Bette Davis has to be the only actress to have played sets of twins in two separate films, and both she plays a woman who assumes her sister’s identity after she dies. Because of the similarity, Dead Ringer is sometimes mistakenly listed as a remake of A Stolen Life, but the earlier film was actually a remake of a British movie, and this is based on a 1946 Mexican film La Otra. I was surprised in the opening credits to see that directorial duties were handled by Paul Henreid, the actor who is best known for playing the husband of Ingrid Bergman’s character in Casablanca. I had no idea he had ever directed a movie.
Coming straight from the enormous success of What Ever Happened to Baby Jane?, Bette Davis is seething, cantankerous and nicotine-stained as Edith, the financially troubled owner of a cocktail lounge. Attending the funeral of her brother-in-law, she meets her twin sister Margaret for the first time in 18 years. The second of their venomous confrontations fills in the back story. Edith had loved the man who has just been married, but conceded her to her sister when she announced she was pregnant with his child, who died in infancy. Edith is thrown into a violent rage when she learns from the chauffer that there never was a baby, and she has been struggling to support herself while her sister lived in luxury supported by her rich husband.
Edith feels she is owed something for all the years of heartbreak and struggle and takes over her rich sister’s life. She soon finds that along with the big house and jewels, she has inherited a whole host of problems, including a sleazy young lover (Peter Lawford). Karl Malden plays a police Sergeant that had a thing for Edith, the supposedly good sister, and won’t let go. His poking into the case uncovers even darker secrets.