By my count, The Three Faces of Eve is only the second movie ever to deal with Multiple Personality Disorder (or Dissociative Identity Disorder as they now call it.) The first was Lizzie which was released but a few months before Eve and it didn’t do nearly as well critically or commercially as Eve. In 1957 when these films were released, the general public knew very little about the disorder (and in truth it is still controversial and widely misunderstood.) In the fifty-odd years since then, there have been countless movies, television shows, and books involving multiple personalities both realistic and completely ridiculous in tone and setting. Unfortunately for The Three Faces of Eve, this means that the film can only come off as dated and anything remotely shocking about the film has long since faded.
I imagine audiences at the time were fascinated by the concept of someone having multiple personalities and the film was quite provocative for the time. But again after seeing so many artistic endeavors cover the idea, the movie now seems more than a little quaint.
The plot deals with Eve White (Joanne Woodword, who won an Oscar for her performance), who is taken to a psychiatrist, Dr. Luther (Lee J. Cobb) by her husband Ralph (David Wayne.) She’s been having severe headaches it seems, and blacking out for hours at a time. Eventually they come to realize that during these blackouts, Eve White is turning into Eve Black - a racy, wild, fun-loving, and sometimes-violent alter-personality.
Luther treats her over a couple of years without much success. At first, Ralph is accepting of the diagnosis, but he gets a better job in another town. He takes their daughter to her grandparents and leaves Eve in a small apartment alone to get her treatment. This only increases Eve Black’s recklessness, causing all sorts of harm in her path. This tension eventually brings out Jane, a third personality. She isn’t as demure or mousy as Eve White but not at all uninhibited or racy like Eve Black. More therapy, more drama, and a cure is found. Happiness all around closes our film.
Woodward is very good in the part, though she struggles with Eve Black’s sexuality. Eve White is shy, demure, and mousy. Once can’t imagine she has much imagination in bed and there are hints that her sex life is as dull as she is. Eve Black is exactly the opposite. She’s the vamp in slinky clothes who flirts with everybody and more. She is supposed to be sex on a stick, but Woodward never quite makes her sizzle.
Part of the problem is there was only so much they could show in the 1950s. Sex couldn’t be seen or heard straight out so they had to imply it. We do see her dancing and drinking in a bar - snuggling close to young men. Or in the back seat of a car at make-out point. But even in these cases she walks away before any real physicality occurs.
Ultimately, this is a minor quibble. Likely there are others who will disagree with me and who found Woodward's portrayal very hot. Otherwise, her performance is excellent. She demonstrates the differences in the three characters with changes in body language and tone of voice. You can tell which character she is within moments of her transformation simply by the way she sits. Cobb, likewise, is very good though his part isn’t nearly as flashy as Woodward's.
The handling of the story is almost clinical, starting with a long intro by our narrator, who takes pains to point out that this is based upon a true story and everything that happens in the movie really happened in life, etc. Perhaps that is why Eve Black never gets too racy, they wanted to make things seem believable. I imagine the filmmakers were very concerned that audiences would find the very basic concept of multiple personalities outrageous and so they did everything possible to make it seem normal and not too terribly abstract.
Though it really is very dated and is often a bit slower than any film about multiple personalities should be, The Three Faces of Eve is really rather enjoyable. In many ways, it feels more like a museum piece now - a bit of film history that doesn’t exactly hold up - but that’s what makes it charming.
The video is presented on Blu-ray with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 2.35:1. It looks quite good. The blacks are solid and the gray scale is well produced. It gets a bit grainy at times but isn’t too noticeable unless you're looking. This is not a visually stimulating film as for the most part it's filmed in pretty drab rooms, but for what it is, it looks very good. Likewise, this is mostly a talking film and so the audio hardly gets a workout. The vocals were easily understood and during the few scenes with a jazz score, it sounded very good.
The Three Faces of Eve is an interesting bit of film history with some very fine performances. It doesn’t stand up particularly well against the test of time, but nevertheless is quite charming in its own way.