FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dead Ringer

Dead Ringer is a Juicy Twofer from the One Bette Davis

by Kristin Battestella

Bette Davis stars in the 1964 thriller Dead Ringer as twins one high and one low – leading to an intricate scheme of scandals, affairs, secrets, blackmail, and murder…

Based on an earlier Mexican picture, actor turned director Paul Henried (Casablanca) and writer Oscar Millard (Angel Face) open Dead Ringer with frenetic, mood-setting credits, cemeteries, Latin, funerals, and veils. The servants are surprised to see the reunited sisters are twins, and the catching up dialogue is laden with history – heather to remember wartime trysts in Scotland, one man between two women, and a shotgun marriage twenty years ago. Large rooms allow for a stage-like two-hander space while the camera can cut away to different angles mirroring each sister’s facade as the sordid shade and one on one conversations escalate. Looming portraits of the deceased man provide sadness over what could have been and our jilted twin can’t let go – leading to angry phone calls, threats, and purse revolvers. A change of clothes and the right haircut make our disparate twins look quite alike until choice zooms and tense up-close shots reveal the difference. In spite of some camp – Bette is getting rough with herself, after all, and we know it – viewers are already invested in Dead Ringer by the time the checkbooks are slapped from one’s hand and sisters are shoving each other into action. Both performances are so good, and ambient music from the bar below covers the back and forth shouting. Drumbeats countdown as the note is shown while the gun is drawn, using shrewd editing to not show shocking shots and familial violence even though we are appalled all the same by the sibling twists. The desperate, eponymous ruse takes up the first half-hour of the film with suicide notes and weapons wiped clean. Today’s audience, however, will notice slip-ups, smoking mistakes, and flaws in the not so thought-through plan. Can she pull this off or will the family dog and awkward moments with the servants give away the difference? What’s her usual drink or the combination to the safe? Violent revelations and hocking jewels lead to arsenic, heart attacks, and maulings. Who exactly did what and when, who will face justice or get away with it, and what was it all for anyway? Police questioning creates tense moments amid covering tracks, entertaining the elite, and estate papers needing signatures that may not match the handwriting documented on that all-important passport.

Who’s a better match for Bette Davis (All About Eve) than Bette Davis (Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte)? Wealthy Margaret DeLorca hates climbing her grand stairs and doesn’t like the way she looks in black, but her late husband was rich and she offers her frumpy, chain-smoking sister Edith Phillips her cast off couture – it will be out of style by time she’s officially out of mourning. Margaret is sleek, getting massages while on the phone and unbothered by Mr. DeLorca’s passing, which Edith resents since she loved him first, accusing her sister of never caring about him before refusing Margaret’s proposed money and trips. Margaret claims to love her sister and insists the man between them was no big deal while Edith still regrets her snobby need to take whatever was hers and how Margaret ruined both their lives. She kept up with The DeLorcas over the decades via the social columns, but Margaret didn’t know they lived in the same city until Edith arrived on a bus for the funeral. Their lavish life, however, wasn’t all it seemed, and eventually, Margaret tries to bribe Edith but she can’t forgive her sister for any amount despite being behind on the rent and facing eviction from the meager one-room apartment above her cocktail lounge. However, Edith likes the way she looks in her sister’s stole and smiles at her own reflection more when she coifs her hair just like her sister’s. Knowing how she was tricked out of the charmed life on top of losing what little she has now is apparently too much for Edith, and although she momentarily feels bad about switching tender mementos, she goes through with it anyway. Blunders at society receptions, apologizing, or forgetting the rosary can be dismissed as distraught – Edith didn’t get to be the wife but finds a certain solace in living with the bittersweet memory of what she wanted. The audience almost feels sorry for her pathetic state. We want Edith to get away with it and worry over every slip up even as she gains confidence in the role, speaking frankly about marriage and all the things that made her unhappy. She’s ready to forget who her sister was despite ironic codicils in her lost love’s will. Sadly, the deaths and bodies exhumed get out of hand, and ultimately, Edith plays her part too well.

