Three Faces of Eve, The (1957): Joanne Woodward as Multi-Personality Patient in Oscar-Winning Performance

Playing a young, suburban ordinary housewife and mother from Richmond named Virginia, who has three different personalities, Joanne Woodward, then only 27, won the 1957 Best Actress Oscar for her showy performance (in fact, three different performances).

Our Grade: B- (** out of *****)

The screenplay by Nunnally Johnson, who also directed, is a fictionalized version of a true story documented by two psychiatrists, Corbett H. Thigpen and Hervey M. Cleckley, in their book about the real life of Chris Costner Sizemore.

They suggested that the woman might have had dissociative identity disorder–multiple personality disorder). Sizemore’s identity was concealed in interviews about this film and was not revealed to the public until 1977. 

Thigpen and Cleckley’s book was rushed into publication, and the film rights quickly sold to Johnson, in order to cash in on public interest in multiple personalities, especially after the publication of Shirley Jackson’s 1954 novel The Bird’s Nest, which was made into the film Lizzie, also in 1957.

However, Hollywood being Hollywood, the text is at once too simplistic, both under and over-explained, and too upbeat in terms of its therapeutic approach and eventual cure.  But while the film’s psychology might be too shallow and gimmicky–may I speak to Eve Black?– the two central actors work hard to make their performances more credible.

In the brief introduction, an emotionally troubled woman is nervously accompanied by her husband Ralph (David Wayne), seeking the aid of a psychiatrist named Luther (Lee J. Cobb).

At first, Virginia mostly complains bout suffering terrible headaches and strange lapses of memory. The benevolent psychiatrist then offers some pat suggestions and sends her back home to her husband and young dauhter.

The ensuing saga unfolds in a series of encounters between the female patient and her doctor. The heroine calls herself Eve White when she’s good and Eve Black when she’s bad and sexy, and there is a third personality, Jane, the intelligent woman who represents the ideal norm.

At the end, as the main cause to Eve’s problems, the film presents a flashback to Eve’s childhood and her traumatic experience, when her mother forced her to kiss her dead grandmother, claiming that it would help her overcome her grief and not miss the deceased.

Though hailing from a rich and educated Southern family, Woodard specialized in playing white trash, drab Southern women, such as Virginia/Eve, the newly wed in “No Down Payment,” and the social misfit in “”The Fugitive Kind,” based on Tennessee Williams’ play.

Woodward’s showmanship is very likable, which might explain why she won the Oscar in a year in which the other competitors were Deborah Kerr in “Heaven Knows, Mr. Allyson,” Anna Magnani in “Wild Is the Wind,” Liz Taylor in “Raintree County,” and Lana Turner in “Peyton Place.”

It’s impossible to tell whether David Wayne, playing her crude, insensitive husband, was miscast or misdirected.

The saga is narrated by Alistair Cooke, who offers some wit and occasionally humor in his commentary to alleviate the otherwise dreary proceedings.

Happy Ending:

After discovering the cause of her disorder, Jane is gradually able to remember all that has ever happened to her three personalities. When Luther asks to speak with Eve White, they discover that Eve White and Eve Black no longer exist. All three personalities have merged again into a single one. She marries a man named Earl whom she met when she was Jane and reunites with her daughter Bonnie.  In the very last scene, the trio is seen in the car, smiling and licking their ice cream.

At the time, critics complained that the movie is too static and theatrical and not cinematic enough.

The Three Faces of Eve became the first film to win the Best Actress Oscar without getting nominated in any another category after Bette Davis won the lead prize for Dangerous in 1935.  Unlike Davis’ win, however, this movie was only the third one in what would become a long and fruitful career of Woodward.

Made on a budget of $1 million, the movie was moderately successful, earning $1.4 million in US rentals (about $3 million in box-office receipts).

Role Reversal and Intertextuality

In 1976, in a reversal of roles, Woodward played Dr. Cornelia Wilbur in the TV Movie Sybil.  This time around, she was the psychiatrist who diagnosed Sybil Dorsett with multiple personality disorder and subsequently led her through treatment. Woodward’s patient was the young Sally Field, who won an Emmy Award for her portrayal and would go on to win two Best Actress Oscars.

Cast

Eve White/Eve Black/Jane (Joanne Woodward)
Ralph White (David Wayne)
Dr. Luther (Lee. J. Cobb)
Dr. Day (Edwin Jerome)
Secretary (Alena Murray)
Mrs. Black (Nancy Kulp)
Mr. Black (Douglas Spencer)
Bonnie (Terry Ann Ross)
Earl (Ken Scott)
Eve (Mimi Gibson)

Credit

20th Century Fox

Produced by Nunnally Johnson

Directed by Nunnally Johnson
Screenplay: Nunnally Johnson, based on the book by Corbett H. Thigpen and Harvey M. Checkley
Camera: Stanley Cortez
Editor: Marjorie Fowler
Music: Robert Emmett Dolan
Art Director: Lyle Wheeler, Herman A. Blumenthal
Costumes: Renie

Release date: September 18, 1957
Running time: 91 minutes

 

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