I was really looking forward to revisiting this movie for a lot of reasons: you get double the dose of big, fabulous acting by Bette Davis, and a great cast in an enjoyable juicy melodrama involving several questionable choices and a happy ending. Katie (Davis) is a sweet, timid introvert who falls hard for loner and lighthouse engineer Bill (Glenn Ford). She tries hard to develop their romance to its fullest before allowing him anywhere near her twin sister Pat (also Davis). That’s because Pat is, say it with me: the bad twin, the one who’s always helped herself to her meeker sibling’s valuables. Sure enough, Pat strikes again, thanks to a chance meeting and the irresistible challenge of another conquest. Her more aggressive approach excites Bill, who describes Pat as a plain Katie cake with the missing touch of glamorous frosting. Pat and Bill marry, Katie pines and tries to move on, and in the course of her dabbling in art, she captures the attention of domineering painter Karnock (Dane Clark). Tragically but conveniently, Pat dies and Katie goes along with a case of mistaken identity, seeing it as her shot at finally enjoying all the happiness Pat stole from her. But Katie finds Pat’s life full of unexpected deception and misery, and has her eyes opened to how loved and valued Katie truly “was.”
This is meaty material for Davis, who also produced. She gets to play two separate women, then one’s impersonation or interpretation of the other (twice if you count Pat pretending to be Katie when she meets Bill). Lots of good acting and technical effects reveal the sisters’ characters, show them in the same frame talking, sailing, arguing, etc., and Davis makes it easy to tell the ladies apart, not by using different clothes or hair, but by giving them different speech patterns, movements, insecurities and reactions. Davis speaks volumes with just a sad or venomous glance, about a long history of Katie losing things to her selfish sister, her realization that Bill’s one of those things now, about her low self-worth and habit of surrendering. Katie tries to be more of a fiery, forward, fighting woman, but it takes Katie literally pretending to be her sister, for her to learn all those differences are no shortcomings, but actually wonderful character traits that will, along with honesty, reward her with happiness.
The good supporting cast includes Bruce Bennett as the man breaking up Pat and Bill’s marriage, Charlie Ruggles as the wise and caring guardian who sees through Katie’s excuses and denials, as well as her impostor act (so does Pat’s suspicious dog Mike, in a hilariously suspenseful scene). Walter Brennan does a nice turn as the grouchy lighthouse keeper with a soft center, and Glenn Ford is nice and down-to-earth, but too easily fooled by fancy frosting instead of choosing true love with the plain cake who accepts him just as he is.