A woman suspected of murdering her doctor boyfriend has an identical twin sister. When both twins have an alibi for the night of the murder, a psychiatrist is called in to assist a detective in solving the case. Through a series of tests, he discovers which twin actually committed the crime and in the course of his investigation he falls in love with the normal twin.
Olivia de Havilland ... Terry / Ruth Collins
Lew Ayres ... Dr. Scott Elliott
Thomas Mitchell ... Lt. Stevenson
Richard Long ... Rusty
Charles Evans ... Dist. Atty. Girard
Garry Owen ... Franklin (as Gary Owen)
Lela Bliss ... Mrs. Didriksen
Lester Allen ... George Benson
Once again, Olivia de Havilland proves that she is one of the most talented and versatile actresses on the silver screen. She does so here by accepting the challenge of playing a dual role. Thanks to the astonishing visual effects and the occasional use of stand-ins, we see two of her in this movie...playing twin sisters!
Tightly directed by Robert Siodmak (who directed THE KILLERS that same year, which was the film that made stars out of Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner), this intriguing film flies by at a brisk 85 minutes and is full of twists and turns. Although the film contains an excellent cast (among the supporting members include Thomas Mitchell and Lew Ayres), the mystery in the story is a simple one. Even non-mystery fans will be entertained by the film, since the plot is rather uncomplicated. The film was later adapted for radio as a half-hour episode of "The Screen Director's Playhouse," also starring Olivia. I have a recording of this episode on audio tape and Olivia's performance is fascinating: she lowers and raises the pitch of her voice whenever she plays a separate twin in order for the audience to tell the difference between the two. This episode is a must for Olivia's fans.
Despite the low budget of the film, THE DARK MIRROR contains stark cinematography by Milton Krasner and a very effective music score by Dmitri Tiomkin, as well as unusually high production values. Even when seen in the eyes of someone who is currently living in the generation of digital special effects, the visual effects of the twin sisters are flawless and instantly convincing…thanks to Olivia's excellent acting skills and the creativity of the special effects department. How'd they do that?
The film is worth watching, even if it's only for watching the marvelous visual effects. On a personal level, I wonder what it would be like if Olivia and her estranged yet equally-famous sister, Joan Fontaine, ever starred in a film together...
One can possibly write a monograph or study regarding this subject: the good and bad in humanity as shown by twins in movies. It runs the gamut in films like A STOLEN LIFE, THE DARK MIRROR, THE CORSICAN BROTHERS, DEAD RINGER, COBRA WOMAN, even (watered down) in THE PRISONER OF ZENDA. In the last one, the King is a drunkard, while Rudolph Rassendyl is a brave, resourceful type (in the actual novel that is the sequel, RUPERT OF HENZAU, the King develops into a paranoid villain who loathes the distant cousin who rescued him).
As for the others, Bette Davis's good sister in A STOLEN LIFE watches her bad sister steal Glenn Ford from her. Douglas Fairbanks' wilder brother critically wounds his brother in a duel over a woman in THE CORSICAN BROTHERS. Maria Montez's good and bad sisters in COBRA WOMAN fight to the death for a royal crown. Davis good sister actually entraps herself killing the bad one in DEAD RINGER.
THE DARK MIRROR has the same split between good and bad siblings, but it makes a stab (in fitful, Freudian, Hollywood fashion) at psychoanalyzing the situation. A doctor has been murdered and the suspect is his fiancé, one Ruth Collins (Olivia De Haviland). While Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) is questioning Ruth, and seemingly about to close a relatively simple homicide case neatly and quickly, Ruth's identical twin sister Terry shows up. It turns out that one of the two sisters was seen by dozens that night, and the other cannot produce an alibi. But the problem for Stevenson is that the one who was seen never said what her name or identity was: it could have been either Ruth or Terry. Likewise the person who was last with the Victim could have been Ruth or Terry. As Mitchell later says to the psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Elliot (Lew Ayres), unless he happens to grab the girl just after she commits the crime, there is no way to identify the guilty sister from the innocent sister once they are both back in general circulation.
Dr. Elliot is asked to examine both girls quietly. Mitchell and Elliot both are aware that this neat little alibi does not have to work permanently for the girls' advantage. You see, the innocent one does know the guilty one did it, and how long before the innocent one will crack or the guilty one will consider silencing the innocent one? Dr. Elliot studies the girls, dates both, and concludes, Ruth is normal but Terry is psychotic and jealous of her sister. Now they know who is more likely to have been the guilty one, and who the innocent one - but the innocent one still refuses to admit she is shielding the guilty one, and the guilty one (now seeing the innocent one as an impediment to her happiness with Dr. Elliot in the future) is considering how to push the innocent one over the edge into suicide.
The film as a mystery is fairly simplistic, and it's resolution is too fast. But De Haviland makes both sisters have really individual personalities that succeed as separate people. Ayres gives a decent performance trying to balance his professional detachment to his growing love and concern for Ruth. And Mitchell, although supposedly a bumbler at first, does demonstrate a crafty cat-and-mouse technique with Terry at the conclusion of the film.
Those were the days.Every director had his Freudian movie during the glorious forties:Hitchcock had " spellbound",Lang "secret beyond the door" Tourneur "cat people".... and Siodmak "the dark mirror".and it stood the test of time quite well ,almost as much as the three works I mention above.Of course ,the film owes a lot to Olivia de Havilland's sensational rendition,well half a century before Jeremy Irons' "dead ringers" or Keaton's "multiplicity".We run the whole gamut, as Siodmak brought out all his equipment :inkblood test, lie detector,mirror,and the whole kit.But De Havilland's charisma -at a time when actresses mastered their audience-survives and remains intact.We often feel ill-at-ease when we do not know who we're watching anymore(she plays twin sisters who are suspects in a criminal affair).De Havilland was perfect when it came to portraying ambiguous women (see also "My cousin Rachel")
Robert Siodmak had an eventful career:after his debut in Germany,he made some works in France ("Pièges" (1939) is the best and deserves to be watched)then came to America where he made remarkable thrillers ("the spiral staircase";"the killers").His career ended in Europa with interesting -but difficult to see- movies about Nazism ,but the only one of those late movies we can see now is "Katia" (1959),pure schmaltz
The film is a little bit light, with a bumbling detective played by Thomas Mitchell and vintage Freudian psychoanalysis presented by Lew Ayres, but the twin sister role, one a good girl the other very bad, played by Olivia De Havilland has its moments. Her soft voice can go either direction, sweet and innocent or cold and devious, and the scenes where she is playing both parts, essentially talking to herself, convey a split personality, which might not have been such a bad idea, instead of making two distinct persons. It reaches a zenith in one scene in their dark bedroom with the innocent twin tormented by the mean one, who's telling her to take her sleep medication, and who in fact would like to see her overdose. Freudianism and bungling detective work win out in the end, making this all seem too convenient, and dodging a lot of the possibilities, but the central part, or parts, is DeHavilland at her best.