanne Woodward, already a veteran of live TV drama, it was an opening into the big time.

Johnson's direction never matched the depth of his writing, and much of The Three Faces of Eve takes place with actors spread across the screen in flat compositions, as was the habit with many early CinemaScope features. But the flatness makes the more dynamic moments, such as a dramatic truck-in to Eve's face, all the more jarring.

The entire show fixates on Joanne Woodward's personality changes, and Johnson handles them well, never telegraphing them or hyping them with visual or audio cues. The sparse soundtrack does sometimes back up a mental change with a bit of a mysterioso theme, but the concentration remains on Eve White and her two corporal roommates, Eve Black and Jane. At first we're unimpressed by Woodward's transformations, expecting perhaps something with a more theatrical charge. But the rightness of Woodward's approach soon becomes more apparent. She manages to make the slightly slutty Eve Black a troublemaking tease without being ridiculous. When the level-headed Jane comes along, we're grateful that a happy ending might be possible, if Eve can just hang on to that particular personality.

Considering the source is a true case study, it's a bit alarming to find The Three Faces of Eve resolved with the old-fashioned 40s kind of psychiatric miracle breakthrough. The patient Dr. Luther (a masterfully restrained Lee J. Cobb) uncovers a traumatic childhood event that is the source of Eve's personality fracture and in a matter of moments the problem is cleared up. The doormat Eve and the slattern Eve vanish, leaving behind the well-mannered and emotionally secure Jane. What could be more perfect? With her mental impurities vanquished, the new distilled Eve is ready to be a Mom on a 1957 TV family sitcom.

Anti-feminist males who have had to deal with problem or manipulating women might feel a little skeptical about the movie's depiction of events. Eve's personalities eventually spur the disbelieving Ralph into packing his bags, something that most female viewers would see as the answer to all of Eve's problems anyway, especially with a handsome and loving replacement (Ken Scott) waiting to take over and buy everybody ice cream. Many frustrated or impatient men think that women get their way by bringing on semi-calculated moods and emotional crises whenever things aren't working out to their satisfaction. It is interesting that Eve's mental state, the kind of complex riddle that makes for great psychiatric careers, suddenly abates when hubby number one calls it quits.

One has to think that The Three Faces of Eve would have a special appeal to those 50s housewives envious of Eve's ability to change identities and conduct a racier second life on the side.

Maybe some of this simplification happened in the transformation to the screen. The Three Faces of Eve is still more of an acting showcase than a fully convincing case history. For 1957, though, it's very sophisticated.

Vince Edwards appears as a sex-minded GI, while Douglas Spencer and Nany Culp are Eve's gaunt and scary parents for the traumatic childhood flashback, that plays like a gothic horror film.

Fox's Studio Classics DVD of The Three Faces of Eve looks fine in B&W CinemaScope, even though the subject matter gives ace cameraman Stanley Cortez (The Magnificent Andersons, The Night of the Hunter) little room to shine. In the first office scene, one angle shows no light on Lee J. Cobb's back, and the next cut reveals him sitting with his back to a bright window. The picture is clean and the audio perfect; old TV prints of this film looked like blurry kinescopes.

A trailer shows us what writer/producer/director Nunnally Johnson looks like, and a Fox newsreel captures the moment when Joanne Woodward receives her Oscar from John Wayne. The audio commentary is an informative piece by author Aubrey Solomon, who speaks with enviable clarity to tell the entire tale of the film's path to the screen. Johnson apparently interceded before publication to change the book's title from something more clinical, to the eventual commercial choice.

On a scale of Excellent, Good, Fair, and Poor, The Three Faces of Eve rates:
Movie: Very Good
Video: Excellent
Sound: Excellent
Supplements: trailer, newsreel, excellent commentary by Aubrey Solomon
Packaging: Keep case
Reviewed: October 31, 2004

DVD Savant Text © Copyright 2007 Glenn Erickson

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