Stolen Life, A (1946)

[Note: The following review is of a non-Peary title; click here to read more.]

“Your sister’s a very dangerous woman, Katie! She could worm the secrets right out of a sphinx.”

Synopsis:
An aspiring artist named Kate (Bette Davis) falls in love with a lighthouse engineer (Glenn Ford), and is devastated when her identical twin sister Patricia (also Bette Davis) seduces him away from her. When Patricia dies in a boating accident, Kate decides to impersonate her, hoping to win back Ford’s love.

Genres:

  • Bette Davis Films
  • Glenn Ford Films
  • Mistaken Identities
  • Romance
  • Twins

Review:
While Peary lists no less than 28 Bette Davis films in his GFTFF, he nonetheless leaves out several notable titles — including this cult favorite, the first of two films in which Davis was given an opportunity to play identical twins with opposing personalities (the other was Dead Ringer, made in 1964). Naturally, Davis runs away with the material here, effectively convincing viewers that humble Kate and boldly assertive Patricia are radically different women despite possessing similar hairstyles and overall appearances (Davis’s choice). The storyline is melodramatic in the extreme — when is a tale about identical twins not melodramatic in some way? — but remains absorbing from start to finish, thanks not only to Davis’s standout portrayals, but to fine use of rocky outdoor locales (with California’s shoreline standing in for Cape Cod), remarkable Oscar-nominated special effects, and a solid leading-man performance by Ford. This one is an enjoyable treat.

Redeeming Qualities and Moments:

  • Bette Davis as Kate/Patricia

  • Glenn Ford as Bill
  • Effective use of outdoor locales
  • Fine split-screen special effects

Must See?
Yes, for Davis’s tour-de-force dual performances.

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One Response to “Stolen Life, A (1946)”

  1. A must – and one worth revisiting.

    How could anyone resist Bette x 2?!

    This is, in fact, a somewhat unsung film; not a title that trips off the tongue (that I hear, anyway) when talk turns to Davis’ work. Yet, even in some of her lesser films (not that this is one of them), it’s safe to say that Bette is pretty much always worth watching. And, of course, here there’s so much more of her to watch!

    ‘ASL’ happens to be quite a compelling flick. It’s a film that kind of holds back – it’s elusive about certain elements. For a good part of the film, the twin is kept from us (the story itself seems to want to do that as much as ‘the good sister’ does). Then, later in the film, we are not given a vital piece of information (nor is it given to ‘the good sister’). So, essentially, the viewer is toyed with quite a bit – all for the purpose of a whopping finish!

    Oddly, though, ‘ASL’ has one rather weak link in it: Dane Clark. His character makes sense in terms of where the story needs to go (when he enters midway). Simultaneously, though, the character (and how Clark plays it) seems to run against the grain of everything else. Which, in a way, can be seen as a good thing: we’re shown clearly how much more suitable Bill (Ford) is for Kate (Davis).

    Personally, I would have liked a whole slew of films in which major actresses of the period took on the twin routine. (It’s interesting to compare this film, for example, to ‘The Dark Mirror’. And what would Joan Crawford x 2 have been like had she tried it?!)

    Director Curtis Bernhardt does a marvelous job here, blending ‘woman’s picture’ with ‘noir’. (Wait til you see how twisted this thing gets!) Upon finishing ‘ASL’, Bernhardt went on to helm another such blend – even more revved up – which remains my favorite Crawford film, ‘Possessed’ (1947).

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