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DARK MIRROR, THE (director: Robert Siodmak; screenwriters: Nunnally Johnson/based on a novel by Vladimir Pozner; cinematographer: Milton Krasner; editor: Ernest Nims; music: Dimitri Tiomkin; cast: Olivia De Havilland (Terry & Ruth Collins), Lew Ayres (Dr. Scott Elliott), Thomas Mitchell (Lt. Stevenson), Dick Long (Rusty), Charles Evans (D.A.); Runtime: 85; MPAA Rating: NR; producer: Nunnally Johnson; Universal-International; 1946)
“A stylishly curious psychological thriller.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

Screenwriter Nunnally Johnson and director Robert Siodmak (“Spiral Staircase”) present a stylishly curious psychological thriller based on a novel by Vladimir Pozner. It’s overloaded with Freudian inferences (which are misapplied in the traditional way Hollywood handles such Freudian tidbits), but it does show a willingness to lunge full force into exploring the dark side of human nature which is something not often done in a Hollywood film. Olivia De Havilland shrewdly plays in an understated fashion the dual role of identical twins, one sister a loving person and the other severely disturbed.

A doctor suitor of one of the twins is murdered, though it is uncertain if he knew his girlfriend had a twin. Witnesses identify the attractive candy clerk in the lobby of the medical building as the one seen last quarreling with the doctor before his demise. But when the lead detective, Lt. Stevenson, investigates, he can’t determine which of the identical twins, Ruth or Terry, did the murder. Several witnesses identify Terry, but she has an alibi from three reliable witnesses that she was in another part of town at the time of the murder. The other sister Ruth claims to have been home alone. Since the detective is sure one of the sisters is the killer but can’t arrest them without proof, he asks research psychologist Dr. Scott Elliott to help him sort out one twin from the other. The study of twins happens to be Elliott’s field of research, and through various tests such as inkblots and free word association tests he determines that Terry is the insane one and Ruth the more passive one–not capable of murdering anyone.

Warning: spoiler in the next paragraph.

When the police determine that the spiteful sis, Terry, is so fueled with hatred that she might kill again either Elliott (who is becoming romantically linked to Ruth) or Ruth (in the belief Terry might as well eliminate her rival rather than keep bumping off all her sister’s suitors), they set an unfair trap for Terry by withholding information that Ruth is still alive despite a suicide attempt. The dirty trick works and Terry’s dark image is reflected in the cracked mirror so it now becomes easy to spot the differences between the two.

It all seemed contrived and unconvincing but, nevertheless, remains fun to watch because it creates some chilling suspenseful moments from its dark and uncertain mood it sustains throughout. Siodmak deserves high praise for keeping the melodrama agreeable and intelligent when dealing with both the doppelgänger effect and the sibling rivalry; he does it better than the way most films have covered those subjects, showing that identical twins might look the same but have different psychological attitudes.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”