Friday, January 29, 2010

We'd shoot that terrible wig, too, if we were twinsies Bette Davis in the 1964 hag horror hootfest DEAD RINGER.

How do even powerhouse performers get themselves into movies this bad? After her triumphant comeback as the eponymous loony hag of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane?, fifty-six-year-old, difficult Bette Davis decreed that she would look good again onscreen, and that she would not work with difficult co-stars like Baby Jane’s Joan Crawford. Hence, Dead Ringer: Davis picked the project because she got to sashay about in expensive-looking clothes, and because she was her own co-star. She plays the dual roles of identical twins Edie and Maggie, who meet again after twenty years at the funeral of the man that one sister stole from the other.

Wealthy widow Maggie takes poor cocktail hostess Edie back to Beverly Hills, where she offers up her cast-off gowns and furs. “They’ll all be out of style before I’m out of mourning,” she explains. But Edie won’t settle for Maggie’s Diors, she wants Maggie’s entire pampered lifestyle. “You never loved anyone but yourself!” Edie says before coolly shooting Maggie dead. And after disguising the murder as her own suicide, she smoothly assumes Maggie’s identity. Now, since Davis makes no attempt whatsoever to differentiate between the twins — they have the identical voice, walk, and bad wig — it’s one of the movie’s hilariously grievous shortcomings that the plot turns on whether any one can spot that Edie’s winging it as Maggie. The good cop, Karl Malden, who loved the supposedly dead Edie, is easily fooled. But Maggie’s Great Dane, Duke, knows the difference at once, and before long Maggie’s gigolo lover Peter Lawford sniffs out the truth, too.

When Edie-as-Maggie learns that Lawford and the real Maggie murdered Maggie’s husband, Edie-as-Maggie realizes that she has killed Maggie only to take on the identity of a killer. Anyway, just then, Duke (make that Duke ex machina) attacks and kills Lawford, leaving Edie-as-Maggie all alone to face the officer who’s come to arrest her for murdering Maggie’s husband. If you guessed that the flatfoot is Malden, maybe you won’t be amazed by what happens next — but don’t bet on it. “Don’t ya know me?” Davis says, heaving her body at Malden. “I’m not Maggie, I’m Edie.” “Nice try,” Malden says, “but Edie was sweet and kind. She would never have killed her own sister. I was planning to ask her to marry me.” Inexplicably touched by this, Edie-as-Edie asks, “Did you ever tell her?” then toughens up again to claim she was just kidding about not being Maggie, whereupon she departs nobly to face Maggie’s certain death sentence — instead of just telling Malden that he’s a lousy judge of character.

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