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For whatever it's worth, Lizzie is the best movie Hugo Haas ever directed.
And that's not a left-handed compliment. Based on a Shirley Jackson novel,
Lizzie remains an effective, if tawdry, glimpse into Multiple Personality
Disorder, a controversial syndrome that understandably lends itself to
exploitation (hence the suspense mechanisms of the plot). But Lizzie ends
up rendering better justice to its subject than the more prestigious The
Three Faces of Eve of the same year.
Eleanor Parker plays Lizzie. She also plays Elizabeth and Beth, two other facets of her character's (characters'?) fractured psyche. By day, she's mousy Elizabeth, boring her fellow-workers at a museum with complaints about constant headaches; she also keeps finding poison-pen letters from somebody named Lizzie. At closing time, she goes home to the house (a stark horror) she shares with her aunt (Joan Blondell), who slouches around in a horse-blanket bathrobe while killing still another bottle of bourbon. They cohabit in an uneasy truce, broken by unseemly episodes such as Blondell's being called, from the top of a steep, shadowy staircase, a `drunken old slut.'
Another of Elizabeth's litany of complaints is that she can't sleep. Little does she know that live-wire Lizzie emerges at night, slapping on the makeup with a trowel and then heading out to a piano bar where Johnny Mathis sings. There she guzzles the bourbon she claims to hate (hence those headaches) and picks up men, including a handyman from the museum whom she doesn't recognize next morning.
When Blondell catches her red-handed (ungrateful Lizzie polished off the bottle), kindly neighbor Haas suggests that maybe it's time, as Ann Landers would have phrased it, to `seek professional help.' Richard Boone seems an unlikely candidate for a psychiatrist, but he proves a surprisingly reassuring and compassionate one. Using hypnosis, he uncovers the three layers of his patient's personality. The problem lies in coaxing the well-adjusted Beth (whom nobody has ever seen or heard) out of her psychological shell....
Near the end, Haas overreaches briefly with a dream sequence that recalls the loony phantasmagoria of Glen or Glenda, Ed Wood's autobiographical essay on the torment of the cross-dresser. And of course Lizzie's tidy wrap-up, in uplifting Hollywood fashion, is so much dollar-book Freud. That aside, the movie draws upon on a more valid explanation of MPD than does the de-fanged and disingenuous The Three Faces of Eve. Not until Sybil, a hair-raising 1976 TV movie, would a more candid exploration of the traumatic roots of the syndrome appear, for which Sally Field copped an Emmy. Small wonder: Parts like this are like catnip for scenery-chewers and rarely fail to wow critics (Joanne Woodward won an Oscar for her Eve). It all but defies the order of nature that Susan Hayward didn't, somehow, manage to grab the role of Lizzie. But then again, she always played Lizzie.
Lizzie is a magnificent study of multiple personality disorder, a far superior film to The Three Faces of Eve, which won the Acadamy Award that year. Eleanor Parker makes all her transformations between Lizzie's characters on screen, a far more challenging task that disappearing off camera as Joanne Woodward did! Her portrayal is subtle and wonderful. I highly recommend this movie.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Like "The Three Faces of Eve", "Lizzie" deals with a title character
suffering from multiple personality disorder (now known as dissociative
identity disorder). However, I think this movie is a better treatment
of the topic than its more famous counterpart, for two primary reasons.
One is the performance of Eleanor Parker, who does not disappear off camera and then come into the room as one of her alter-egos, but lets us see the shifts and changes as they occur. The other is its greater psychological realism - rather than giving us a cop-out about the trauma of seeing a dead body, "Lizzie" doesn't shy away from dealing with the topic of sexual abuse.
Shirley Jackson's "The Bird's Nest" has always been one of my favorite novels, so I was excited to find that it had been made into a movie (albeit one that's nearly impossible to find) 'way back when. The film's black-and-white 1950s graininess perfectly evokes its era, as do the starchy clothes and rigid hair of the characters, and the dreadful, over-the-top "score" of shrieking, dissonant violins. The beginning of the movie promised an experience so terrible that I was tempted to hold off watching it till I could gather some of my snarkier friends, but it was already too late -- I'd been sucked in and was having too much fun to quit. As the movie goes on, it gets much better, yet it remains enjoyable, every now and again flinging itself headlong into vertiginous swoops of insane bathos. All in all, I found it perfectly delightful, and can only summarize it by plagiarizing Mae West: When it's good, it's very good, and when it's bad, it's better.
