It co-starred Karl Malden, who won an Oscar as Mitch in A Streetcar Name Desire (1951). Later in his career, he achieved television fame with the hit series The Streets of San Francisco (1972-1977) co-starring a little-known young Michael Douglas. Surprisingly, Malden never won an Emmy for his portrayal of the character Detective Lt. Mike Stone on the show.
The screenplay to Dead Ringer is based on the story La Otra, also called Dead Pigeon, by Rian James who was one of the screenwriters. The movie was directed by former actor Paul Henreid, whose most famous performances were in 1942’s Casablanca with Humphrey Bogart and in Now, Voyager in 1942 with Bette Davis. He directed other movies and several episodes of television shows such as Alfred Hitchcock Presents, Maverick, Bonanza and The Big Valley.
The story begins when Edith Phillips comes to the funeral of her twin sister’s husband. Edith and Margaret DeLorca are identical twins. Margaret, called Maggie by her friends, sees her sister and invites her to her house. Edith is shocked to enter the DeLorca mansion and see the decadence in which Maggie lives. Maggie takes her upstairs to her bedroom, where she has the gall to offer Edith clothes she is going to throw out. However, Edith sees a mink stole and likes her image in the mirror. Edith tells Maggie that she has been living in Los Angeles for years and has kept up with Maggie in the social news. We soon discover that Edith was deeply in love with Mr. DeLorca.
While waiting for her twin’s arrival, Edith puts on a robe and hides a revolver in her dresser. She also writes a note. Maggie comes in the room and Edith tells her to sit down. She angrily tells Maggie that she knows that there was never a child and asks Maggie why she lied to DeLorca. Maggie admits she was never pregnant and offers her sister money. Angrily, Edith says no amount of money is enough for what Maggie has done to her by marrying the man she loved. She pushes Maggie in a chair and tells her to read the note. As Maggie reads it, Edith goes to the dresser, takes out the gun and shoots her sister in the head, making it look like suicide. In a creepy scene after her sister is dead, Edith undresses her and puts her robe on her sister’s body and changes into her sister’s clothes and leaves. Thus, Edith is going to live the life of luxury that she feels she was denied. The new Mrs. DeLorca’s chauffer then drives her to the mansion.
Soon Edith realizes that her plot is not as easy as she thought. She looks just like her sister, however, she does not know the names of Maggie’s friends, nor the combination of her safe, and she cannot duplicate her sister’s signature. She also has the maid and the butler, who know Mrs. DeLorca’s rather callus side, to fool as well. Mr. DeLorca’s Great Dane, who never liked Maggie, suddenly adores the new Mrs. DeLorca.
Things for Edith just get worse and worse. Maggie’s life turns out to be more complicated than Edith could ever have imagined. There are many twists and turns in the story which make the movie so entertaining. Edith’s bitterness toward her sister is the cause of her downfall. It is sad to watch her spiraling deeper into the misery of assuming her sister’s identity causes her. She is basically a good person, but bitterness and greed overcome her.
Dead Ringer was remade in 1986 as a made-for-television movie called Killer in the Mirror, with Ann Gillian playing the twin sisters. In Dead Ringer, Paul Henreid wanted Lana Turner to play the twins but she turned down the role. In turn, Bette Davis turned down a role in a movie called 4 for Texas starring Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin to play the twins in Dead Ringer. This wasn’t the only film in which Davis played identical twins. She played twins in A Stolen Life (1946) with Glen Ford.
If you watch this movie, notice the young actress playing Mrs. DeLorca’s maid, Janet. Her name is Monika Henreid and she is Paul’s daughter. Paul Henreid also directed a movie called Ballad in Blue in 1964 where his daughter had a small role as well.
If you get a chance, catch this thriller on DVD or Netflix. It is worth your time.