Reviews

The Three Faces of Eve (1957)

Tim O'Neil

As Eve, a young woman whose life unravels following her diagnosis with multiple personality disorder, Joanne Woodward is spectacular.


The Three Faces of Eve

Director: Nunnally Johnson
Cast: Joanne Woodward, David Wayne, Lee J. Cobb
MPAA rating: Not rated
Studio: 20th Century Fox
First date: 1957
US DVD Release Date: 2004-10-05

Although The Three Faces of Eve was released in 1957, it might have been made during the 1940s. Unfolding with the stolid inevitability of a classic Hollywood melodrama, it's saved from the ashcan of movie history by Joanne Woodward. As Eve, a young woman whose life unravels following her diagnosis with multiple personality disorder, Woodward is spectacular.

One of the most gratifying social triumphs of the 20th century was the recognition of mental illness. That isn't to say that tolerance for those so afflicted is anywhere near complete today, but you'd be hard-pressed to find anyone who doesn't know someone who's taken an anti-depressant like Prozac or Paxil. There's still a stigma attached, but more people now understand that depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia are diseases that can be treated (if not cured). Movies like The Three Faces of Eve contributed, in a significant way, to the gradual infiltration of such open-mindedness throughout society.

Eve suffers from a severe dissociative disorder caused by horrible childhood trauma. As the film illustrates, inescapable trauma can cause the brain to partition experiences, in order to escape pain, however temporarily. These partitions can account for unpredictably violent behavior, memory loss, decreased faculties, and in extreme cases, the creation of multiple alternative personalities. Most cases of MPD stem from childhood abuse, sexual and physical.

Eve's disease appears to be clinically accurate, the filmmakers going so far as to cast Alistair Cooke as the narrator. Such journalistic ambition and sobriety seem odd now, considering the sensationalism of most current semi-fictional entertainment. But it would be a mistake to interpret Eve's seriousness as naïvete: the film includes several compromises made in the interest of a more easily digestible storyline.

Primary among those changes is the manner in which Eve switches between personalities. In reality, MPDs can switch between disparate personalities in the blink of an eye, with no warning. Woodward studied the case files of Eve White before filming began, and came to the set prepared to deliver as rigorously factual a portrayal of the disease as possible. But the studio intervened, claiming the audience would be confused unless they had a way of knowing when Eve switched between personalities. So, despite Woodward's protest, Eve puts her head down and seems to pass into a kind of trance in the moments when her mind passes from one personality to another.

Still, despite these factual glosses, Woodward's performance is a triumph of naturalistic acting in the midst of seemingly incongruous melodrama. Eve White is an unhappy young housewife whose bifurcated personality leads her to Dr. Luther (Lee J. Cobb). The emergence of the reckless and hedonistic Eve Black personality wreaks havoc on Eve's life, destroying her marriage to the uncaring Ralph (David Wayne) and eventually driving her to near suicide. Eventually, a third personality emerges: Jane, a levelheaded, humble counterpoint to the meek Eve White and the headstrong, self-destructive Eve Black. Woodward plays these three disparate personalities as three distinctive roles, with individuated body language and startlingly dissimilar elocution.

While the division of personality caused by primal trauma can be healed through the process of confronting and exhuming the painful past, the film presents Eve's successful treatment in an unrealistically pat conclusion. And, based on a more modern understanding of the psychological mechanism at work in MPD, I suspect the trauma at the root of the real Eve White's illness was more severe than the one presented here. But regardless of these inaccuracies, the movie remains a valuable historical document, a record of a culture's gradual enlightenment, as well as a notable highlight in the annals of film acting.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

In the wake of Malcolm Young's passing, Jesse Fink, author of The Youngs: The Brothers Who Built AC/DC, offers up his top 10 AC/DC songs, each seasoned with a dash of backstory.

Keep reading... Show less

Pauline Black may be called the Queen of Ska by some, but she insists she's not the only one, as Two-Tone legends the Selecter celebrate another stellar album in a career full of them.

Being commonly hailed as the "Queen" of a genre of music is no mean feat, but for Pauline Black, singer/songwriter of Two-Tone legends the Selecter and universally recognised "Queen of Ska", it is something she seems to take in her stride. "People can call you whatever they like," she tells PopMatters, "so I suppose it's better that they call you something really good!"

Keep reading... Show less

Morrison's prose is so engaging and welcoming that it's easy to miss the irreconcilable ambiguities that are set forth in her prose as ineluctable convictions.

It's a common enough gambit in science fiction. Humans come across a race of aliens that appear to be entirely alike and yet one group of said aliens subordinates the other, visiting violence upon their persons, denigrating them openly and without social or legal consequence, humiliating them at every turn. The humans inquire why certain of the aliens are subjected to such degradation when there are no discernible differences among the entire race of aliens, at least from the human point of view. The aliens then explain that the subordinated group all share some minor trait (say the left nostril is oh-so-slightly larger than the right while the "superior" group all have slightly enlarged right nostrils)—something thatm from the human vantage pointm is utterly ridiculous. This minor difference not only explains but, for the alien understanding, justifies the inequitable treatment, even the enslavement of the subordinate group. And there you have the quandary of Otherness in a nutshell.

Keep reading... Show less
3

A 1996 classic, Shawn Colvin's album of mature pop is also one of best break-up albums, comparable lyrically and musically to Joni Mitchell's Hejira and Bob Dylan's Blood on the Tracks.

When pop-folksinger Shawn Colvin released A Few Small Repairs in 1996, the music world was ripe for an album of sharp, catchy songs by a female singer-songwriter. Lilith Fair, the tour for women in the music, would gross $16 million in 1997. Colvin would be a main stage artist in all three years of the tour, playing alongside Liz Phair, Suzanne Vega, Sheryl Crow, Sarah McLachlan, Meshell Ndegeocello, Joan Osborne, Lisa Loeb, Erykah Badu, and many others. Strong female artists were not only making great music (when were they not?) but also having bold success. Alanis Morissette's Jagged Little Pill preceded Colvin's fourth recording by just 16 months.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Frank Miller locates our tragedy and warps it into his own brutal beauty.

In terms of continuity, the so-called promotion of this entry as Miller's “third" in the series is deceptively cryptic. Miller's mid-'80s limited series The Dark Knight Returns (or DKR) is a “Top 5 All-Time" graphic novel, if not easily “Top 3". His intertextual and metatextual themes resonated then as they do now, a reason this source material was “go to" for Christopher Nolan when he resurrected the franchise for Warner Bros. in the mid-00s. The sheer iconicity of DKR posits a seminal work in the artist's canon, which shares company with the likes of Sin City, 300, and an influential run on Daredevil, to name a few.

Keep reading... Show less
8
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image