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Fox Home Entertainment presents
"I think I ought to tell you, as well as I can, just what the situation is. Have you ever heard of multiple personality disorder?"
DVD ReviewOne of the first films to explore the devastating effects of multiple personality disorder, The Three Faces of Eve allowed Joanne Woodward to sink her teeth into a meaty role that had Oscar written all over it. For many actresses, it's a stretch to fashion one believable character, but Woodward crafts a trio of distinct, nuanced portrayals in the film, earning both our admiration and a well-deserved Academy Award. Unfortunately, Nunnally Johnson's adaptation of this true-life case study doesn't always match her performance. The script often seems as splintered as its subject, awkwardly juggling scenes of harrowing drama, flippant comedy, and dry medical dialogues, and disappoints those expecting it to illuminate the dark recesses of the human brain. Just call it Sybil lite.
Of course, to be fair, Fox released The Three Faces of Eve in 1957, when Americans possessed only the sketchiest knowledge of mental illness, and probably equated multiple personality disorder with some kind of Jekyll and Hyde transformation. Consequently, Johnson spends a lot of time educating his audience, and employs an authoritative, trustworthy narrator (the distinguished Alistair Cooke) to lend the story legitimacy, guide viewers along, and diffuse any suspicions. Even today, it's hard to accept Eve's ability to slip in and out of her alter egos upon request, yet we learn such swift transitions are a documented hallmark of the syndrome. In one scene, at the behest of her psychiatrist, Eve switches personalities so quickly and repeatedly, the routine becomes almost comic, and one begins to imagine how Carol Burnett would have spoofed the sequence on her old TV variety show.
Woodward, though, rarely overplays Eve's illness, and her realistic interpretation of all three characters helps alleviate some of the script's deficiencies. In the story, Eve White is a quiet, dowdy, insecure, repressed housewife, who cares for her husband Ralph (David Wayne) and 5-year-old daughter Bonnie (Terry Ann Ross). Yet headaches, memory loss, and episodes of bizarre behavior plague her, so she seeks the counsel of Dr. Luther (Lee J. Cobb), a burly yet tender psychiatrist. Eve responds well to initial treatments, but after her husband angrily confronts her about a sexy new wardrobe she can't remember buying, a strange force seems to possess her and she tries to strangle her daughter with a mini-blind cord.
Traumatized and deeply confused, Eve seeks answers from Dr. Luther. In the midst of a crying fit, however, she suddenly withdraws, and seconds later, a new personality emerges. Loud, lively, promiscuous, and full of mischief, Eve Black is a good-time girl who itches to come out, dress up, and play around. She knows all about Eve White, makes fun of her mousy demeanor, and can't bear the cold, impatient Ralph. At first, Dr. Luther can't believe his eyes, and calls in his colleague, Dr. Day (Edwin Jerome), to evaluate Eve. When Day confirms Dr. Luther's diagnosis of multiple personality disorder, Eve's treatment intensifies, but the promise of a cure remains uncertain.
The two Eves struggle for supremacy until, late in the movie, a third, nameless personality pops up. This one is level-headed, mature, and lacks the Southern accent of her "peers." Eventually known as Jean, she unwittingly tries to integrate Eve White and Eve Black into a unified whole.
Eve's travails and adventures make for intriguing—but not riveting—drama. Johnson employs an episodic style that follows the dictates of a standard case history, but such a clinical treatment distances us emotionally. Although we sympathize with Eve's predicament and root for her recovery, we're always conscious that we're "watching" her story, instead of experiencing it. As a result, The Three Faces of Eve seems more like a teaching aid for a Psych 101 class than a probing, richly textured entertainment.
All of which is too bad, because Woodward puts on a terrific one-woman show. She keeps the film honest and credible, and brings every facet of every Eve to life.
Rating for Style: C+
Rating for Substance: A-
Image Transfer Review: Although a 2.35:1 aspect ratio seems like overkill for such an intimate drama, the widescreen anamorphic transfer looks great on a 16x9 TV. Sharp eyes will notice some very faint speckling, but for the most part this is a crisp, clear black-and-white print that possesses excellent contrast, fine shadow detail, and plenty of gray level variance. Blacks are rock solid and rich, while the well-defined lines show no evidence of edge enhancement. Occasional shimmering and image instability briefly distract, but all in all, this is another winning effort in Fox's Studio Classics series.
Image Transfer Grade: B+
Audio Transfer Review: At times, the stereo track sounds hollow and thin, but remains free of any annoying defects, such as hiss, pops, and crackles. Separation is almost impossible to detect, but dialogue is always clear and comprehendible, and Robert Emmett Dolan's subtle music nicely underscores the drama.
Audio Transfer Grade: B
Disc ExtrasStatic menu
Scene Access with 28 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
1 Feature/Episode commentary by film historian Aubrey Solomon
Packaging: generic plastic keepcase
Brief footage from the Movietone News coverage of the 1957 Oscars shows Clark Gable arriving at the ceremony, and Woodward's excited and heartfelt acceptance speech after she's named Best Actress. The film's original theatrical trailer completes the extras package.
Extras Grade: C+
Final CommentsJoanne Woodward's Oscar-winning (and still potent) performance makes this uneven psychological study worth watching. Although a bit simplistic by today's standards, The Three Faces of Eve paints an intriguing portrait of mental illness and one woman's struggle to beat it. A slick anamorphic transfer enhances the disc, which is certainly worth a rental.
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