Like your scenery well-chewed?

Like to keep murder in the family?

Like Karl Malden as a romantic interest?

Like Peter Lawford…at all?

Like Bette Davis, however you can get her?

If you answered yes to some or all of these questions, you’ll love 1964’s DEAD RINGER!

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Dead Ringer Recipe

Ingredients:

  • 1 serving Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962)
  • 2 servings A Stolen Life (1946)
  • 1 dollop of Paul Henreid badly needing a directing gig
  • 1 heaping gob of bad writing

Combine ingredients. Mix vigorously. Garnish with Malden and Lawford. Drink it down.


I love Bette Davis. She is always stagey yet infinitely watchable. There are her early, earnest 1930s performances in Of Human Bondage (1934), The Petrified Forest (1936), and Jezebel (1938); her compelling early 1940s dramas, including The Letter (1940), The Little Foxes (1941), and Now Voyager (1942); and her triumph in 1950’s All About Eve. By the 1960s, however, a combination of the dominance of television programming that had changed film production forever, Hollywood’s youth obsession, and Davis’s unsubtle style resulted in some terrible productions that read either as camp excess or cringeworthy crap.

To my mind, Dead Ringer is mostly in the latter category, largely because the thriller is a throwback to noir tone and because Davis is playing primarily opposite herself.

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Two sisters, middle-aged twins who are opposites in personality and lifestyle, meet after an 18-year estrangement at the funeral for wealthy widow Margaret DeLorca’s husband. Frumpy, working-class Edith Phillips loved but lost DeLorca to her cold, determined twin. Edith does have a beau, plain but loving police sergeant  Jim Hobson (Karl Malden), but Edith has never gotten over DeLorca. Hence, rather than living happily ever after with Jim, we go the noir route and she instead murders her sister and attempts to take over her life with a change of wardrobe and an altered hairdo.

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Sweet, solicitous Jim (Malden) can’t sway Edith (Davis) into marriage.

It’s predictable but fun to watch Edith befriend the great dane that Margaret loathed, even though it might give her away. But it’s just plain icky to see Davis and Lawford together as lovers, Edith working to disentangle herself from Margaret’s greedy, slimy lover.

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Bleh.

I won’t give away the ending except to say that Karl Malden is the most compelling character in the film. As twins and as one twin playing the other twin, Davis chews the scenery with aplomb but without the heights that made What Ever Happened to Baby Janea cult favorite two years before and without the depth with which Margo Chandler dazzled us back in 1950. Still, I had to see it, and fans of Davis will want to give it a go just to say they’ve seen it.


This post is a contribution to the Dual Roles Blogathon hosted by Christina Wehner and Silver Screenings.

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