It's interesting that The Three Faces of Eve (1957) and Lizzie (1957)
were made the same year. Both of them introduce the subject of a woman
with Multiple Personality Disorder. Although the story of Eve
White--for which Joanne Woodward won a Best Actress Oscar--was based on
a real-life woman, it would be hard to say that that movie was really
any better than this one reviewed here, based on Shirley Jackson's
novel, "The Bird's Nest."
Lizzie (1957) is the story of the mousy Elizabeth Richmond (Eleanor Parker) who lives with her constantly drunk aunt, Morgan James (Joan Blondell) and works as a secretary in a museum. Elizabeth seems to have no real social life and only one real true friend at work, Ruth Seaton (Marion Ross, who later played Ron Howard's mother on TV's Happy Days). Elizabeth is serious and scholarly but has no real self confidence during her daytime job, in spite of encouragement from her friend and co-worker, Ruth. She finds anonymous scribbled out death threats, in her purse or on her desk. These slips of paper, are always signed-- Lizzie. When she shows them to Ruth, Ruth just tells her they are not serious and should be forgotten.
When Elizabeth comes home each night, she is greeted by her lovable, but always soused, Aunt Morgan. Elizabeth goes to her room and transforms herself into a cheap-looking, but beautiful and seductive, alter ego. She becomes "Lizzie" and goes to a bar to beguile men into buying her drinks. (Johnny Mathis makes his first movie appearance, here, as the singer at the piano bar.) When Elizabeth awakes the next morning, she has strange unexplained headaches. At times her aunt notices that her gin bottles have been finished off by someone other than herself, but who can it be but Elizabeth? When Morgan confronts Elizabeth about this, she honestly has no memory or knowledge of drinking any alcohol.
Morgan and Elizabeth have an understanding neighbor, Walter (Hugo Hass--the movie's director), who works at home as a writer. When Morgan confronts Walter about Elizabeth, he suggests that she see a doctor. He knows a good doctor, Dr. Wright (Richard Boone), who he uses from time to time when he has writer's block.
Elizabeth finally goes to see Dr. Wright, complaining of headaches and troubled sleeping. He tells her that he would like to put her into deep hypnosis to explore her childhood background. During a series of sessions, Dr. Wright discovers that Elizabeth has two more personalities--Beth and Lizzie. However, to fully understand the "whys" of Elizabeth three personalities, he goes to her house on her birthday. Something had happened to her on her 13th birthday. But, what was it and how could it have caused her Multiple Personality Disorder?
As with The Three Faces of Eve (1957), the strong central personality, Beth, must understand the other two personalities in order to let go of them and become the one integrated person.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
I keep getting this mixed up with "The Three Faces of Eve," the one
with Joanne Woodward. In both films, a depressed and wispy woman has a
nasty self-indulgent hidden personality that emerges from time to time.
The original neurotic knows nothing of her alter ego but the mean one
knows about the existence of the other. The victim winds up seeing a
shrink and under hypnosis a third personality appears -- sensible and
agreeable. The third personality wins and the two inadequate
The story of Lizzie came from a popular novel, "The Bird's Nest," by Shirley Jackson, who must have known about such things. The movie cashed in on the novel's celebrity. About the same time, Thigpen and Cleckley (the latter a shrink) wrote "The Three Faces of Eve," and it too was rushed into production to cash in on the popularity of the novel. Both "Lizzie" and "The Three Faces of Eve" appeared in the same year, 1957.
I've read Thigpen and Cleckley's book but not Shirley Jackson's novel. The first, not being a total work of fiction, provides a more distanced view of multiple personality disorder, though not exactly clinical. Jackson's work, and the movie that it begat, is more personal and intense.
Both perpetuate some common but mistaken beliefs about hypnosis, which I won't go into. And both are dramatically structured so that the answer to the psychiatric conundrum lies in some buried childhood trauma, an idea borrowed from psychoanalysis. As a child, the patient was trapped under a front porch, was forced to kiss a dead body, accidentally impaled his brother on a spike fence, or -- as in this case -- was raped by one of her slutty mother's many boyfriends.
The central role belong to Eleanor Parker, who is herself a puzzling actress. She has a strange beauty. In "Pride of the Marines" she was young and radiant. And later in her career she had a couple of juicy roles in "Caged" and here. She obviously put a lot of effort into the roles but never quite cleared the bar into super stardom. Yet, given the chance, she could be impressive. There's a scene in "Lizzie" in which, as the depressed Elizabeth, she wanders forlornly over to a window and the camera follows here from behind. There is a a momentary pause and she whirls around wearing the face of the evil Lizzie. It's pretty shocking.
