A truly great performance can go a long way toward elevating any film, and in the case of Joanne Woodward's Academy Award winning turn in 'The Three Faces of Eve,' we actually get three for the price of one. A perfect example of "truth is stranger than fiction," the movie takes its cue from a real life instance of multiple personality disorder, chronicling the lofty struggles that come as a result of fractured psyches and lingering childhood trauma. The filmmaking itself doesn't offer too much to get excited about, but the lead actress is mesmerizing to watch, and acclaimed Hollywood writer Nunnally Johnson does a solid job in the director's chair. It might not quite earn classic status, but all three of Woodward's distinct personalities easily stand the test of time.
Based on an actual case study written by psychiatrists Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, the story follows a timid woman, Eve White (Joanne Woodward), who is suffering from memory loss and apparent mood swings. Through the help of Dr. Curtis Luther (Lee J. Cobb), Eve discovers that her recurring blackouts and inexplicable behavior are actually the result of a rare case of multiple personality disorder. As her wild and flirtatious second persona, Eve Black, takes control, Eve White's marriage begins to fall apart and she becomes unfit to take care of her daughter. Determined to sustain some semblance of normalcy, the poor fragmented woman and her physiatrist work hard to handle her unpredictable life -- but when a third personality suddenly emerges, any chance at a manageable existence is put into jeopardy.
From the moment we fade in, the filmmakers go out of their way to make sure that the audience is aware of the script's true life inspirations. A formal intro from the movie's narrator, Alistair Cooke, goes over the general history of the case and sets the stage for the strange yet mostly factual story to follow. Cooke continues to offer voice over narration intermittently, helping to clue us in on time shifts and advances in Eve's unfortunate predicament. To this end, the majority of the runtime focuses on therapy sessions between the increasingly tragic patient and her doctor, but there are also a few traditional dramatic beats added here and there to liven things up, including a subplot dealing with Eve's dissolving marriage and the potential romantic exploits of her two other personalities.
Though the core of the narrative is certainly interesting in its own right, it's Woodward's performance -- or should I say, performances -- that really make the picture. As the sweet but submissive Eve White, the actress exudes fragile desperation and dreary vulnerability. All she wants is to be able to take care of her daughter, but her constant blackouts and unpredictable behavior make it impossible. Shy, reserved, and quiet, she's a likeable character, but it becomes clear that she sadly lacks the strength to really take control. On the other hand, Eve Black is something else entirely. A southern belle seductress, she's everything Eve White isn't. Confident, playful, and sexy, the screen lights up whenever she's around, but her frivolous, selfish, and irresponsible behavior makes her a poor match for motherhood.
Watching Woodward segue from personality to personality, almost at the drop of a hat, is simply mesmerizing. Though each persona could be interpreted as different facets of the same woman, as Eve White and Black the actress really does become two distinct roles. Everything from her body language, to her facial expressions, to her voice, to the very look in her eyes, completely changes, and the speed at which the actress is able to transform herself is incredible. Once her third personality manifests, the performance is taken to even greater heights, and once again we are introduced to a new, yet not altogether unfamiliar woman. And while it might be easy for some of these competing psyches to come across as underdeveloped, each piece of Eve's conflicting mind really feels like a whole individual, complete with desires, fears, and motivations all their own. In fact, it's the disparities between all three women's differing goals that fuel most of the movie's drama.
As impressive as Woodward's acting is, the rest of the film isn't always quite so compelling. Though director Nunnally Johnson and his cinematographer maintain a very competent visual style that takes full advantage of the movie's Cinemascope frame with wide masters, long takes, and thoughtful lightning designs, the film's overall aesthetic isn't terribly interesting. Likewise, the script's relative faithfulness to the source material can leave the runtime feeling a bit dry and slow during certain stretches, with very standard dramatic detours used to try and spice things up. Eve's husband, played by David Wayne, also seems a little out of place, with the character's constant confusion and anger coming across as a tad hokey. An early, rather disturbing instance of off-screen violence ultimately rings falsely as well, since in retrospect it never really seems like any of Eve's personalities would be capable of such an act. Thankfully, these issues are fairly minor, and the narrative and visuals remain solid throughout. To the director's credit, there's even a particularly striking camera movement in the third act, that's made all the more powerful thanks to its deliberate break from Nunnally's otherwise subdued style.
'The Three Faces of Eve' is a genuinely remarkable showcase for actress Joanne Woodward. In a trio of roles that all happen to share the same body, the actress gives a memorable and intricately nuanced series of performances. The true life story of one woman's fascinating bout with multiple personality disorder tackles weighty themes dealing with identity, control, and trauma, and while some of the narrative's focus can be a little too clinical, the movie is a well made piece of old fashioned Hollywood melodrama.
The Blu-ray: Vital Disc Stats
20th Century Fox brings 'The Three Faces of Eve' to Blu-ray on a single BD-50 disc housed in a keepcase. After some warnings and logos the screen transitions to a standard menu. The packaging indicates that the release is Region A compatible.
The film is presented in a black and white 1080p AVC/MPEG-4 transfer in the 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Sharp, authentic, and nicely preserved, this is a rather gorgeous video presentation.
The print is essentially in pristine shape with no real signs of age or damage. A light layer of fine grain is present throughout, offering a natural, filmic appearance. For the most part, clarity is exceptional, with sharp textures and patterns readily visible in characters' suits and dresses. The filmmakers use a lot of wide shots that fully utilize the Cinemascope frame, and every layer of the image is impeccably rendered with pleasing dimension, revealing lots of detail in background objects. With that said, there are a few shots (usually right before a dissolve or scene transition) that offer a comparatively soft appearance. The grayscale is perfectly balanced with bright but natural whites and deep, inky blacks that don't crush.
Beautifully detailed with gorgeous cinematic texture, this is a fantastic video transfer. Though there is some occasional softness here and there, fans of classic black and white films should be very impressed with this authentic and nearly immaculate image.
The movie is provided with an English DTS-HD MA 1.0 mono track. Optional English SDH and Spanish subtitles are also included. Basic but respectful, the mix is free from any major issues.
Dialogue is a little thin compared to contemporary releases, but remains clear and clean throughout. Effects work within the single channel of audio is minimal but adequately conveyed. The movie's score becomes integral to the mood, with key cues that are tied to Eve's different personalities, and thankfully the music comes through with pleasing fidelity and decent range. Though some very faint background hissing is apparent in a few scenes, major age related issues like pops and crackle are nowhere to be found.
The 1950s mono sound design is nothing to get excited about, but Fox has offered an authentic and clean audio presentation that preserves the filmmakers' original intentions.
'The Three Faces of Eve' features a marvelous performance from Joanne Woodward, allowing the actress to tackle three distinct roles in one. While the film's style and script aren't quite as memorable, the movie's real life tale of multiple personality disorder is certainly fascinating in its own right. On the technical front, Fox has provided an exceptional video transfer and a great, faithful audio mix. We don't get a whole lot in the way of supplements, but the included commentary is definitely worth a listen. The film isn't exactly a classic, but it's a well made Hollywood drama with a remarkable leading performance. Recommended.