The Dark Mirror (1946)

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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.

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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.

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15 thoughts on “The Dark Mirror (1946)”

  1. I haven’t seen “The Dark Mirror” in years, but enjoyed it immensely. With De Havilland at her height, it was especially fun. I must check it out again soon.

    1. She was scary as the mean/psycho one, and totally convincing as both– I instantly bought that there were two ladies with different personalities. Lots of fun and good as a noir too.

  2. Well acted by de Havilland and Siodmak was on form at this point. I agree on the quality of the effects as I thought looked very smooth too.

    1. Really nice work in style and effects, I keep thinking how good it must have looked to audiences then, if we have trouble finding any fault. Liked the melodrama/noir combo, it worked well,and Olivia sure made a cold and scary villainess!

  3. Glad you caught up with this one after I put you on hold for a week. It’s a fun one and you wrote about it at a different angle. Remind me not to play the ink blot game with you. Nice that you point out the evil twin angle was still fresh back in 46. Olivia nails both roles. Mitchell a credit to most films as he is here.

    1. After your review I couldn’t resist, was always curious about it and she did a great job with both roles, convinced me right from the start and I kept staring at the effects, very nice work to have them together so often. Clever and must have been super impressive at the time.

  4. Very insightful piece in characterizing the twin sisters. I’ve always liked the movie–tops in every way for this kind of thriller. With any kind of thriller, crime movie, or film noir, Siodmak always did well in these years. Not just stylistic flair–he was always seemed to understand so well what was going on dramatically. Of course, as always it’s hard to separate those things.

    1. Olivia did a nice job not only giving the twins characteristics to set them apart, she also didn’t do too much and go overboard, which would have been so easy to do. Her careful choices serve the story too, when it’s time for one to pretend she’s the other. Nicely plotted and presented overall.

  5. Robert Siodmak was on peak form at this point (and what a peak!). As you say, Kristina, this must have looked really fresh and clever in 1946. Actually, it still looks clever. You could almost convince yourself you are watching two actresses, it is so seamlessly made. Topnotch.

    1. It really does look clever, fooled and impressed me. Thinking about the movie since yesterday, I have to say I liked the slightly unethical tactics the Dr. and Lt. used. Since they were dealing with such an unusual puzzle, I enjoyed seeing them outsmart the evil twin. Thanks!

  6. This reminds me that I’d love to do a Robert Siodmak project sometime… I’ve actually never seen this one, but I’ve had my eye on the Blu-ray, waiting for the price to drop down a bit. Great review!

    1. That would be a great project, so many good movies. I like Phantom Lady, to name just one lesser known of his, and I’d like to see many more myself, like The Suspect and Strange Affair of Uncle HArry. This would look nice on blu. I really enjoyed it and hope you do too.

      1. I also like Phantom Lady quite a bit. Uncle Harry was a bit of a let-down, but still enjoyable. I’ve heard Eddie Muller sing Siodmak’s praises several times, so he must be onto something.

  7. Well, there’s nothing that sounds like cliched in this film, the way you’re recounting it. Like many people, I’m fascinated with twins, especially in storytelling.
    Thanks for sharing this 🙂

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