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Behaving Very Unlike Herself

July 13th, 2010 · No Comments

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Joanne Woodward Lee J. Cobb

In the month of July, I take a look at films released in my very favorite film stock and aspect ratio: black & white in anamorphic. Unless they’re being financed with credit cards, movies are rarely shot like this anymore because they’re impossible to sell to television. Yet these dreams sneak onto Turner Classic Movies every now and again …

Three Faces of Eve 1957 poster Three Faces of Eve dvd

The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, based on the book by Corbett H. Thigpen M.D. & Hervey M. Cleckley M.D.
Produced by Nunnally Johnson
91 minutes

The Three Faces of Eve is so ridiculous that it begs for a spot on Mystery Science Theater. That may be a warning to ignore this, or an invitation to watch it, depending on your taste. The film is based on a case of multiple personality documented in a woman in Georgia known only at that time as “Eve”. Writer-producer Nunnally Johnson — who adapted The Grapes of Wrath and How To Marry A Millionaire — read the manuscript in galleys and sold Fox on purchasing the screen rights before the book’s publication in 1957. Johnson’s first choice to play Eve was Jennifer Jones, who demurred. Marilyn Monroe was considered, then Judy Garland. Joanne Woodward was a TV veteran under contract to Fox and despite having only two screen credits at that time, won the part. Woodward’s performance then won the Academy Award for Best Actress, the one and only Oscar nomination of her career.

Earnestly narrated by Alistair Cooke — who in a dash of retro style actually appears on camera to deliver an introduction for everyone in the cheap seats — the drama is thinly sketched, the psychology is poorly rationalized and the production is cheaply shot on the Fox lot, albeit in wide angle proscenium “CinemaScope” by director of photography Stanley Cortez. If given a sense of humor, the script might have been more appropriate for the Texaco Star Theatre with Milton Berle playing Eve. That said, the saving grace of The Three Faces of Eve is Joanne Woodward, the kooky hipster chick and wife of Paul Newman who seemed to blaze a trail in independent film 30 years before Sundance or Miramax existed (her contemporary might be Toni Collette). In what would barely qualify as a movie by today’s standards, Mrs. Woodward is nothing short of beguiling.

Three Faces of Eve 1957 title card

In an on camera introduction by “Distinguished Journalist and Commentator” Alistair Cooke, we the audience are assured that the events of the movie we’re about to see are based on an account of “multiple personality” that is a matter of psychiatric record. On August 20, 1951 somewhere in Georgia, dreary housewife Eve White (Joanne Woodward) and her husband Ralph (David Wayne) are referred to a psychiatrist named Dr. Charles Luther (Lee J. Cobb), Eve reports suffering from splitting headaches followed by spells in which she blacks out. Her health improves for few months until Ralph discovers $218 in clothes and shoes in their bedroom. Despite her signature on the receipt, Eve denies having purchased the items. Leaving his wife alone with their daughter Bonnie, Eve next tries to strangle the girl when she refuses to be quiet.

Confiding to Dr. Luther that she hears voices, Eve suffers a spell in her psychiatrist’s office and a new personality emerges. Giving the name “Eve Black”, this side of Eve is a party girl who expresses contempt toward Ralph. Dr. Luther’s colleague Dr. Day (Edwin Jerome) is prepared to pronounce her a faker, but when the spells continue, Eve is admitted to a psychiatric hospital. Feeling Eve Black is no threat to her other personality, Eve White is released, but her husband struggles to accept his wife’s illness. When Eve Black reasserts herself and goes out on the town, Ralph hits her. Placed under therapy, Eve reveals a third personality. Giving the name “Jane”, this side of Eve balances her disparate poles and even begins dating a new beau (Ken Scott). Searching for answers, Dr. Luther places Jane under hypnosis and digs into her past.

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Alistair Cooke

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Lee J. Cobb Joanne Woodward David Wayne

Three Faces of Eve 1957 David Wayne Joanne Woodward

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Lee J. Cobb

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Joanne Woodward

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Joanne Woodward

Three Faces of Eve 1957 David Wayne Joanne Woodward

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Joanne Woodward Vince Edwards

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Joanne Woodward

Three Faces of Eve 1957 Joanne Woodward Ken Scott

Rotten Tomatoes “Tomatometer” average among 70 users: 91% for The Three Faces of Eve

Metacritic “Metascore” average among leading critics: Not available

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Tags: Based on book · Dreams and visions · Drunk scene · Femme fatale · Midlife crisis · Psychoanalysis

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