The Bette Davis Project: Dead Ringer (1964)

Synopsis:

Twenty years ago, Edith (Bette Davis) married twin sister Margaret’s (also Davis) boyfriend. Still angry about the betrayal, Margaret kills Edith and assumes her identity, but Margaret begins to realize that her sister’s life isn’t a bed of roses.

Reaction & Thoughts:

What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) was a huge hit and success in the film industry always begets copycats. Although it was never intended to be more than a Baby Jane wannabe, Dead Ringer turned out really well. The story is bonkers and star Bette Davis’s double-service of smoked ham is delicious — the film is lots of fun!

Hollywood mogul Jack L. Warner was apparently shocked to see Baby Jane become a huge box office hit. Warner immediately dusted off a project that had been in limbo for quite some time. Dead Ringer, a remake of an old Mexican movie, was originally prepared for Lana Tuner (The Bad and the Beautiful), who bailed out at the last moment. Davis agreed to make the movie after Warner offered her a beefy paycheck and hired Davis’s friend and ex-co-star, actor Paul Henreid (Now, Voyager), to helm to movie.

Nose-holding critics have sarcastically placed these post-Baby Jane films under the banner “hagsploitation,” but the much-maligned sub-genre should be praised not ridiculed. In an industry where ageism is a serious problem, it’s a good thing to see stories that revolve around women of a certain age.

If anything, Dead Ringer demonstrates how Davis was able to elevate a film by sheer force of will. Plot holes are plentiful so this is one of those movies that requires a fair amount of suspension of disbelief from viewers. Risk-takers won’t be disappointed — Davis’s charisma alone makes this exercise in Grand-Guignol fun to watch.

Gallons of dark humor also enhance the dubious narrative. As ironies keep piling up, I guarantee that you will chuckle every time the film hits you with one of its wacky twists. Dead Ringer even offers a series of moral lessons: “be happy with what you have,” “jealousy is bad,” “let go of the past,” and more important, “before you embark on a journey of revenge, dig two graves.”

It helps a great deal that Davis has excellent rapport with her two main co-stars: Karl Malden (A Streetcar Named Desire) is good as a detective in love with one of the twins and Peter Lawford (The April Fools) is wonderfully sleazy as the lover of the other twin.

The visual effects are simple, but effective. The camera work (this is cinematographer Ernest Haller’s last movie) and editing are clever enough to make you believe the twin sisters are real. Davis does, of course, a phenomenal good job here (she had played twins in A Stolen Life), but one can’t underestimate the skill required to create the proper illusion. Andre Previn’s (Gigi) jazzy music score is a plus.

Conclusions & Final Thoughts:

Dead Ringer is nowhere as good as What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, but it is grand entertainment of the ghoulish kind. The film is surprisingly polished, and well-acted, and there is a good chance that you’ll laugh your head off as you watch Bette Davis try to out-act Bette Davis … B&W, 115 minutes, Not Rated.

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6 responses to “The Bette Davis Project: Dead Ringer (1964)

  1. Ha, never heard the term ‘hagsploitation’ before! My friend recommended I see this, and I really liked it…like you said, a lot of fun watching Bette and Bette trying to out-act each other. And the effects related to the ‘double Bette’ scenes surprised me with how convincing they were. I’ve never seen ‘What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?’, but I just received the Blu-ray as a gift, so I’ll be checking it out soon. Cool review, Eric!

    Liked by 1 person

      • Oh lord, a challenge! I couldn’t come with anything related to the title, so I guess you’ll have to wait ’til I actually watch the movie. Unless John Beradino had a small part in it, then I’ve got my connection!

        Liked by 1 person

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