Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Tonight's Movie: The Dark Mirror (1946) at the Noir City Film Festival

Tonight's double bill at Hollywood's Noir City Film Festival was comprised of THE TWO MRS. CARROLLS (1947), followed by THE DARK MIRROR. THE DARK MIRROR features Olivia de Havilland in a tour de force performance as twin sisters -- one innocent and one a murderess.

A doctor turns up murdered, and witnesses in the area finger Ruth Collins (de Havilland) as having been at the scene on the night in question. But Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) discovers Ruth's alibi completely checks out. Then it's discovered that Ruth has a twin sister, Terry (also de Havilland). Which woman did the deed? And why is the "good" sister unwilling to name her twin, despite the fact she's living with a murderess?

The film is for the most part a four-way battle of wits between the twins, Lt. Stevenson, and Dr. Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres), a psychologist who is attracted to Ruth -- or is it Terry? -- and who conveniently happens to specialize in research on twins. It's an absorbing 85-minute story, as the murder is solved by analyzing the twins' personalities and relationship.

THE DARK MIRROR reflects the fascination with psychology in films of the mid to late '40s, also seen in films such as LADY IN THE DARK (1944), SPELLBOUND (1945), THE LOCKET (1946), and IT HAD TO BE YOU (1947).

de Havilland is marvelous, creating two distinctively different characters, even changing the tone of voice slightly, with Ruth speaking in gentle tones and Terry having a harder edge. The special effects are quite remarkable for 1946, so seamless that after a while one stops wondering how it was done and just focuses on the interesting story. Watching de Havilland's reactions as she interacts with Ayres' probing questions is fascinating; this is another outstanding performance -- make that two performances -- by one of the great actresses of the movies.

Thomas Mitchell is quite engaging as the homicide detective, and screenwriter Nunnally Johnson (who also produced) provides him with some amusing dialogue.

It's interesting to note that Lew Ayres followed his WWII service as a medic with two performances as doctors in showcases for the leading actresses; two years after playing the psychologist in THE DARK MIRROR, he was a doctor in support of Jane Wyman's Oscar-winning turn in JOHNNY BELINDA. He's solid as the man trying to figure out which woman he loves and which woman is a killer.

The supporting cast includes Richard Long as an elevator boy, as well as Charles Evans, Gary Owen, Lela Bliss, and Lester Allen.

THE DARK MIRROR was directed by Robert Siodmak, whose extensive film noir and suspense credentials include FLY-BY-NIGHT (1942), PHANTOM LADY (1944), CHRISTMAS HOLIDAY (1944), THE STRANGE AFFAIR OF UNCLE HARRY (1945), THE SPIRAL STAIRCASE (1945), THE KILLERS (1946), CRY OF THE CITY (1948), CRISS CROSS (1949), and THE FILE ON THELMA JORDON (1950).

Vladimir Pozner was nominated for the Oscar for Best Original Story. The film also has a score by Dimitri Tiomkin and black and white cinematography by Milton Krasner; there are some wonderful noir touches, such as the shadow of window blinds reflected on a wall. Irene Sharaff designed de Havilland's wardrobe.

This film is available on VHS. It's not out in DVD in the United States, but it's available in the Region 2 DVD format from Spain and France.

Fall 2012 Update: This film is now available on DVD in the United States from Olive.


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