Hugo Haas was a Czech actor who directed a number of movies, mostly schlock, and played prominent parts in some of them. As a director here, he's competent, but not more than that. The writer, Mel Dinelli, has given Haas the few humorous lines in the movie. He's playing cards at one point with Joan Blondell and complains, "Ahh, you're bending the cards again. That's why I never married. You women are always bending the cards." As the shrink -- Dr. Wright (or Dr. Wrong, as Lizzie calls him) -- Richard Boone is only barely convincing, not so much because of his performance, although he does tend to rush his lines, but because he's miscast. Richard Boone is not a tender, understanding, caring shrink. He's a villain, a cackling maniac, as in the second version of "The Big Sleep." When the director asks him to smile with satisfaction, we can almost hear the creaking of long-unused facial muscles.
"The Three Faces of Eve" is more light hearted and easier to grasp. There's a property of "Lizzie" that's genuinely abrasive. It's a far darker story with hints of murder and suicide. They're about equally involving but for somewhat different reasons.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Hollywood studios today put a lot of thought and consideration into the
science of WHEN to release their product. The producers of a major
blockbuster, for example, will probably not want to issue their film on
the same weekend that another blockbuster is due to be dropped on the
public; one romcom might want to avoid competing with the release of
another romcom, and so on. But sometimes, this strategy does not pan
out as might be expected. Take, for example, the case of "Lizzie" and
"The Three Faces of Eve." You've probably heard of the latter picture,
whereas the first may have slipped right under your radar. Both films
were released in 1957 ("Lizzie" on April 4, and "Eve" around six months
later, on September 23) and both featured similar story lines, telling
as they did of young women who suffered with multiple (triple)
personalities. The fact that "Lizzie" came out first, however, did not
prevent "Eve" from enjoying greater acclaim, an Oscar honor and
long-term renown. To be truthful, the latter film is, objectively
speaking, the superior picture, with better production values (it is a
major studio release; "Lizzie" was an independent effort) and,
supposedly, better distribution. But although Joanne Woodward picked up
a Best Actress Oscar for her work in "Eve," and deserved it (in my
review of the film, I wrote something to the effect that given the
circumstances, the Academy should have given her three!), I am not sure
that her performance was significantly better than Eleanor Parker's in
the earlier film, and a recent rewatch of "Lizzie" has only served to
strengthen that feeling.
Whereas "Eve" was based on a real-life case, "Lizzie" was spun entirely from fiction, and based on Shirley Jackson's 1954 novel "The Bird's Nest." (No, I have never read this source novel, although I have previously enjoyed Jackson's ubercreepy "We Have Always Lived in the Castle," and have long felt that her "Haunting of Hill House" is probably the scariest book that I have ever read.) The film introduces us to a neurotic mess of a woman, 25-year-old Elizabeth Richmond, who works in a museum, has trouble sleeping, suffers from constant headaches, and lives with her alcoholic Aunt Morgan (the great Warner Bros. actress Joan Blondell). Elizabeth has been getting threatening letters from someone named Lizzie when we first meet her, but the viewer soon learns something quite astonishing. In one of the film's many spine-chilling sequences, soft-spoken Elizabeth, standing on the house stairs, and with her back to the camera, calls her aunt a "drunken old slut" in a voice that might as well be lifted from an "Exorcist" movie! Upstairs in her room, Elizabeth, looking into her mirror, suddenly transforms into another woman entirely. She is now Lizzie herself, a wanton hussy, who goes out to the local bar to swill down booze and pick up men, only to have no recollection of having done so in the morning. Eventually, her case is brought to the attention of one Dr. Wright (Richard Boone), who hypnotizes the troubled young woman (she is put into a mesmerized state remarkably easily) and discovers something almost equally surprising: A third personality, a normal young lady named Beth, resides inside the poor gal's noggin, yearning for release! But can the sympathetic doctor effect a cure on Elizabeth/Lizzie/Beth before the three of them throw themselves off the nearest roof?
