My current Top 5

My current Top 5


Best Actress Ranking - Update

Here is a new update. The newly added performance is highlighted in bold. 

My winning performances are higlighted in red.

1. Vivien Leigh in Gone with the Wind (1939)
2. Jessica Lange in Frances (1982)
3. Gloria Swanson in Sunset Boulevard (1950)
4. Olivia de Havilland in The Heiress (1949)
5. Anne Bancroft in The Graduate (1967)
6. Janet Gaynor in Seventh Heaven (1927-1928)   
7. Glenn Close in Dangerous Liaisons (1988)
8. Geraldine Page in The Trip to Bountiful (1985)
9. Susan Sarandon in Thelma & Louise (1991)
10. Edith Evans in The Whisperers (1967)

11. Norma Shearer in Marie Antoinette (1938)
12. Greta Garbo in Ninotchka (1939)
13. Faye Dunaway in Bonnie and Clyde (1967)
14. Cate Blanchett in Elizabeth (1998)
15. Bette Davis in The Little Foxes (1941)
16. Julie Andrews in The Sound of Music (1965)
17. Rosalind Russell in Auntie Mame (1958)
18. Glenda Jackson in Women in Love (1970)
19. Joanne Woodward in The Three Faces of Eve (1957)
20. Elizabeth Taylor in Suddenly, Last Summer (1959)

21. Barbara Stanwyck in Ball of Fire (1941)
22. Julie Christie in Away from Her (2007)
23. Shelley Winters in A Place in the Sun (1951)
24. Audrey Hepburn in Wait until Dark (1967)
25. Ingrid Bergman in The Bells of St. Mary’s (1945)
26. Judi Dench in Mrs. Brown (1997)
27. Jane Fonda in Coming Home (1978)
28. Greer Garson in Goodbye, Mr. Chips (1939)
29. Doris Day in Pillow Talk (1959)
30. Meryl Streep in One True Thing (1998)

31. Deborah Kerr in From Here to Eternity (1953)
32. Katharine Hepburn in Guess who’s coming to dinner (1967)
33. Marsha Mason in Chapter Two (1979)
34. Teresa Wright in The Pride of the Yankees (1942) 
35. Jennifer Jones in Love Letters (1945)
36. Ellen Burstyn in Same Time, Next Year (1978)
37. Susan Hayward in My Foolish Heart (1949)
38. Vanessa Redgrave in Mary, Queen of Scots (1971)
39. Diane Keaton in Marvin's Room (1996)
40. Loretta Young in Come to the Stable (1949)  

41. Mary Pickford in Coquette (1928-29)
42. Sissy Spacek in The River (1984)
43. Shirley MacLaine in The Turning Point (1977)
44. Irene Dunne in Cimarron (1930-1931)
45. Diana Wynyard in Cavalcade (1932-1933)

Joanne Woodward as Eve White / Eve Black / Jane in The Three Faces of Eve

In 1957, American movie audiences had the chance to see an unusual story about a shy, repressed young woman who suffers from bad headaches, loss of memory and constant fatigue. Nobody has an explanation for what is happening to her but soon we discover that she possesses multiple personalities. More and more often, her shy personality is suppressed by an sexually aggressive personality whose arrival is usually accompanied by some strange, supposedly “erotic” music. This “evil” personality is slowly getting stronger and hopes to one day take over the whole body of this woman and she is also aware of everything that happens to the shy personality while she in return knows nothing of this other personality. The young woman seeks the help of a psychiatrist who under hypnosis discovers that there is a third personality – a sophisticated and intelligent woman who possesses neither the shyness or the social inabilities of the first personality nor the malice and promiscuity of the second. Finally, we learn of a horrible event in this young woman’s past that led to these multiple personalities but in the end, we can be happy because the third personality prevails and enables this young woman to finally lead a better life. This definitely sounds like an extremely juicy role with lots of possibilities for awards but any hopes the actress in case might have had were soon destroyed: because Lizzy with Eleanor Parker in the central part opened at the beginning of 1957 to mostly neutral reviews and was soon overshadowed by the almost completely identical story in The Three Faces of Eve and Joanne Woodward’s award-winning performance. 

Actually, there is no specific reason for me to bring up Lizzy at the beginning of this review. I don’t intend to make any comparisons between the performances by Eleanor Parker and Joanne Woodward nor between the movies themselves. But I just find it absolutely fascinating that two female-driven movies about multiple personalities with basically the same story and same execution were released in such a short period of time. According to various sources, the producers of Lizzy (among them an uncredited Kirk Douglas how had co-starred with Eleanor Parker in The Detective Story) either sued the producers of The Three Faces of Eve to make them release their movie later that year or came to an mutual agreement – probably not the smartest move since the second movie was much fresher in the minds of critics and Oscar voters when it was time to fill out their ballots. But looking at both movies, it’s also clear that The Three Faces of Eve is a much more ‘Oscar friendly’ production than Lizzy – it’s clearly a studio project, it tells the whole story in a much more explanatory way, with a stronger focus on the performance at its center. But now let’s drop this Lizzy business and get to Joanne Woodward’s work. 

The Three Faces of Eve is in my humble opinion one of the worst movies to feature an Oscar-winning performance. I don’t know if the story must already have seemed dated in 1957 but I almost can’t imagine otherwise – the whole aspect of switching personalities by simply saying “May I speak to Eve White now?”, hypnosis by simply saying “5, 4, 3, 2, 1” and an uninteresting supporting cast create an overall ridiculous story that only makes you roll your eyes constantly. And another confession right away: Joanne Woodward is one of those acclaimed American actresses that I personally don’t get – like Jane Fonda or Ellen Burstyn, she simply does never inspire me to watch another performance or develop any kind of admiration. 

