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Monday, June 24, 2013

A STOLEN LIFE (1946); DEAD RINGER (1964)

Bette Davis had two shots at playing good twin/bad twin. First, near the end of her glory years (1937-‘46) in A STOLEN LIFE; and again, at the start of her gory years, soon after she relaunched herself with WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?/’62. The earlier film is a first-class production, as shy Bette falls for Glenn Ford’s young dreamer only to watch helplessly as her more assertive twin sister moves in, marries the boy, then makes Ford over into a miserable go-getter. The film holds back coyly (much like Bette #1) before finally letting us meet the twin sister, but when they do, director Curtis Bernhardt & the Warners tech department make a swell job of it. Lots of cutting-edge trick shots for the two Bettes, with crosses & various overlapping bits. It‘s still impressive stuff. Even more fun is Dane Clark as the angry-young-artist type who almost makes ‘Nice Bette’ into a ‘real woman.’ This underappreciated vet out of NYC’s Group Theatre, combines the showiest aspects of fellow Group Alumni John Garfield & Elia Kazan in this neat supporting turn and all but steals the pic. Too bad Bette only has eyes for Ford. In the second film, the twin sisters haven’t seen each other in 18 years, as if one film were picking up from the last in real time. And the storyline does play out like an alternate take on the same set-up, but this pinch-penny production looks like episodic tv. The trick shots are front-loaded in this story, and much less effective, mostly static two-shots & stand-in doubles seen from the back. Disappointing stuff, only made worse by the airless megging by Paul Henreid, Davis’s old co-star from NOW, VOYAGER/’42. As 'Nice' Bette’s detective boyfriend, Karl Malden shouts half his lines and Peter Lawford looks much the worse for wear as 'Bad' Bette’s lover. Yet, the film is almost as much fun as STOLEN LIFE. Maybe because things happen accidentally in the first film while everything here is pure pre-meditated malice. Davis must have been in hog heaven; suddenly finding herself big box-office again, with two schlock tour-de-force roles where she only had to lose the girdle to find her character as the nice, dumpy twin; then put on the corset, heels & some good make-up for the rich bitch. Quite the comeback after playing grandmotherly Apple Annie to Glenn Ford’s dapper Dave the Dude in POCKETFUL OF MIRACLES just three years before.

DOUBLE-BILL: While you’ve got your Double-Bill right here, a sweet addition would be the original British version of A STOLEN LIFE/’39. It might be a stinker since the reliably underwhelming Paul Czinner directs his wife, Elizabeth Bergner, along with Michael Redgrave & Wilfrid Lawson. But until it becomes available, we’ll never know. Till then, check out this rare French poster.

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