Thursday, January 6, 2011

"Dead Ringer" Rings True With Many Surprises

Dead Ringer is one of several thriller movies that Bette Davis made in the 1960s. She made both it and Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte in 1964. In addition, she also made creepy classics Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? in 1962 and The Nanny in 1965. However, Dead Ringer is my favorite of these films.

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.

The problem is that Maggie had a relationship with him as well and Mr. DeLorca married her because she told him she was pregnant. Edith questions her sister about the baby, whom Maggie says died when he was an infant. Bitter over Maggie’s life style and her lack of sympathy for her dead husband, Edith storms out of the house. She stops halfway down the stairs and looks sadly at Mr. DeLorca’s large portrait. Henry, the butler, notices how sad she is and tells her what a good man Mr. DeLorca was. You can tell her that Henry (Cyril Delevanti) is not fond of Mrs. DeLorca. Maggie’s chauffeur drives Edith home. She questions him about the child that died. He informs her that he has been with the DeLorca family for many years and tells her that no child ever born.

Edith owns a bar in the poor section of town and lives in a one room over it. The bar is small, but Edith is a hard worker. Police Sergeant Jim Hobbson (played touchingly by Karl Malden) comes to visit Edith on her birthday and her a watch as a present. Hobbson is in love with Edith, but has never really told her. He just assumes she knows it. Later that night after Hobbson has left, Edith is confronted by the building’s owner, whom she owes three months rent. Edith is a nice woman who kindly helps others which causes her dilemma with the rent. She goes back to her room and calls her sister, telling her she knows everything and wants her come over right away.

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.


  1. Aki, I haven't seen DEAD RINGER in years and so very much enjoyed your review. The concept of a lookalike (twin or otherwise) assuming another person's identity has always intrigued me. It's naturally suspenseful to see whether the lookalike will be caught and, if so, how (there's a parallel here to VERTIGO and that's why it's my top Hitch pic). I can't imagine Bette in 4 FOR TEXAS; this was a good role for her and Karl Malden was solid as always. Great pick for this month's theme at the Cafe.

  2. Great review. I am a huge fan of both Baby Jane and Sweet Charlotte so I can't believe I haven't seen Dead Ringer yet, but I definitely will make it a priority after reading this. Double the Bette Davis! I can't wait.

  3. Aki, I've seen almost every Bette Davis film made, and after All About Eve she doesn't have a lot of films to brag about. Yet, her 60s films have some strange allure to them. I really enjoyed Hush, Hush Sweet Charlotte and Whatever Happened to Baby Jane. The first because Davis and de'Havilland were such great friends off-screen it was awesome to see them on opposite sides. And everyone knows about the Crawford/Davis feud, so I don't need to explain Baby Jane. It is with Dead Ringer and The Nanny that it gets rather creepy to watch. I ddo enjoy watching the twists in Dead Ringer, though. Thanks for a great review.

  4. Aki, I really enjoyed your research on this film. It was especially interesting to read about Lana Turner choosing not to play these dual roles while Bette also turned down a role to play them. You did a great job on this review. Well done!

  5. Aki, I just love Bette Davis no matter what role she chooses. But I can't imagine her in a westsern like 4 for Texas. I always loved A Stolen Life, which had a very different outcome than Dead Ringer. I really enjoyed your post!

  6. Terrific review, Aki! I'm not a Bette Davis fan, but I really enjoy her thrillers from the 60s, especially one of the Hammer films, THE NANNY. But I also like this film and HUSH... HUSH, SWEET CHARLOTTE. I likewise appreciate Karl Malden's work (and, as it happens, he was a dead ringer for Richard Herd, or the other way around). Thanks, Aki, for something wonderful to read while I had my espresso fix.

  7. Thanks for a wonderful review of one of my favorite thrillers from the 1960's. I loved the twin angle of the story and it is wonderful to watch Bette Davis as her life as Edith slowly disintegrates. I liked all the Bette Davis thrillers from the 60's and reading this review makes me want to watch them again.

  8. Thank you everyone for the very nice comments about my movie review. I hadn't seen this movie in a while and really enjoyed watching it again. It is one of my favorite of Bette's movies.