I’ve been digging Robert Siodmak’s films hard lately (and have reviewed five already on this blog), so I figured I’d keep the ball rolling with 1946’s The Dark Mirror. This time the German maestro takes on the well-worn territory of evil doppelgangers. This motif had been around for a while, but hadn’t really been done to death until the ’70s and ’80s, when evil twins typically had scars along their cheeks or eye-patches or some other obvious shit to tell them apart.
That’s one of the reasons The Dark Mirror is such a strong film: it’s almost impossible to tell the twins apart (at least during the first viewing). Ya gotta look for the subtle differences in the way they talk and act to figure out who’s who. Despite it being pretty simple to figure out which sister is the killer, The Dark Mirror is still an entertaining noir anchored by Siodmak’s expressionistic sensibilities.
When a well-to-do doctor is stabbed to death in his apartment, several witnesses point to a Terry Collins as the murderer. They claim to have seen the doctor and Terry having an argument the night he was killed. Shortly into his investigation, Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) finds out that Terry has an identical twin sister named Ruth. The case runs into a complete dead end as the twins provide rock-solid alibis for each other and Stevenson cannot determine which of the Collins sisters offed the doctor.
The twins are played by Academy Award British American actress Olivia de Havilland, who’s probably best known for her role as Melanie Hamilton in Gone with the Wind. She plays both sisters in the same scene a lot, and the use of early special effects is pretty damn solid. I didn’t spot any obvious splits in the frame or anything like that. They use body doubles for different angles and even use a mirror projection at one point, and it looks fucking seamless. My only beef with the way the twins are presented is that the filmmakers felt the need to insult the audience’s intelligence by having the sisters wear enormous necklaces and brooches with the names/initials on them. This takes a lot of the fun out of guessing which sister is on screen.
To aid in the investigation, Stevenson consults Dr. Scott Elliot (Lew Ayres), an expert in twin psychology. He claims that through ink blot tests and polygraphs, he can deduce which of the sisters is capable of murder. He’s an overconfident, smug individual who carries an air of esteem because he has a few scholarly books under his genuine leather belt. Whatever man. After a couple session with the Collins, it’s clear that he’s a shit quack with no sense of professionalism. He quickly falls for Ruth and becomes romantically involved with her – jeopardizing the investigation at the same time. Way to go, Professor Boner.
In the end, the case is cracked by Stevenson, who cleverly dupes one of the sisters into making a reverse confession (it makes sense, trust me). This end bit is where Olivia de Havilland gets to go full-psycho. Previously, she only hints at the psychosis boiling under the surface of one of the sisters, but during gets climax she lets it all out. It’s a chilling moment. There’s a brief epilogue too that flaccidly tacks on a happy ending. However, if you closely, there’s a second where de Havilland makes you think maybe they busted the wrong sister. The happy ending turns into an ambiguous one, which is just how I like them.
The film is flooded with Siodmak’s dark corners and shadowy rooms, giving The Dark Mirror a strong noir atmosphere. The director’s trademark expressionistic touches are present as well, giving the film an abstract feeling at times marked with an ominous feeling of dread. Shit, did this guy make a bad film? I intend on being able to answer that in the coming months as I tear through his filmography. Here’s how it stands so far:
Robert Siodmak Power Rankings:
1. The Killers
2. Criss Cross
3. The Spiral Staircase
4. Phantom Lady
5. Cry of the City
6. The Dark Mirror
7. The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry
8. The File on Thelma Jordon
9. The Suspect
10. Christmas Holiday