US Release Date: 02-19-1964
Directed by: Paul Henreid
- Bette Davis, as
- Margaret DeLorca / Edith Phillips
- Karl Malden, as
- Sergeant Jim Hobbson
- Peter Lawford, as
- Tony Collins
- Philip Carey, as
- Sergeant Hoag
- Jean Hagen, as
- Dede Marshall
- George Macready, as
- Paul Harrison
- Estelle Winwood, as
- Dona Anna
- George Chandler, as
- George, Chauffeur
- Mario Alcalde, as
- Cyril Delevanti, as
- Henry, the Butler
- Monika Henreid as
- Janet, the maid
Bette Davis and Bette Davis in Dead Ringer.
For the second time in her long and illustrious career Bette Davis played twins (the first time was in A Stolen Life in 1946). The black & white Dead Ringer has elements of film noir mixed with a gothic mystery/thriller. It is also - due entirely to Bette’s over-the-top performance - somewhat of a camp classic. This is the Bette Davis that female impersonators love doing impressions of. Her manic smoking mannerisms, exaggerated diction and hoarse speaking voice all reached their pinnacle in Dead Ringer.
This movie gave Bette the chance to play not one, but two juicy roles. One sister married rich (to the man the other sister was in love with of course). She lives in a mansion with servants waiting on her hand and foot and wears glamorous designer gowns. The other sister is the dowdy proprietor of a dingy little cocktail lounge that she owes three months back rent on. She lives in a squalid little one room flat upstairs. The movie opens with both sisters attending the funeral of the rich husband after not having seen each other in something like twenty years.
The dowdy twin kills the rich twin and assumes her identity. The plot takes several twists and turns before the unexpected ending. The two men in the story are played by Karl Malden and Peter Lawford. Malden is the honest cop/boyfriend of Edith, the poor sister, while Lawford plays the rich sister’s lover.
At 56 Bette Davis is playing early 40s. The black & white cinematography helps hide her aging face and body. She shows quite a bit of skin so believe me you’ll be thankful for this fact before it’s all over. The role had originally been offered to the much younger and prettier Lana Turner, which explains all the undressing scenes. This is one of Bette Davis’ last attempts at playing a glamorous character.
The supporting cast includes Jean Hagen as one of rich sister Margaret’s society friends. Although she popped up in guest spots on several television series in the 1970s this was her last role on the big screen. She will always be remembered for her hilarious turn as Lina Lamont in Singin’ in the Rain. Estelle Winwood, famous for playing little old ladies in many movies and television shows, plays one of Margaret’s dead husband’s devoutly religious relatives. She most famously played the woman who tells Zero Mostel to “Hold me, touch me” in The Producers. She was 101 when she passed away in 1984. Phil Carey, who would later gain fame playing iron-fisted patriarch Asa Buchanan on the recently canceled daytime soap One Life to Live, plays Malden’s police partner.
Former leading man, and Bette Davis costar turned director, Paul Henreid helmed the movie with a sure touch. He utilizes interesting camera angles and zooms in for several dramatic close-ups of his famous big-eyed star. The technical aspects of having one actress play two characters in the same scenes are handled quite well. For the most part they hold up even now, except for a few shots at the funeral where you can tell the woman under the veil isn’t Miss Davis. They used her stand-in Connie Cezon. Henreid’s daughter Monika has a featured role as Margaret’s maid Janet.
Legendary composer André Previn wrote the score, which adds an appropriate sense of eeriness and suspense to the proceedings. He repeats the same music to underscore scenes of high drama or when something shocking is being revealed.
But make no mistake. Dead Ringer belongs to its star. Bette Davis eagerly chews the scenery in a performance that totally dominates the movie. She was then at the peak of her mid-1960s career resurgence and Dead Ringer gave her one last chance to play a glamorous leading lady before being relegated to old lady parts. Dead Ringer is a minor camp classic and a must see for Bette Davis fans.
Photos © Copyright Warner Bros. Pictures (1964)