The Dark Mirror (1946) – Crude Reflections

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Olivia de Havilland as Terry Collins and Ruth Collins
Lew Ayres as Dr. Scott Elliott
Thomas Mitchell as Lt. Stevenson
Richard Long as Rusty

Two sisters form a cumbersome bond that shields them from the ulterior motives of the world. This bond helps them fend off unwanted predicaments. It’s almost like having an automated backup plan to everything. When these sisters happen to be identical twins, it’s hard to distinguish one from the other, which works as an added advantage for both.

The same advantage turns into a gross disadvantage when, allegedly, one of the sisters commit murder. All reflections could be useless, but as with the nature of the beast itself, who is to distinguish the criminal from the innocent, the captive from the free?

Terry and Ruth Collins are identical twins. Physically indistinguishable they may be, but their attitude towards life is completely different. When Dr. Frank is murdered one evening, the Police led by Lt. Stevenson follow their cues and reach the twins. Unable to discover concrete evidence against the twins because both have their own alibis, the police accept the inherent weakness in their accusation and turn to ace psychologist Dr. Scott Elliott instead to unravel the mystery. Performing various tests on the twins, Dr. Elliott arrives at a deadly conclusion [plot point ahead]: one of the twins is paranoid, with conscience of a 2-year-old and a ravaging jealousy for her sister. One of the two cannot accept the other being liked, whilst she continues to be rejected in favor of her sister. Who is nice and who is not so nice? That’s all this thriller is all about.

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The Dark Mirror is mysterious, but for all the thrills and intrigues, it’s a cool watch and a breezy ride of 90 minutes. The content is light for the heavy themes it carries. A psychological study of human nature, The Dark Mirror trots from psychiatry to romance, crime, jealousy, and murder with ease. And, considering the grave story, it’s perplexing how easy on the eye (and mind) the movie is. One of the simplest made Noirs, the pace is swift, the story ticks on—building to the climax gently almost like an education of sorts. Such blending of hard-hitting realities with the subtle emotions really makes it stand out as an early classic in the genre.

Olivia de Havilland plays the twins—one who is charming, other who is deranged. What’s amazing is the masterful showcasing of special effects considering the era. Implanting both the sisters together on-screen, and that’s for good parts of the movie, director Robert Siodmak fascinates with the powerful combination of early special effects, gripping storytelling, and tight direction. The show stealer obviously is the show itself, Olivia de Havilland. It’s her movie, hence, her role, and she portrays both personalities with point precision. Adding her poignant touch to the roles, one is bound to appreciate her performances as both Terry and Ruth. The fact that these performances aren’t talked about is a nothing short of a shame. It’s one of the finest performances by a lead.

Stark cinematography (Milton Krasner), terrific use of lights and shadows, and the powerful motif of the mirror signifying the theme of reflection—opposite of what we are and never the exact copy—The Dark Mirror is a classic. Almost 70 years have passed since it hit the screens. Back then, it didn’t rake in as much appreciation as it ought to have. Today, it stands out as a tense psychological study balancing the various components of storytelling, with stylish use of cinematic techniques.

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It wouldn’t be precise to call Noir movies warm and uplifting, but those words wouldn’t be wasted if showered on The Dark Mirror. It manages to be intriguing, while maintaining a coziness that makes this movie a pleasant watch and an entertaining journey about two sisters cut from the same fabric, designed by different couturiers.

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