Judge George Hatch thinks the real "Eve White" deserves a slap across each her three "faces" for fraud. But he concedes that Joanne Woodward should have received three Oscars instead of only one.
"There's no use trying to kid ourselves. We're losing. That woman is in worse condition today than she was when she first walked into this office two years ago."—Dr. Luther
The Three Faces of Eve (1957) is based on a book by Corbett Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley that was published earlier that same year. It was an instant bestseller, and producer and director Nunnally Johnson, who also wrote the screenplay, immediately snapped up the rights. America's interest in psychotherapy had been sparked in the 1940s by films like Lady in the Dark (1944), in which the professional editor of a popular ladies' magazine suffered though headaches and daydreams. Hitchcock's Spellbound (1945) dealt with amnesia and suppressed memories. And Robert Siodmak's The Dark Mirror (1946) was a thriller about good-and-evil twin sisters. The last, in fact, was a novel adapted to the screen by none other than Nunnally Johnson himself. The Three Faces of Eve gave Johnson a shot at combining all of these elements into a documentary-style feature film that would draw the same audience that devoured the book and wanted to see Eve's story on the big screen.
Facts of the Case
Ralph White (David Wayne) brings his depressed wife, Eve (Joanne Woodward), to a psychiatrist, Dr. Luther (Lee J. Cobb), because she "just ain't been actin' right." Dr. Luther agrees to start weekly therapeutic consultations, but things only get worse for this unhappy couple. Ralph comes home from work one day and sees their daughter, Bonnie, stumbling around in "mommy's shoes." These spangly high heels, however, are nothing like the shabby mules Eve wears when she mopes around the house. Then he finds a box of sexy, low-cut dresses in their bedroom. Eve denies having bought them; she thought they were "a surprise present" from Ralph. "Besides, I'd never think of spending $219 on clothes like that without asking you first." When Ralph catches Eve trying to strangle Bonnie, he slaps her to the floor, and immediately drags her back to the shrink.
Dr. Luther soon discovers another side of Eve White, a seductive vamp who calls herself Eve Black. He brings in an associate, Dr. Day, who is an expert on MPD—"multiple personality disorders." And, yes, there are, indeed, two faces of Eve. When the Whites' marriage disintegrates, Ralph moves to Florida, taking on a new job; Bonnie is sent off to live with her grandparents. Eve White rents a room in a local boarding house, so she can continue therapy. Doctors Luther and Day believe there must be some "repressed childhood memory…some little thing she might have seen in the attic…or somewhere," that might have triggered Eve's shattered identity. Using hypnosis to probe her past, a third "face" emerges, that of Jane, a polite and intelligent woman who has no last name and no memories at all.
The Three Faces of Eve opens with a portentous and pretentious introduction by the distinguished British journalist and broadcaster Alistair Cooke. From 1952 to 1959, Cooke was the host of Omnibus, a groundbreaking television documentary show that spanned areas from the arts to science. Here, Cooke twice advises the audience that "what you are about to see is a true story…and much of the dialogue was taken from documented clinical records of the conversations Eve had with her psychiatrist." He closes by saying that the film is based on the book of the same name, and it has "already become a classic in psychiatric literature."
Alistair Cooke eventually regained his credibility and moved ahead to host Masterpiece Theatre for over 20 years. "Eve White," however, decided to cash in on all the publicity in 1958 by writing her own "autobiography," The Final Face of Eve (AKA Strangers in My Body: The Final Face of Eve), under the pseudonym Evelyn Lancaster. Get it? In 1977 (I assume the royalties ran out), she "came out" as Chris Costner Sizemore, and claimed that she really had, not three, but 22—count 'em, 22—different personalities! Her new book was published as I'm Eve. And I wasn't surprised to learn that, a decade later, Sizemore wrote A Mind of My Own: The Woman Who Was Known as "Eve" Tells the Story of Her Triumph Over Multiple Personality Disorder. This extremely lengthy title was probably intended to compensate for the sparse and rehashed content of those earlier books. But, hey: "You go, girl(s)!"
The Three Faces of Eve omits most of the story behind Eve's initial depression. Her husband, Ralph, was physically and verbally abusive; in the film he does yell and slap her twice. Ralph is played by David Wayne (Portrait of Jennie), and his lame performance reduces this character to a dumb rube who doesn't believe in her "multiplied personality thing." Thankfully, he soon disappears from the picture. So it all comes down to Dr. Luther and Eve's three identities. I much prefer the fierce and volcanic Lee J. Cobb as he appeared in On the Waterfront and Twelve Angry Men. He was also terrific as the despondent Willy Loman in a 1966 TV adaptation of Arthur Miller's Death of a Salesman (now available on DVD). But Cobb has little to do in Eve—he's serious, perplexed, and astonished, but there's no physicality involved, none of the kind of movements that made his other roles so explosive. He manages to generate warmth, sincerity, and concern, but The Three Faces of Eve belongs to Joanne Woodward, who ignites the screen with three astonishing performances:
• Eve White is a mousy housewife, who tentatively clutches the purse atop her tightly closed knees, and hunches her shoulders as if she were anticipating another slap in the face. She has a slow, Southern drawl, and always uses "sir" when answering Dr. Luther's questions. Her clothes look like second-generation hand-me-downs.
• Eve Black is a hot-to-trot party girl, who slouches forward, opening and closing her legs as a "come-on" to Dr. Luther. She's always telling him how "cute" he is, and makes provocative remarks, punctuated by two sexy "I'm-ready-when-you-are" click-clacks with her cheek. Eve Black dances up a storm at the local pick-up joints, and her dresses look like they were ordered from Frederick's of Hollywood.