It is really quite remarkable how much "Lizzie" and its more famous cousin have in common. In both films, a young woman has a triple personality problem, with one of those personalities being a mousy dishrag, one a sexually brazen creature, and one a "normal" young person (Eve White, Eve Black and Jane, respectively, in the later film). Both patients are treated by hugely sympathetic doctors (Lee. J. Cobb in the later film) who uncover the psychological explanation for the poor ladies' conditions, and in both films, these explanations strike the viewer as being a bit glib. The one here in "Lizzie," actually (and without giving too much away), almost seems like a warm-up for the rationale of Norman Bates' condition in the "Psycho" film of three years later, having to do, as it does, with a child's mother and that mother's boyfriend. And in both films, it is the remarkable performances of the two lead actresses that carry the film. Both Parker and Woodward are simply wonderful, and capable of transforming at the drop of a hat from one personality to another. Just look at Parker stare at herself in that mirror, and suddenly become the leering Lizzie in a matter of seconds! And Parker's first-rate thesping is ably abetted by Blondell, old pro that she was at this point; by Hugo Haas as Morgan's friend and suitor, Walter (Haas also directed this film, just one of almost 20 films that he both directed AND acted in); and by future "Happy Days" star Marion Ross as Elizabeth's sympathetic museum coworker, Ruth. I should also perhaps mention that both "Lizzie" and "Eve" contain any number of memorable scenes. In "Eve," the sequence in which Eve's husband (David Wayne) seems to cheat on her with one of her other personalities is unforgettable; in "Lizzie," the poor gal's (gals'?) traumatic experience toward the end, as each personality fights the other, rendered in almost psychedelic fashion by director Haas, is equally stunning. Fortunately for both Eve and Lizzie, both pictures conclude with a seeming cure for the poor befuddled gals, but it should be remembered that in the case of the real-life Eve, a period of 17 years of therapy was required to effect her cure, during which time a full 22 (!) personalities came forth. (Talk about a woman with TOO much personality!) The bottom line, though, is that although "Lizzie" has been overshadowed by its more famous cousin, this earlier film has every reason to hold its head high. Or should I say "all three heads"?
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Sometimes I felt that Lizzie Borden should have come by and taken an ax
to this film.
Made in 1957-the same year as The Three Faces of Eve, it deals with a woman, in this case, Eleanor Parker, dealing with and being treated for multiple personalities.
It has been said that Parker did have a tendency to over-act in films and this one is a perfect example. After such great films as Caged, Detective Story and Interrupted Melody, how did Parker allow herself to get involved with this one?
While the scene stealing definitely goes to Joan Blondell as her alcoholic, but coping Aunt Morgan, it is troubling that when Parker seems cured by film's end, Blondell also seems to perk up.
Richard Boone is the psychiatrist here who uses hypnotizing to get his patients to work their woes out.
Parker really presents an off-the-wall character as a quiet girl working in a museum, while at the same time, a drinker and club goer in the evening.
Perhaps, the funniest line in the film is stated by Blondell's next door neighbor beau, "The Irish Stew I made tasted more like gefilte fish.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
Eleanor Parker is Elizabeth, a bookish girl in sweaters and flats who works in a museum; Lizzie, a bourbon-drinking self-described slut, and Beth, a 'nice' girl...all rolled into one. Joan Blondell is her Aunt Morgan, who enjoys bourbon and sitting around the house in a bathrobe. Richard Boone is Dr. Wright (no kidding), patient and understanding.
Elizabeth/Lizzie/Beth shows signs of violence, all due to her 'unprincipled' mother who had the bad taste to die on her daughters birthday and unspeakable acts brought on by Mom's brute-of-the moment.
Soundtrack is overbearing. Each personality gets its own tune, a device so old even John the Baptist was bored by it.
Marion Ross plays an understanding friend, and you get to hear Johnny Mathis sing "Its Not for Me to Say" at a piano bar.
This might have been taken more seriously if it weren't released the same year as "The Three Faces of Eve", which won Joanne Woodward an Oscar that year.
For me, neither Parker nor Woodward can still hold a candle to Sally Field's "Sybil." 5/10.
The story is so trite and Parker overacts to the hilt. She shows only
two emotions - sad and maniacal.
Gloria Blondell appears in the same robe in almost every scene! All we know about her is that she's Elizabeth's aunt and that she drinks a lot of bourbon. There's a neighbor man who seems interested in Blondell, but we don't know who he is or why he's interested. We never know if Blondell is interested in him.
The dialogue is poorly written. To show the passage of time, Blondell brings into different conversations how long it's been since Elizabeth has been seeing a psychiatrist.
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