Honest policeman Karl Malden (I Confess) brings Edith a humble watch for her birthday, and Jim Hobbson is ready to retire, buy a farm, and give her the best. It could be a nice little relationship, but she’s hung up on the past and he can tell something’s wrong. Jim’s angry at Edith’s death and blames himself, intruding on “Margaret” with investigations and memories she’s trying to forget. Unfortunately, Margaret’s jealous playboy lover and would be golf pro, Peter Lawford (Little Women) also throws a wrench into all Edith’s plans. Upon returning from an island holiday, Tony Collins puts two and two together now that “Margaret” doesn’t like his pillow talk – leading to some campy surprises, threats, and blackmail. Glamorous brooches, jewels, and pearls fill the void in his $700 a month love nest, and hey, $3,000 a month allowance in 1964 would be over $24,000 today! Vintage L.A. views and classic cars set the ritzy mood alongside furs, hats, gloves, and tea sets. The cocktail lounge is dark with low ceilings compared to the lavish estate with mirrors and giant bedrooms bigger than the poorer relation’s entire apartment. Classy accents, nibs, and silver add sophistication even as Dead Ringer scandalously shows the ladies in their slips – stripping down the deceased and removing the stockings after the unseen shot to the temple is confirmed with two drops of blood. Crescendos punctuate tense scenes or sadness as needed while the black and white gray-scale creates shadows and ambiguity. Double stand-ins and split screens are probably obvious to today’s special effects savvy audiences, however, the dual conversations are well done. Rearview mirrors and camera angles also placing others in the ensemble in visual trickery likewise play up the duality as cigarette form and lingering smoke punctuate up close shots. On the 4K television Dead Ringer looks quite crisp, and the DVD includes a retrospective with Hollywood author Boze Hadleigh in addition to commentaries and vintage behind the scenes tours.

There are similar stories to Dead Ringer – including an Ann Jillian remake and the recent series Ringer – that may make the twin twists common for modern audiences. This isn’t horror per se, either, yet there are certainly disturbing moments thanks to the sibling violence and dead doppelgangers. Despite a few plot holes, obvious crimes, and an unclear passage of time, the turnabout drama in Dead Ringer is juicy to the end. Every scene is packed with layers and discourse thanks to another tour de force Davis performance worth seeing at least twice, naturally.

For More Spooky Classics, Re-visit:

Hush…Hush, Sweet Charlotte

Dark Shadows Video Review

I Married a Witch

FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: The Ghost and Mrs. Muir

 

The Ghost and Mrs. Muir a Delightful Little Ghostly Romance

Reviewed By Kristin Battestella

I really dislike modern repetitive romantic comedies with that hint of tearful seriousness and sap sap sap. However, classic romances with fun and paranormal do wonders- and I can’t help myself, I’m watching the 1947 treat The Ghost and Mrs. Muir yet again!

Widow Lucy Muir (Gene Tierney) – along with her daughter Anna (Natalie Wood) and beloved maid Martha (Edna Best) – leaves her in-laws and takes a cottage on the Whitecliff coast. Unfortunately, Mrs. Muir soon discovers the late owner Captain Daniel Gregg (Rex Harrison) already inhabits the seaside escape. Captain Gregg agrees to keep his hauntings to a minimum for Anna’s sake and soon helps Lucy financially by collaborating on his memoirs with her. Could it be there is something more between them? Unfortunately, artist Miles Fairley (George Sanders) also romances the Widow Muir, and he is a ‘real’ man after all, much more able to return Lucy’s affection than the ghostly Daniel. But which does she really love?

Though played a little spooky to start- a widow moving into a mysterious cliffside house all alone– director Joseph L. Mankiewicz (Cleopatra, Guys and Dolls) and writer Philip Dunne (How Green Was My Valley, The Robe) keep Josephine Leslie’s source tale progressive and fun. Instead of wasting time on major ghostly special effects or uber kinky relationships as today’s films might, time is taken to know the characters and enjoy the mix of the living and the dead while the romance blooms. Even as much as I love creepy fair, it’s simply wonderful that The Ghost and Mrs. Muir remains simple, innocent, and not totally spooky. Yes, the corporeal barriers and introductory scares might be enough to get a viewer in the door- but the interplay of the cast carries the film. The focus on two shot debates and fore blocking camerawork shows that these two people can hotly interact, inhabit the same space, even coexist and fall in love, but sadly not actually be together-especially when that two-shot becomes a jealous three-way scene. The lovely dilemma and heart of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir is allowed to play itself out on screen instead of being squashed by ghostly glitters or Meg Ryan’s lips. And what an ending!

Tragically, Gene Tierney (Laura, Leave Her to Heaven) didn’t make very many films and is more well known today for her health issues and off-screen romances if at all. Fortunately, she did indeed leave us with a set of classics! The turn of the century costumes on Tierney look great, adding period flavor, grace, and an element of change as Lucy herself sways between men over the years. Tierney really is just lovely inside and out- even if the presentation is a little too post-Victorian by way of the forties for some viewers. However, there’s also a fine modern contrast, for Lucy-being a single mother disbelieving in such paranormal ‘fiddlesticks’- is in many ways ahead of her onscreen time. She defiantly calls out the ghostly instead of being the little widow in black and blossoms as a woman because of it. Although I’m not sure about Tierney’s accent amid all the really English folks, her tone is still proper and classy nonetheless. Not many actresses today can handle material like this- not without it getting cliché like those aforementioned run of the mill contemporary romances. I also confess, penning a book to save the finances of one’s house is perhaps the dream of every down on his luck writer, and it’s just another fun, personal and endearing element I love in The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.

