Friday, April 17, 2015

Evil Twins in Classic Movies: Bette Davis in "A Stolen Life" & Olivia de Havilland in "The Dark Mirror"

The year 1946 saw two movies where the leading actress played a dual role: twins with herself. The most famous "twin" movie where only one actress plays the parts is The Parent Trap starring Haley Mills. Twins have always been fascinating studies. How are they different? How are they the same? More importantly, what happens when one of the twins is evil...

A Stolen Life starring Bette Davis and The Dark Mirror starring Olivia de Havilland are both examples of this. One of the intriguing things about them is that you get to see the actress in two very different lights: good and bad. I find it fascinating to watch these films because you both love and hate the actress. Let's look at each film separately and then compare them.

The first "evil twin" film I saw as A Stolen Life. It has a great supporting cast: Glenn Ford as the love interest, Charles Ruggles as the concerned Uncle, Walter Brennan as the lighthouse keeper, and Dane Clark as the cynical artist. The story takes place in New England, where old town charm and crashing waves heighten the battle of good vs. evil.

Davis plays Kate and Pat Bosworth. Kate is a painter, visiting her uncle in Cape Cod. She meets the handsome Bill Emerson (Glenn Ford) when she misses the boat back to the mainland (after touring a lighthouse where Bill just happens to be living at the moment) and he has to give her a ride in his boat. Kate, who wants to do a portrait of Bill's uncle who the lighthouse keeper, goes back the next day in her sailboat. The two begin to fall in love; Kate faster than Bill. But there is something Bill doesn't know: Kate has a twin sister.

Bill meets Pat and, thinking it's Kate, begins talking love to her. Pat, who now knows what the secret Kate has been keeping from her is, plays along. Just as Bill is about to kiss her, Kate walks up. Of course he is confused. To make it more awkward, he has just told Pat, whom he thought was Kate, that she was more beautiful than usual; that she has that extra something she lacked earlier. Of course, it's not evident to the viewer as Kate and Pat are both Davis. "Pat" is simply more forward.

After that incident, Bill double-checks every time he goes to pick up Kate. Pat however, being more aggressive and taking advantage of her "extra something" (not to mention that she's also a b*tch) slowly begins to lure Bill away. Kate of course  stands by and watches her twin steal the man she loves from her. Bill, being a patsy, ends up falling for Pat instead of Kate, whom he really loves. Pat is of course "so sorry" that Bill chose her. She "knows" how it must have hurt Kate to be passed over like that.

Pat goes so far as to marry Bill. Of course their marriage is a failure from the start as Pat's true side comes out. Bill realizes his mistake too late. To escape his loveless marriage, he takes a job in Chile.
Kate, meanwhile, helps out a struggling artist (Dane Clark), letting him work in her studio with her. He criticizes her work, saying it is stiff, and finds out about her lost love. This leads Kate to go back to the Cape to think about where her life is going. She discovers that Pat is also there visiting. While there, the sisters go for a sailboat ride. A storm arises and Pat is washed overboard and drowns (in keeping with the Hays Code, Pat get's what was coming to her). Kate is saved but becomes sick and is put to bed. Everyone believes she is Pat and that it was Kate that drowned.

Bill is summoned back from Chile. Kate awakes and discovers that everyone thinks she is Pat, because she is wearing Pat's wedding ring (which came off Pat's finger as Kate tried to save her). Everyone tells her how sorry they are that Kate drowned and how much they loved her. Instead of telling them who she is, Kate decides to assume Pat's identity. Now she is "married" to Bill! However, when Bill comes to take her home she learns that Bill and Pat were in the midst of getting a divorce, due to Pat's infidelity. This makes things awkward as she now has to break up with Pat's lover. Also, the dog doesn't know her, causing complications. She finds it very heard to pretend to be someone that everyone dislikes (which is putting it mildly). Kate's uncle figures out who she is but promises, ate her request and against his better judgment, to keep her secret.
How does the film end? Does Kate tell Bill who she really is? Or does Bill discover it for himself? Do they live happily ever after?

