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by Nunnally Johnson (Director)
Twentieth Century Fox Studio Classics, 1957
Review by Christian Perring, Ph.D. on Sep 12th 2006

The Three Faces of Eve

Joanne Woodwood won an Oscar for her performance in The Three Faces of Eve as a woman from Augusta, Georgia, and this made her a star. She plays a conservative southern housewife Eve White who transforms into a bold and bawdy woman Eve Black. The movie is introduced by Alistair Cooke, who emphasizes that the events depicted really happened. Audiences and reviewers may have found it difficult to accept the rapid transformations from one personality to another, yet they were based on films of the actual Eve, whose name was Chris Sizemore. For a 1957 movie, it is still entertaining and informative.

The Three Faces of Eve was an influential movie for psychiatry, because it made the public aware of the diagnosis of multiple personality disorder (MPD), and arguably was partly responsible for the massive rise in the number of diagnoses of MPD in later years. As Aubrey Solomon explains in his informative DVD commentary, the movie screenplay was based on the best-selling book by psychiatrists Corbett Thigpen and Harvey Cleckley; director Nunnally Johnson wrote the screenplay, had access to the proofs of the book before it was published, and even influenced the psychiatrists in their choice of the title of the book. Solomon did careful research for his commentary, comparing the book, screenplay and the final movie, and explaining many of the differences between them. He also discusses the difficulties that Johnson had in finding a leading actor to play Eve: he approached many actresses before finally Joanne Woodward agreed to do it -- at one point Judy Garland had agreed to play the part, but that arrangement fell through. Solomon also points out that Johnson was not a great director, and relied mainly on his scriptwriting talents. Shot in extra-wide Cinemascope, the movie does not present a very intimate portrayal of Eve, using hardly any close-ups of faces. It is more of a drama, even with moments of humor, for example from whether her husband was unfaithful to Eve White when he had sex with the other personality Eve Black. Solomon explains that the humor of the movie received criticism from those who thought the subject deserved a more sober treatment. It's an interesting dilemma for directors, since there is real potential for seeing the funny side to the problems faced by those with such serious mental troubles. (Compare the use of humor in Jack Nicholson's portrayal of a man suffering from obsessive compulsive disorder in James L. Brooks' As Good As It Gets.) The humor does not make belittle Eve White, although it has to be said that the suggestive Eve Black, accompanied by a theme of sultry music, is a hard character to take seriously.

By contemporary standards, The Three Faces of Eve is a nave representation of multiple personality. It only gestures towards the childhood abuse that probably caused the dissociation, and this was largely because of the censorship of the 1950s that would not allow any depiction of sexual events in the lives of children. Now we are much more aware of the dangers of therapists increasing dissociation through hypnosis and encouragement of the separate personalities to distinguish themselves, and of course there's no mention of those worries, even in Solomon's commentary. Still, for all its shortcomings, The Three Faces of Eve is worth seeing as an important moment in the portrayal of psychiatry in movies.

 

2006 Christian Perring. All rights reserved.

Christian Perring, Ph.D., is Academic Chair of the Arts & Humanities Division and Chair of the Philosophy Department at Dowling College, Long Island. He is also editor of Metapsychology Online Reviews.  His main research is on philosophical issues in medicine, psychiatry and psychology.