Oh, that crusty and delightful Rex Harrison! Though initially seemingly a silhouetted menace with a great bellowing voice, Captain Gregg is built up carefully and creepily toward a sweet and stormy reveal. We expect Daniel to be so upper class and debonair ala My Fair Lady, but Harrison’s rough around the edges opposite to Lucy and near swashbuckling style is wonderful. His dialogue, delivery, and no holds barred attitude are somehow also suave; Gregg compliments Lucy on her figure and quotes poetry! The way the grizzly ghost mellows is utterly bittersweet, and it’s all done without losing any charm or gruff. Of course, George Sanders (Rebecca, All About Eve) is also his usually slick and exceptional self. We might not find either man uber attractive or Team This and Team That in today’s standards, but the juicy choices and whirlwind escapades both men offer is just that- an onscreen delight. Sanders just as easily sweeps the viewer away by painting scandalous portraits of Lucy in a bathing suit as we are also charmed by Harrison’s dreamy soliloquies. Edna Best (The Man Who Knew Too Much) is a little annoying as the stereotypical English maid who always talks so sassy, knows what’s what, and makes no Cockney about it! However, she earns her stripes as the film progresses. Little Natalie Wood (The Searchers, West Side Story) is also a somewhat goofy, but her fans will enjoy seeing her 10-year-old charm.

The black and white photography of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir hampers the visuals a bit, but the silver screen layers also add plenty of atmosphere. The ghostly lighting, candles, gas lamps, creepy paintings, and the shadows created work beautifully. The fake long shot stills are obvious, yes, but understandable. Besides, the sweet cottage interiors are more Victorian mansion than cottage as we would think of it, and the seaside locations are dynamite. The great ghost laughter, the usual glory of storms and wind, and Bernard Herrmann (Psycho, The Devil and Daniel Webster) crescendos add the audio icing. The paranormal hints and hijinks still work, and I love how the darkness surprises us into never knowing quite where the Harrison appearing and disappearing tricks are. Turn of the century cars, glorious feathers, furs, hats, and gloves! Sigh, but those bathing suits! Those are a definite no.

Yes, I’m sure a lot of this can be merely quaint or hokey to some, but fans of the cast or classics in general surely already know and love The Ghost and Mrs. Muir. Fortunately, there’s also nothing so ghostly or romantic to dissuade younger viewers, and recent audiences of contemporary paranormal or standard romance should most definitely try this treat ASAP.

For more Lighthearted Classics, revisit:

I Married a Witch

Bell, Book, and Candle

Gothic Romance Video Review

Odds and Dead Ends: A maze inside the mind / Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining

Stanley Kubrick’s masterpiece, The Shining, is my favourite horror film of all time. For those that (somehow) aren’t familiar with the film, it is the story of the new caretaker (Jack Torrance, played by Jack Nicholson) and his family at the remote Overlook Hotel over the winter, where ghostly apparitions send him spiraling into madness. Based on the novel by Stephen King, a major feature of the movie which wasn’t in the book is the hedge maze on the hotel grounds. In this article, I’m going to look at this maze, and how it acts as a kind of middle-ground representation of Jack’s ever-twisted mind, as it is changed by the hotel.

Please bear in mind that, as with everything I write for HorrorAddicts.net, in a short article such as this, there’s no way I’m able to cover the wealth of interpretations and analysis and ideas on this film. This is a starting point, where hopefully you can springboard yourself into your own thoughts.

It has been well documented that the layout of the Overlook Hotel is deliberately impossible. Doors lead to nowhere, rooms move, furniture shifts position; everything possible is done to very subtly disorient the viewer. For example, in the first scene of Danny on his tricycle, we pass an exit stairwell leading down, and doors that would appear to go through the thin wall and open up onto the stairwell itself. It is, in fact, a maze of dead ends and double-backs.

Even furniture subtly moves between shots. Rob Ager has documented all this extensively, and his articles and analysis on the subject can be found at his site, which I’ll put a link to at the end of this article. One example is the appearing and disappearing chair behind Jack when Wendy interrupts his writing. Needless to say, with someone like Kubrick, this kind of mismatching wasn’t just sloppy but done deliberately. It is a visual representation of the chaos and insanity that it will try to bring Jack into.

