Dark Mirror, The (1946)

“Twins, especially identical twins — well, agonies of jealousy are possible!”

Dark Mirror Poster

Synopsis:
A psychologist (Lew Ayres) tries to determine which of a pair of identical twins (both played by Olivia de Havilland) has committed a murder.

Genres:

Response to Peary’s Review:
As Peary notes, this “creepy, extremely well-made psychological melodrama” by director Robert Siodmak (The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry, The Suspect, The Killers, The Spiral Staircase) effectively exploits the cinematic trope of jealous identical twins. While the analysis may be “dimestore”, the story remains enjoyable, primarily because, as Peary notes, “we can participate in solving the mystery.” Indeed, I’m amazed at how long I was kept in the dark about who the murderer was, and whether she would turn out to be the crazy twin as well. As Peary points out, de Havilland’s choice to not play the twins as “complete opposites” works well, and adds to the dramatic tension.

Redeeming Qualities:

  • Creative camerawork, which convincingly shows de Havilland as both twins at once
    Dark Mirror Camerawork
  • de Havilland’s “superb” performance as identical twins
    Dark Mirror de Haviland

Must See?
Yes. This is an excellent noir drama, and well worth seeking out.

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One Response to “Dark Mirror, The (1946)”

  1. Yes, a must – “an excellent noir drama, and well worth seeking out.” (Seek on YouTube.)

    I’ve long wondered why this is still not on DVD. But…it was originally released by International Pictures (who?!) – which did eventually combine with Universal Pictures, until (I guess) Universal went back to being plain ol’ Universal. So perhaps there’s some rights issue involved. I do recall seeing it years ago on VHS – when I was quite taken with the premise and, of course, de Havilland’s dueling performances.

    Seeing it again, now that I’m older, I still see it as ‘a good show’. But, at the same time, I notice an earnestness about – not only this film, but the various films of the ’40s/’50s that covered psychological territory. They felt a need to educate as well as ‘entertain’. (This, of course, reached a head in the final scene of ‘Psycho’.) And, I suppose, the filmmakers are not to be faulted for that. It’s very rich soil.

    Still, a number of these films are better than others. (Take ‘The Three Faces of Eve’ and ‘Lizzie’ – both made in 1957, and almost ‘twins’ themselves. ‘TTFOE’ was written and directed by Nunnally Johnson, screenwriter of ‘The Dark Mirror’. Yet, I find Hugo Haas’ ‘Lizzie’ – based, as it is, on a Shirley Jackson novel – the better, more believable film somehow.)

    ‘The Dark Mirror’ does succeed, first and foremost, as noir. Siodmak turned in a very tight little guessing game. I have a different take on de Havilland, though. It seems clear early on that there is a bold twin and a reserved one. (Not that that would have led to a conclusion to jump to…) But there are also many sections in the film, when the two are talking alone, in which I couldn’t decipher which was which; de Havilland had modulated her voice as each sister in a way that seemed to blend them together. I’m assuming this was intentional and I found it very effective. (I also like the clever way Siodmak directed Ayres to never be quick to play his hand.)

    [Note: Some of Dimitri Tiomkin’s score could have been taken down a notch without losing anything, esp. in the early scene in which dependable Thomas Mitchell first interrogates the twins.]

    To my knowledge, the idea of twins in films has never (or rarely) been anything but a fertile idea. I tend to get a particular kick out of this sub-genre.

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