Unfortunately it's not showing on TCM anytime soon, but you can watch the trailer here. Or you can listen to the Lux Radio Theater broadcast.

Click on the pictures to view larger
This was given to the theatre's showing A Stolen Life to tell them how to get people to see the film. Love the "Follow-Up Stunt"

This ad uses the film to teach about safety

~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~  ~ ~ ~~ ~ ~ ~
Twins! One who loves, and one who loves to kill!
That's one of the taglines used for The Dark Mirror starring Olivia de Havilland, Lew Ayres, and Thomas Mitchell. The film was, to me, reminiscent of Gaslight (1944), where Charles Boyer slowly drives his wife, Ingrid Bergman, to insanity. In this case however, one twin is slowly driving the other twin crazy. I found this film particularly intriguing as one is not used to seeing the sweet Olivia de Havilland acting so evil and ruthless.

She plays twins Terry and Ruth Collins. One of them murdered someone. Both have perfect alibis. One is psycho. The other is slowly being made psycho. There are several scenes involving psychology, as the film was made in a time where psychoanalysis was a new field. There are several scenes involving the Rorschach ink blot test and it is even used in the opening credits. The twins are told this is for a twin personality study, but really they are trying to determine which one is the killer.

Meanwhile, the evil twin (Terry) is driving the good twin (Ruth) out of her mind slowly. She plays music on a record during the night and pretends not to hear it or remind her of things that one of them said that she doesn't remember. This causes the Ruth to start to lose her grip and wonder if  she maybe didn't commit the murder after all. She also begins to rely on sleeping pills to get a good night's rest, taking more than she needs at her sister's suggestion.

Ayres plays Dr. Scott Elliot. While conducting the tests on the twins, he falls in love with Ruth. After he has completed the tests, he knows which one is the killer and sets a trap. He invites Terry up to his apartment to tell her something "important" (the identity of the killer).
He makes Terry believe that he thinks she is Ruth. When Terry comes to his apartment, he confronts her and tells her that he knows she's Terry and that she did it. She still tries to blame it on Ruth. They are interrupted by a call that Ruth has committed suicide. They rush to the apartment and Scott goes into the bedroom to confirm the death. Terry, thinking that Ruth is dead, now pretends that she is Ruth and that she was trying to help cover up Terry's crime. As she talks, she becomes more and more into her lie. Suddenly, the real Ruth's reflection appears in the mirror. Terry throws an object at the mirror and completely breaks down. After she is taken away, Scott explains why the had to pretend she was dead and comforts her.

The girls wear distinctive personalized jewelry so you can tell them apart.

If ever I was to turn evil, I would definitely try and make the other person feel like they were going crazy. As long as you're good liar (and the other person is sweet and trusting) it would work.

You can watch the full movie here on YouTube.

de Havilland and Ayres with the director, George Cukor
Not even nature can duplicate character, not even in twins.
~ Dr. Scott Elliot, The Dark Mirror


Be sure to look for my post on The Whole Town's Talking (1935) on Sunday, where Edward G. Robinson plays the dual role of a meek office worker and a ruthless gangster (his specialty)! Also check out what's new to the blog, my post on look-alike celebrities (it's been all about twins here lately), and my 50th Anniversary Sound of Music posts!

This post is part of the Great Villain Blogathon hosted by Speakeasy, Shadows & Satin, and Silver Screenings. Make sure and check out all five days of great entries!

All images found via Pinterest


  1. Great stuff! I thoroughly enjoyed this epic post -- these are two awesome performances by two of my favorite actresses. I love how they're able to convey their evilness, all the while looking exactly like their sister. I enjoyed your artwork, too! Thanks so much for contributing to the blogathon!

    1. Thanks for hosting and for your kind comment! I had a lot of fun writing it. I really enjoy the experience of hating one and loving the other! It shows how great they are at acting!!

  2. These were super roles, I think every actor deep down must love twins or double roles, they get to do it all in one picture. Plus you can do worse than get double the acting power from ladies as good as these were. Thanks for taking part in the event!

    1. Thanks for the comment!! It's so much fun to watch these kind of films!