The hotel slowly ratchets up its presence and ghostly manifestations in order to slowly drive Jack mad. This is helped by subtly-suggested alcohol issues (a carry-over from the novel which isn’t nearly as prevalent but still present), and flares of temper. Aided by the claustrophobia of the hotel (‘“what the old-timers used to call ‘cabin fever’”’), and the irritations at being unable to write (‘“Lots of ideas, no good ones though,”’) it all provides the perfect platform for the Overlook Hotel to begin to exert its influence on Jack. The reasons for the Overlook’s attempt to drive Jack to madness are as heavily disputed and debated as almost anything else in the history of fan-theories, and they won’t be discussed here, purely for length reasons.

With the Overlook trying to get a hold on its caretaker, Kubrick wants to give us a middle-ground, to understand that the links between Jack and the hotel go beyond the surface level. Here he presents us with the iconic hedge maze. As I’ve already said, the hotel is a maze in itself, full of twists and turns, and what’s interesting is that almost no two shots of the maze are the same. The map outside the entrance doesn’t match the way Wendy and Danny walk, and the model Jack looks down on doesn’t correspond with either of these. Even the entrance Ullman takes them to in the film’s beginning is on a completely different side of the maze to when Danny runs into at the finale.

There seem to be strong indicators, then, that just like the hotel, the maze changes shape and form. Wendy even says in the kitchen with Halloran that ‘“This place is such an enormous maze I feel like I’ll have to leave a trail of breadcrumbs every time I come in,”’ so if you’re wanting verbal confirmation of this connection, then there it is. But how do we link the maze to Jack?

Firstly, the exterior shots of the Overlook at the beginning of the film don’t show a maze at all. It isn’t present until the whole family are exploring the grounds; when Jack has arrived. Additionally, when Wendy and Danny are exploring it on their own, Jack walks over to the model version in the foyer. We then switch to a top-down view showing a miniature Danny and Wendy walking around the central section. Because, as discussed before, the model and the actual maze don’t add up, we have to assume that this isn’t actually a top-down view of the real maze, but a subjective view of Jack imagining his wife and son in the maze.

By switching to a subjective viewpoint, Kubrick suggests a linking between Jack’s mind (his imagination), and the hedge maze. This doesn’t mean very much throughout the film as, for a large portion of the film, the maze fades into the background. However, right at the very end, it makes a reappearance as Jack chases Danny inside. Surely, as the maze is intrinsically linked with Jack’s mind, this makes sense for the finale to play out there. This is the point where everything combines, hallucination and reality, the Overlook and Jack. In a way, this is almost a proving ground, an arena that the Overlook has provided for their caretaker to show that he can follow out their wishes; that he ‘has the belly for it.’

Ironically, Jack eventually ends up following Danny’s footsteps, just like the trail of breadcrumbs Wendy mentioned at the beginning of the film. He follows Danny in the same way as he followed them through the model before. He has descended into a manifestation of his chaotic mind, distressed by all the factors that enabled the Overlook to push him into pliable madness.

In the end, however, Jack is eventually outsmarted by Danny and stumbles around blindly inside. Whether you believe the ghosts are real or all just a hallucination is irrelevant, because everyone can see that Jack has slipped into madness at this point. Jack is unable to find his way out of the maze, out of his mind. He never recovers, even for a moment as King’s original character does in the novel, and so he freezes to death unredeemed and forever trapped inside the Overlook’s testing ground.

In the end, there really is a simple formula to understand this discussion: Jack Torrance + Overlook Hotel = Hedge Maze. It’s a simple concept, but one probably overlooked by many people watching for the first time, especially by those who aren’t accustomed to looking out for these kinds of interpretations in popular cinema. The Shining is a deeply layered text, and the idea presented is very much a theory, which probably disagrees with 50% of fan theories and analysis of the film, but that’s the way it works with The Shining; everyone has their own idea. In any case, I hope it piques your interest in re-examining the film, and re-watching it, of course. You could do worse things than re-watching one of the greatest films the genre has ever produced; just don’t let it get into your head too much.

-Article by Kieran Judge

-Twitter: @KJudgeMental

-A link to Rob Ager’s site, which I highly encourage anyone interested in film analysis to check out: http://www.collativelearning.com/

-check out my other articles at HorrorAddicts.net if you like this kind of analysis; I’m sure there’ll be something for you to enjoy: https://horroraddicts.wordpress.com/author/kjudgeimaginarium/