"Eve" / "Eva", Dir: Joseph Losey, 1962
Updated: Nov 29, 2020
Once again, my reason for choosing Joseph Losey's adaptation of a James Hadley Chase novel entitled "Eve" was Jeanne Moreau, who appears to have been a very busy actress in demand for "Femme Fatale" roles in the early 60's, a type consolidated in the minds of audiences, at least, as a result of her role in Louis Malle's "Elevator to the Gallows" (1958) and which she repeated more or less in Francois Truffaut's "Jules et Jim" in the same year and Jacques Demy's "Bay of Angels" the following year, and in roles that followed.
There is no doubt a quality about Moreau's face that suggests a calculating mind, and the ever-present cigarette drooping from the side of her down-turned mouth adds to the impression of someone happy to challenge convention and carve her own path through life.
Another reason for checking the film out was the casting - Jeanne Moreau and...Stanley Baker...? and I imagined some grimy drama set against the backdrop of Industrial mill towns or coal mining, which seemed to have been a common element of British films in the 60's era of "Angry Young Men" and where there was always a love interest represented by a European actress.
I did read a short synopsis of the plot and was intrigued that Moreau was in a British film, although "Eva" ("Eve" is the alternate title) is in fact a British / Italian co-production and is set in Venice, and Baker in my mind seemed to exist in the world of "B" grade British films or war movies due to his rugged looks - roles that often demanded little beyond looking heroic and impulsive - in this film he seems to have been offered the opportunity to extend his range in a darker role.
Given that the script concerns a Welsh writer in Venice on the verge of signing a deal to turn his best-seller into a film, Baker, a Welshman, is possibly appropriate casting, though it could equally have been Richard Burton since the character he plays, Clive Thurston, is a drunkard with a habit of picking fights in bars.
Baker's Thurston is also about to be engaged to Francesca, the pretty assistant of the producer of the intended film, played by Virna Lisi - a strategic alliance more than one founded on love and where they live together in an isolated villa on the outskirts of Venice - but he is soon distracted by the appearance of Moreau after seeing her at a swanky cocktail party mounted for the launch of the film of his book.
Taking a motor launch away from the centre of the city, Moreau and a male companion are caught in a rainstorm and end up breaking into Thurston and Francesca's villa to escape the downpour and it is here that we get the first real insight into "Eve" as she makes herself at home by running a bath and rifling through Thurston's books in the couple's bedroom, as if she owns the place.
Baker returns to his villa and is horrified to see it occupied by two strangers but his attitude changes when he discovers that one of them is Eva and womanizer that he is, he sets about trying to seduce her- since Francesca is out of town on business - unsuccessfully, and from this point on the film is about his growing obsession for a woman who is ruthless in using men for financial gain by using her body - you could use the word "Hooker" to describe her but I think it's more complex than that.
Joseph Losey, a refugee from Hollywood's witch-hunt of film-makers and artists with Left leanings in the McCarthy era, often gravitated toward darker themes around class and status and didn't shy away from controversial subjects, with his film "The Servant" being a prime example. In "Eva", Baker is the son of a coal-miner who has managed to penetrate the world of the rich because of a best-selling book, but it transpires that he is a fraud since he has stolen the manuscript of his dead brother who wrote it and was never actually a coal-miner, as he claimed.
We know little about "Eva" beyond the fact that she has no moral compass but there is one very telling exchange between her and Thurston where she says that she came from a poor background and had lost both her parents at a young age, perhaps a common scenario in the context of WWII in Europe, and that an older man who had already fathered several children offered to look after her and her older sister and that she was only 11 years of age.
It's clear that there is the implication of abuse but when Thurston tries to probe further , she laughs it off by suggesting that she can "tell stories" too - this scene in one very simple exchange doesn't exactly endear us to her character but does provide a clue to her motivation for exploiting men and wanting to be in control, and at the time of the films' release, caused a degree of controversy since it added a darker, uncomfortable edge to the film.
As Thurston becomes more and more entwined in his obsession for Eva, his life goes into a downward spiral as the artifice surrounding his book unravels.
Apparently the final film is not as Losey intended and as so often happens, cuts were made by the films' producers to make it more commercial and it's tempting to think that he intended exploring the psychology of Eva's character more deeply since in its current form she is rendered as simply a femme fatale stereotype who doesn't deserve our sympathy, though it's to Moreau's credit that she invests the role with a sense of underlying fury as she tags Thurston along with promises while he foots the bill, leading him to destruction in the process.
Virna Lisi, a beautiful and talented actress, as Francesca manages to somehow never upstage Moreau in a role that demanded more from her than her later more glamorous roles in films like "How to Murder Your Wife" and where she is simply an exotic appendage / love interest to the male lead - here she plays a busy career woman and makes me wonder if she had other opportunities to play more nuanced characters.
As for Stanley Baker, aside from an early rather exaggerated method-acting episode, he turns in a surprisingly good performance as Thurston that suggested a range greater than was required in later roles he appeared in.
Ultimately "Eva" is really Jeanne Moreau's film, as she inhabits the role with a great deal of ease and there are moments where it feels as if she is almost directing the cameras' movements through the frame, rather than taking direction from Losey.
The film's score was by Michel Legrand, flavour of the month at the time due to his work within the French New Wave movement and although it sets a tone that is matched by the use of a Billie Holiday track played repeatedly on a gramophone by Eve until she smashes the record in frustration, he appears to have saved his best for long-time collaborator Jacques Demy in his "Bay of Angels", also starring Jeanne Moreau, in the same year, delivering a haunting and memorable score in the process.
Something that doesn't completely detract in "Eva" is the multinational multilingual cast resulting in extensive over-dubbing, but there is an odd disconnect when Moreau can be seen to speak some lines of dialogue in English and also in French and Baker can be heard singing but is clearly not in the footage.