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You get two Bette Davis's for the price of one in Dead Ringer (1964) but that's not the first time Bette's pulled this 'seeing double' stunt. In A Stolen Life (1946), Ms. Davis played Kate and Patricia, identical twins in love with the same man (Glenn Ford). When Patricia is accidentally drowned in a boating accident, Kate takes her sister's place and marries Patricia's fiance, though he doesn't suspect the switch at first. For Dead Ringer, the plot twists are more macabre, involving murder, blackmail, and death by Great Dane. Once again, Bette plays twin sisters. Edith is the poor one, a tavern owner who plots to avenge herself on her wealthy twin Margaret for a past incident that ruined her life.
Dead Ringer went into production shortly after the surprise success of Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? (1962) which established Davis as the new queen of Grand Guignol. One of the locations used was the Greystone mansion in Beverly Hills which eventually became the location of the American Film Institute. Davis' former co-star and friend Paul Henreid was brought in to direct and his daughter Monica was even cast in a small role as a suspicious maid. The cinematographer was Ernest Haller (it was his final film) who had created the trick process shots in A Stolen Life and would improve upon the process here. Makeup artist Gene Hibbs was also hired due to his unique talent for making older actresses look younger through a "painting" technique. Best of all, Davis was surrounded with an excellent ensemble cast including Karl Malden, Jean Hagen, George MacReady, Estelle Winwood, and Peter Lawford, who was currently the brother-in-law of President John F. Kennedy. Lawford had originally been slated to play the opportunistic mama's boy in Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? but got cold feet at the last minute and Victor Buono took the part instead.
During its release, Dead Ringer was more enthusiastically received in Europe than the United States. Davis was later quoted in the biography, Mother Goddam by Whitney Stine, saying, "The original script of Dead Ringer was appallingly bad. Paul and I worked very hard to make it plausible at all. We did not completely succeed. We also were forced by Warner Bros. to change the ending we first filmed. The Warner ending was so ordinary. Paul Henreid did a beautiful job as director....plus Connie Cezon was such an unbelievable double for me - we could actually use her in some of the scenes." Regardless of Ms. Davis' reservations about Dead Ringer, any true fan of her work will not be disappointed and her brief rendition of "Shuffle Off to Buffalo" is hard to forget. TV stations were notorious for editing this sequence in order for it to play within a two hour time slot with commercials.
Director: Paul Henreid
Producer: William H. Wright
Screenplay: Oscar Millard, Albert Beich, Rian James, based on the story "La Otra"
Cinematography: Ernest Haller
Editor: Folmar Blangsted
Art Direction: Perry Ferguson
Music: Andre Previn
Cast: Bette Davis (Margaret/Edith Phillips), Karl Malden (Sergeant Hobbson), Peter Lawford (Tony Collins), Philip Carey (Sergeant Hoag), Jean Hagen (Dede Marshall), George Macready (Paul Harrison), Estelle Winwood (Dona Anna).
By Jeff Stafford