The Dark Mirror (1946), directed by Robert Siodmak, has Olivia de Havilland playing twin sisters, one of whom is suspected of murdering her suitor. Terry and Ruth have pretended to be one woman at work, switching places so one can enjoy days off, and that makes it easy for them to establish an alibi. Police Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) discovers that the “one” seen at the murder is actually twins, but the sisters’ ruse and refusal to reveal anything about each other’s whereabouts makes it impossible to lay charges on either, so the case goes cold. An admirer of what he thought was the one woman is Dr. Scott Elliott (Lew Ayres) who happens to be an expert on twin psychology. He’s curious about the ladies and starts to pursue his romantic interest as well as the truth of the case. He convinces the sisters to take part in his research and inevitably, his probing uncovers which one has a twisted mind and is capable of killing. Terry’s insane jealousy of Ruth’s superior social skills and her ability to connect with people to earn their love and respect, has festered over the years into a murderous rage. Now that Terry once again feels rejected and overlooked as Ruth finds love with Dr. Elliot, Terry decides that both suitor and sister must go.
Good vs. evil evil twins are juicy parts for actors. By this point they’re clichéd, but in 1946 it was still fresh enough to fascinate, and with de Havilland doing such a good job this is lots of fun to watch. She makes the sisters different and identifiable, even when Terry’s manipulation and deadly schemes depend on her expert ability to imitate Ruth. In the beginning, their bearing is different: Ruth is timid, fidgets, looks apprehensive and folds under pressure, while Terry stands up straighter, steps forward into confrontation, has a more direct gaze, and gets more defiant and aggressive the more she’s challenged. As Ruth becomes more confident in love she sheds nervous habits, but then Terry starts needling her, pressing her anxiety and insecurity buttons, breaks down her positivity and gets her hooked on sleeping pills. Luckily both doctor and detective get wise to Terry’s intentions and use her own plot, of talking Ruth into suicide, to get a confusing but usable confession.
The doctor’s psychological tests and evaluations are interesting to watch, and a nice picture of some of that era’s methods. The inkblot test inspires some incredibly elaborate and detailed interpretations that reveal the sisters’ different outlooks on life: one sees things ranging from delightful to comical, and mostly positive, in the smears and splashes, while the other reads darker, confrontational and sinister scenarios in the images. The word association test really gives away the problem in their relationship. To the word “mirror,” the spontaneous answer is “death.” Odd, but perfect description of the way the sisters are reflections of each other, and see that mirror image as a threat, one fearing and the other hating what looks back at her.
I loved the effects that enabled the two de Havillands to share scenes, and was especially impressed by the one where they hug and one rests her head on the other’s shoulder! Fabulous and seamless work there, that adds to all the melodrama and style in this fast and suspenseful psychological thriller.