Dead Ringer (1964)

DEAD RINGER (1964)
Article 2837 by Dave Sindelar
Viewing Date: 2-13-2009
Posting Date: 5-20-2009
Directed by Paul Henreid
Featuring Bette Davis, Karl Malden, Peter Lawford
Country: USA

Angered by the revelations she discovers at her twin sister’s husband’s funeral, a woman decides to kill her sister and take her place. She rapidly finds out that this will not be an easy task…

If I were using my own judgment as to whether a movie was genre or not rather than the judgment of my various sources for my hunt lists, I would not be covering this movie. Though the “good and evil” twins concept has been used in horror before (see Karloff’s THE BLACK ROOM, for example), it isn’t by nature necessarily a horror theme. Furthermore, the “good and evil” theme doesn’t really apply here; it is the supposedly “good” twin that commits the murder and substitutes herself for the “evil” twin, a reverse of what happened in the previously mentioned Karloff movie. Furthermore, the previous movie had a curse and a secret room that added some other touches of horror that this movie does not have. I suspect that if this movie is horror at all, it’s more in its ad campaign; I see a lot of images of Bette Davis juxtaposed with that of a skull, and that’s more horror than anything in the movie. I suspect this was done as a result of the success of the previous year’s WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?

That being said, I found myself initially disappointed by Bette Davis’s performance in this movie; during the first half of the movie, she comes off as somewhat awkward and uncomfortable, even in scenes where it’s not appropriate. This is especially true of the scenes where she appears as both of her roles together; I suspect that Davis didn’t really feel at ease with the concept, and these scenes especially feel unnatural. However, once Davis has to worry about playing only one of the characters, she’s extremely good; any awkwardness feels natural and entirely understandable, and I love the way she plays the scene where she figures out she can’t imitate her sister’s handwriting and comes up with a drastic solution to the problem. The movie also features a number of familiar faces in other roles; Karl Malden does a good job as a police Sergeant loved by one of the sisters, Peter Lawford is fine as the other sister’s lover, and Estelle Winwood is excellent in a small role as the dominatingly religious Dona Anna. George Macready is always a welcome face, but he’s really stuck in an unmemorable role. The performer I’ll probably most remember, though, is Cyril Delavanti as the butler; he’s one of those character actors with an instantly recognizable face, and he takes part in what for me is the most memorable scene of the movie, in which the beleaguered impostor sister discovers she has one real friend in the household.

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