Thursday 14 February 2019

Movie Review: The Three Faces Of Eve (1957)

A drama about multiple personality disorder, The Three Faces of Eve is a straightforward but nevertheless gripping story of mental trauma.

In suburban Georgia, housewife Eve White (Joanne Woodward) is the meek, submissive, and relatively unhappy wife of Ralph (David Wayne) and mother to young Bonnie. Eve experiences headache and blackout episodes, during which her behaviour changes. Psychiatrist Doctor Curtis Luther (Lee J. Cobb) with help from his associate Doctor Francis Day (Edwin Jerome) start treating Eve, and soon meet her second personality, who calls herself Eve Black. She is confident, playful, flirtatious, cannot stand Ralph and refuses to acknowledge Bonnie as her daughter.

Eve is hospitalized, her relationship with Ralph suffers, and Luther attempts to help them both understand her multiple personality disorder. But Ralph struggles to cope with his wife's condition, and Eve's situation takes another twist when a third personality, Jane, suddenly emerges.

Based on a true story and somberly narrated by Alastair Cooke, The Three Faces Of Eve is methodical storytelling enriched by a tremendous Joanne Woodward performance. Written and directed by Nunnally Johnson, the film is almost deferential towards both the emerging practice of psychiatry and Eve as a remarkable and relatively rare patient experiencing triple personalities.

What could have been an almost documentary-like recreation of factual events is elevated by Woodward delivering an unforgettable performance, convincingly transitioning between Eve's three personalities in a display of stunning virtuosity. The docile Eve White and the provocative Eve Black are completely different women in the same body, and Woodward brings them both to authentic life, often transitioning in seconds.

Jane is a stable middle ground, and in many ways the easiest of the three personalities to portray. By the time she emerges Dr. Luther is on his way to devising a treatment plan consisting of encouraging one personality to dominate, and Jane provides the most logical compromise. The late unleashing of repressed childhood memories adds a suitably bold exclamation point to the drama.

Johnson gives Eve Black free reign to contribute the juiciest episodes. She thrives on sexually enticing any and every man she encounters, including, perversely, the Ralph she despises but not enough to overcome her seduction instincts. Eve Black is also a danger to Bonnie, but loves life enough to intervene when Mrs. White's depression reaches a crisis point.

In a compact 90 minutes three different faces are revealed within a single extraordinary woman, and one actress shines with an extraordinary accomplishment.

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