• Jane is not plain at all; she's absolutely beautiful. She sits poised and upright in the chair with her legs crossed, and the hem of her dress demurely pulled just below the knee. She's confident, polite, and intelligent enough to turn a question-and-answer session with Dr. Luther into a genuine conversation. Jane dresses in the conservative but stylish women's fashion of the era. In other words, Jane is a perfect 1950s role model.
Eve White has headaches, blackouts, and amnesia whenever Eve Black "emerges." Black is totally aware of White, and she aggressively takes control whenever White is mentally or emotionally challenged with critical situations—Ralph's abuse, for instance. Eve Black insists she would never marry "such a loser…and Bonnie isn't even my kid. Are you serious? That's why I wanted to get that little brat out of the way." Eve White is vaguely aware of a "darker" side, but she lacks the power to maintain her own "self." No-last-name Jane claims she has no knowledge of either "Eve" or their pasts, but she is smart and sophisticated enough to ask Dr. Luther, "Who are these women…and what do they have to do with me?"
Joanne Woodward is absolutely spectacular in this film, imbuing the three personalities with varied emotional depth and diverse body language. My only problem is with the "transitions," when Woodward simply drops her head, then looks up with an entirely different expression on her face. We've all seen enough shows like Law & Order, in which psychiatrists are often called in to determine the validity of a suspect's claims of insanity, temporary amnesia, and multiple personalities. In one episode of L&O: Special Victims Unit, Dr. Huang (B. D. Wong, The Salton Sea) explained the difficulty in identifying a genuine case of MPD. Roughly: "There's no overpoweringly obvious change when another personality emerges. It may be something barely noticeable, like the flicker in the eyes, or a slight lowering of the shoulders, or a subtle new attitude or tone-in-voice that isn't immediately apparent." At Amazon.com, a reviewer from Utica, New York had "witnessed multiple personality change under clinical conditions, and the person does not change in any dramatic fashion (like the lowering of the head). It's an imperceptible change at first."
Woodward is a Method actress, and I was stunned when this reviewer went on to say that "she studied film of Eve White's real-life counterpart going through the change. She said there was no obvious physical change whenever the other personalities came out, and that she wanted to play it that way…the studio [however] wanted the lowering of the head…so that the audience wouldn't become confused whenever a change occurred." In The Rebuttal Witnesses below, you can read another confirmation of "[Hollywood's] preferred account" of hypnosis and MPD. In fact, this "nodding off" became almost absurd and laughable when Dr. Luther kept calling up, "Eve White! Now where's Eve Black?"—and Woodward looking like she was bobbing for apples.
Woodward deservedly won an Academy Award for her performance, and The Three Faces of Eve is a definite must-own for fans of the actress. If her interpretation of those "three faces" doesn't grab you, I guarantee the last 20 minutes of the film will leave you chilled to the bone and covered with goose bumps. Through "Jane," Dr. Luther finally unearths the horrifying repressed memory that divided Eve's life, and Woodward goes ballistic during this harrowing recollection.
Fox Home Video doesn't claim their transfer to be anamorphic or enhanced for 16x9 TVs, but the black and white CinemaScope image looks terrific. 'Scope seems a rather odd choice for such an intimate film; it's used best in the opening credits and the final scenes in which the camera zooms in and Woodward's eyes fill the screen, and then slowly dissolve to a past situation best not revealed here. Otherwise, cinematographer Stanley Cortez (The Naked Kiss, Night of the Hunter) has little to do within the confines of a doctor's office and boarding house room. The commentary by film historian Aubrey Solomon too often sounds like "Books on Tape," since he makes too many quotes from Thigpen and Cleckley's original text rather than offering his own insights.
We are thrown a few tidbits when Solomon advises us about 1950s censorship and required scene changes. In the book, Eve White wakes up in bed with a sailor whom Eve Black had picked up the night before. This had to be changed to Eve Black dancing with an Army sergeant (Vince Edwards, The Killing) and changing back to White at the bar. Their sexual encounter was inferred, but never "consummated" onscreen. (Edwards has one of the funniest lines in the film: "I don't spend eight bucks on a chick and expect to go home with just the morning paper.") Solomon also lets us know that Woodward was "a tyro and a dark horse in the race for the Oscar," as she was up against bigger names starring in more high-profile films. "Movietone News Footage," the original theatrical trailer, and promos for some other Fox Studio Classics round out the package.
The Rebuttal Witnesses
"Most psychiatrists rarely see a multiple personality, let alone anything approaching a cure as dramatized in The Three Faces of Eve. Whether or not the depiction of the psychotherapeutic cure in [this film] is historically accurate, the point to emphasize here is that such an account is [Hollywood's] preferred account of the mechanism."—Psychiatry in the Cinema by Glen O. Gabbard, M.D., and Krin Gabbard, Ph.D.
The Three Faces of Eve has a low-budget look, and I think Nunnally Johnson's rush to get it into theaters as quickly possible hurt the film in general. "Much of the dialogue was taken from documented clinical records," indicates Johnson wrote a hasty screen adaptation. While his direction is television-competent, two other lead actors, David Wayne and Lee J. Cobb, and the celebrated cinematographer Stanley Cortez got short-changed in the transition.
Reinterpreting the above comments of the Doctors Gabbard, Eve is also an early artifact representing how Hollywood has always tried (and still tries) to gauge the intelligence of an audience, determine what they want, and tack on an "appropriately" happy ending so that everyone walks out of the theater with a smile.
Not guilty! I never fell for the real "Eve" at all, but I believed every aspect of Joanne's Woodward's incredible performance.
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• Audio Commentary by Film Historian Aubrey Solomon
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