But – looking at Joanne Woodward’s position in my ranking, it’s clear that I did not let my opinion on her as an actress influence my judgement of her work (at least, I hope so). Most of all, I have to say Joanne Woodward’s performance is one of the most impressive cases of a performer overcoming all the obstacles in her way that I have ever seen. I am not saying that is one of the greatest performances of all time (the awfulness of her movie does put limits on her work) but considering the mess around her, I can’t help but admire the dedication in Joanne Woodward’s work since it is almost a small miracle that she came out of the whole thing untouched. I roll my eyes at the script, I roll my eyes at the direction, I roll my eyes at the score, I roll my eyes at the supporting cast – but I never roll my eyes at Joanne Woodward. The movie is full of moments that should make me laugh at her character and her performance but she is so serious in her work that I am always won over in the end.

I think the biggest problem with The Three Faces of Eve is that it never appears to be a real movie – rather, it comes across as a ‘show reel’ for Joanne Woodward. If seems as if the studio had a new actress, didn’t know what to do with her and simply decided to let her do everything. The whole movie screams “Look! She can be shy! She can be sad! She can be sexy! She can be smart! She can laugh! She can scream! She can cry!” And to make sure that every aspect of possible entertainment is covered, there is even a scene of Eve Black singing in a night club so that the movie makers can also shout “And she can sing, too!”. 

So, with all of this going against her, I really have to compliment Joanne Woodward for still making it a success. Because even if the story holds her back many times (more on this later), the technical aspects of her work are flawless. She is able to clearly communicate the differences between her three characters only with her voice and her facial work. Mostly sitting in a chair while switching between Eve White, Eve Black and Jane, she crafts three clearly distinguishable personalities. The viewer is always aware which character appears – Joanne Woodward can be mousy and teary-eyed as Eve White, self-assured and playful as Eve Black and mature and intelligent as Jane. No denying, it is Oscar bait on the highest level but it just works. Even when Eve Black has a teary moment of fear at the end of the movie, these tears are still different from the usual helplessness of Eve White. And most of all, Joanne Woodward succeeds in establishing each of these personalities as real characters – despite all the ACTING, I never have the feeling that I am just watching an actress show off but that I am seeing three different women caught in the same body. All those moments of switching personalities, of acting flirty one second and then repressed in the next should not work – but they do. Only at one moment do I actually feel embarrassed for Joanne Woodward – when she has to perform the song in the nightclub as her dancing feels so calculated and rehearsed, almost like a parody.  

The script of The Three Faces of Eve presents Joanne Woodward with two main challenges. The first is to make it all believable – which she does. The second is the limitations of her characters – and this poses an unsolvable problem for Joanne Woodward. Because as expectedly as she crafts those three personalities on the outside – none of them exists on the inside. There is no depth, no inner life, no true emotion to any of her characters. This puts Joanne Woodward in the curious position of having three characters to play – but there is hardly any character at all. Eve White, Eve Black and Jane are all created with different exteriors and even though it is clear that they are all separate persons, none of them possesses a true character. This is not Joanne Woodward’s fault but it does limit her work. Her performance is exciting and impressive but it never surprises and it’s hard to establish a close connection to any of her characters – neither Eve White nor Eva Black nor Jane are truly interesting as separate characters and I wouldn’t want to watch a movie that focuses on any of them exclusively. Only the combination of these personalities in one body makes them interesting – but again with limitations. Eve White’s insecurity and shy behavior can be a bit much at times. Eve Black appears a rather juicy personality at first but in the end she is simply some kind of lovable party girl (even though at the beginning the movie has a scene where Eva Black apparently tries to kill her daughter – something never brought up again later). And Jane is maybe the solution to all problems (as Eve’s psychiatrist says, the worst problem with Eve Black and Eve White is that neither can function as a wife or mother – because what else is there to do for a woman?), she enters the movie too late to make a true impression: one scene that tried to introduce her personality has her sitting in a car with her new boyfriend (I wonder how exactly she managed to get a boyfriend? Did the three women suddenly arrange some kind of bodysharing agreement?) and lamenting that she can’t marry him due to her illness. But the scene is rather comical as Jane seems to have found the only man in the world who accepts “I suffer from multiple personalities” as an excuse for not going to third base. 

But even with the limitations of the script, there are moments when Joanne Woodward manages to at least hint at the women behind the surface. She hints at some hidden pain in Eve White when she tells her doctor that she recently lost her unborn child and when her husband later tells her in a strict way to close a door and come closer to him, her facial work hints at years of domestic abuse and violence (and when Eve Black later finds herself in the same position, Joanne Woodward again shows the difference between these two women even if both are feeling the same at this moment). I also like the way Jane hesitates before she talks to the doctor for the first time and Joanne Woodward again finds some touching moments at the end that manage to go a bit deeper when Eve White hopes that Jane will be the one to survive in the end and how she fears to never see her child again and when Eve Black begins to feel that something is not right and says “Goodbye“ for the last time. 

So, it’s a performance that almost seems impossible to work and it’s easy to imagine countless actresses giving a maybe competent but also laughable or irritating performance. But Joanne Woodward got everything out of this role as humanly possible and made an unforgettable impression. 

And a hint to the next performance that will be ranked:


Giuseppe Fadda said...

I have yet to see her but I generally like her more than you do. Great review!

And the next one is Jane Wyman in The Yearling I think.

ruthiehenshallfan99 said...

I actually saw this on TCM a few days ago. I absolutely adored her, even if her movie isn't the best.

Looking forward to your review of Jane Wyman in The Yearling!

Anonymous said...

I disagree with you here. I love Woodward's work here.

joe burns said...

It's been nearly 8(!) years since I've seen her, but I remember loving her, especially as Eve Black, and liking the film enough at the time.