When The Fourth Kind was released, the film opened with a very solemn-looking Milla Jovovich explaining how the film was based on true events, re-enacted for the benefit of entertainment. It involved the very questionable video testimony of “victims” of alien abduction under hypnosis, in order to retrieve those memories that had been apparently locked away by forces unknown. Realistic? Who would know?
When The Three Faces Of Eve premiered in 1957, the very notion of multiple personality disorder was so radical, so unknown and so hysterical a concept as to require the same kind of introduction from someone far more worthy than an actress in the film itself, with a vested interest, based on true events or otherwise. Here, we are introduced to apparently true events, reconstructed, of a “demure woman” as she suffers from MPD, by the “distinguished journalist and commentator” Alistair Cooke. This is the story of Eve White/Eve Black/Jane, based on the real-life case of Chris Costner Sizemore.
Now, how much stock you put into the medical condition represented here, or the amount of extant knowledge of such a subject in 1957, this is still an impressive attempt at representing what may or may not be a worthy subject. Look at any film of demonic possession over the past few years (and there have been a few), and you could say that the premise is similar. I have debated recently that it is impossible to act out a character(s) with a mindset that may never have existed in the first place, and the same could also be said of medical conditions that could even now, some 55 years later, still defy logical explanation. If this is the case, it makes Joanne Woodward’s performance here all the more remarkable. On the other hand, if you have no frame of reference as a viewer, who’s to say what is a good performance and what’s not?
Simply then, you have to go with your gut and ask if you can buy into the idea that this is both a true and accurate portrayal of actual events and a realistic performance by the lead. If you can, then you will be very pleased with what you get. If not, then despite a sterling effort on Woodward’s part to convince you otherwise, you will still be sceptical by the end. There is nothing here to make you believe anything different, after all, than the perceptions you brought in with you. The performances may very well be credible, but don’t you have to know what it’s like having MPD to judge them?
So with tongue firmly planted in cheek, the best you can do is to look at the film on its own merits. Woodward’s performance is captivating by turns, and given her limited experience and relative freshness in the industry at the time, it came as a surprise to many when she won an Oscar for her performance. By today’s sometimes elegant and subtle layering witnessed in cinema’s more highly regarded auteurs, Woodward’s performance and Nunnally Johnson’s direction comes off as a little antiquated and occasionally clunky, with some knee-jerk contrasting between sorrow and delight, reflecting the conflicting personalities of Eve/Eve/Jane maybe a little less subtly than it would today. Nevertheless, Woodward’s presence cannot be denied, and she is fascinating to watch in all her incarnations, as is the lost and bewildered husband in the form of David Wayne, who portrays the admirable stance of what appears to be a foolish patsy in the eyes of a society much less inclined to understand the issues.
The score is simple but effective, much like the story, and trips the light fantastic on a number of occasions, dipping into suggestive woodwinds for Eve Black and more light strings when Eve White and Jane make appearances. This seemed a little contrived, but it’s a nitpick more than a persistent, nagging annoyance.
The Three Faces of Eve is entertaining, even boasting its share of comedy and finding an avenue for a song or two, in spite of the subject matter, which is far from funny. It doesn’t truly address the issues at hand, however, coming off as a well-meaning attempt at the subject, which still needed to gets bums in seats to warrant its existence. People will still argue just what Johnson was trying to achieve with this, but you can be forgiven for thinking that this is an interesting social commentary on the place of women in society at the time. Freedom for women to express themselves was becoming commonplace, with the ’60s and free love only a few years away.
In summary, the film is of its time, a credible stab at addressing a very serious topic by maintaining an audience without preaching to them. Whether you believe the story is up to you, but you will be happy to say that by the end, you will have been largely entertained, sometimes thrilled and continually engaged.