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She’s a Three-Faced Woman

The Three Faces of Eve is notable today in its DVD reincarnation for the same reason it attracted attention during its original theatrical release in 1957: Joanne Woodward’s breakout, star-making and Oscar-winning performance as the three-faced victim of multiple-personality disorder. Otherwise, there is something almost comically campy and dated about the solemn tones with which host Alistair Cooke introduces what he describes as an amazing but true case history of a woman who, in his analogy, endures one more change of identity than did Robert Louis Stevenson’s Dr. Jekyll.

Fortunately, Nunnally Johnson wrote and directed this potentially farcical and melodramatic material with commendably poker-faced seriousness and tastefully minimal hysteria. Joanne Woodward’s Eve White is introduced as your average Southern housewife next-door with a slight problem: She’s been experiencing severe headaches, after which she behaves strangely with her husband and child and has no memory of her bizarre actions afterward. Lee J. Cobb plays the psychiatrist with unyielding dignity and very helpful open-mindedness, which is not surprising since Mr. Johnson’s screenplay is based very loosely on the novel by Corbett H. Thigpen, M.D., and Hervey M. Cleckley, M.D., the two doctors who treated the real-life “Eve.”

When Eve White morphs in front of the psychiatrist’s astonished eyes into Eve Black, a bolder, flirtier, sassier version of her soft-spoken, head-bowed, whimpering sister, the psychiatrist rushes out of the office to get a colleague to witness the stunning transformation. Eve Black displays complete contempt for her husband. Modern feminist viewers will have no trouble diagnosing Eve White’s problems as repressed disappointments in an unworthy husband, who is eventually unmasked as a fool and a bully. Indeed, the “cure” for Eve White consists largely of ridding herself of her partner, and finding happiness and fulfillment with a kinder and better-looking man. After having tried to strangle her daughter Bonnie as Eve Black, “Jane,” a more intelligent version of Eve White, is reconciled with her daughter and goes off with her and Jane’s new lover into a happier future.

Yes, I know, it’s the traditional happy Hollywood ending—but this is 1957, remember, when the censors were still on hand to make sure that Eve Black didn’t go off the deep end sexually. Of course, this didn’t stop more daring 1957 movies, like Elia Kazan’s A Face in the Crowd and Alexander Mackendrick’s Sweet Smell of Success, from pushing the envelope on suggestive sexuality.

An added feature of the DVD is the valuable, insightful and exhaustively knowledgeable commentary by film historian Aubrey Solomon. The Three Faces of Eve, Mr. Solomon tells us, was one of the earliest Fox black-and-white productions shot in wide-screen CinemaScope, a process previously restricted to color costume epics. Directors tended to be uncomfortable with the wide screen; it reduced their ability to cut to different camera angles. Hence, Ms. Woodward had to do her Jekyll-and-Hyde switches of character in a single take, without the benefit of a cutaway to the psychiatrist reacting to the change in her expression. This feat of acting may explain why Ms. Woodward beat out for the Oscar much better-known actresses like Deborah Kerr in Heaven Knows, Mr. Allison, Anna Magnani in Wild Is the Wind, Elizabeth Taylor in Raintree County and Lana Turner in Peyton Place. I would have preferred Ms. Kerr—or, even better, Patricia Neal in A Face in the Crowd, who wasn’t nominated at all.

[ The Three Faces of Eve, 1957, unrated, 91 min., $14.90]

Vote Moore!

It’s election time, and the political documentaries are out, ready to sway the remaining handful of undecideds — or further enrage the devoted masses. Fahrenheit 9/11, rushed to distribution in four months, boasts a number of extras, including “The Release of Fahrenheit 9/11,” footage from Samarra, Iraq, and some deleted scenes. God knows Michael Moore’s fans can’t get enough. But The War Room, veteran documentarians D.A. Pennebaker and Chris Hegedus’ entertaining look at the 1992 Clinton campaign, might prove more illuminating than Mr. Moore’s anti-Bush riff, especially as Nov. 2 approaches. It’s helpful to understand how campaign spinmaster James Carville revs up his candidates (here with the aid of boy wonder George Stephanopoulos), and why his colorful, tough-minded advice might be just what John Kerry needs.

But before The War Room, K Street and light years before The Daily Show, there was Robert Altman and Garry Trudeau’s Tanner ’88, an inspired lampooning of the American political process. Mr. Altman follows Jack Tanner, a fictitious Congressman running for President, as if he were shooting a real documentary. The 11-part series is bookended by the 1988 New Hampshire Democratic primary and the Democratic National Convention; it aired on HBO during the 1988 election season. Mr. Tanner holds real focus groups, meets with real people and hobnobs with real candidates—so much so that the line between reality and fiction is blurred to the point of obsolescence.

According to the DVD’s 20-minute discussion between Mr. Altman and Mr. Trudeau, the director was ready to make more episodes, describing the process as the most fun he’d ever had making a film. That conversation, although yielding a rare chance to see Mr. Altman in a good mood, is the DVD’s sole “special” feature. Newly shot introductions to each episode—also on the DVD—featuring the candidate, his daughter (Cynthia Nixon) and his former campaign head (Pamela Reed) were made for the Sundance Channel’s recent broadcast of Tanner ’88.

It was during those shoots that Mr. Trudeau and Mr. Altman decided it was time to resurrect Jack Tanner “For Real.” (That was his old campaign slogan.) The result, Tanner on Tanner, a four-part series in which Tanner’s daughter talks to her father about his failed run for President, airs this week.

[ Fahrenheit 9/11, 2004, 122 min., R, $28.95; The War Room, 1993, 96 min., PG, $14.98; Tanner ’88, 1988, unrated, $29.95]

—Jake Brooks and Suzy Hansen

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