Thalia Theater, way up on West 95th street in New York, mischievously pairing "The Virgin Spring" with "Singin' in the Rain." And the programmers at San Francisco's Castro Theater and Los Angeles' The New Beverly Cinema are particularly adept and resourceful with their double features.
That said, today, I'm inaugurating a recurring feature devoted to the double bills that have been rummaging through my mind for decades now.
"Dead Ringer" was casually dismissed the year it was released as a "Baby Jane" rip-off (thanks to Warner Bros.' publicity department making that connection, which is so not true) and is still unfairly underrated. It's a compulsively watchable melodrama with Bette Davis as both a wronged woman and the woman who wronged her - her awful twin sister.
She efficiently murders Margaret, assuming her identity and privileged lifestyle, living off the now-deceased Mr. DeLorca's vast fortune. It's Edie who died, see? But there are complications. For one thing, there's this cop (Karl Malden) snooping around - a cop who was devoted to Edie. And there's the DeLorca dog, an imposing figure who hated evil Margaret but really likes Edie.
Then there's this gigolo (Peter Lawford), Margaret's paramour when the late Mr. DeLorca was still alive, who figures things out and decides to blackmail Edie/Margaret. For starters, he wants a fancy sports car.
"Dead Ringer" reunited Davis with two Warner cronies, cinematographer Ernest Haller, who shot the film in glorious, early '60s black-&-white, and former co-star Henried ("Now, Voyager" and "Deception") who directed with a distinctly old-fashioned touch and a clear generosity with his actors.
The supporting cast is tops - Jean Hagen, Philip Carey, George Macready, Estelle Winwood, Cyril Delevanti, Bert Remsen, Ken Lynch, Henry Beckman, Charles Watts and George Petrie. And Perry Blackwell, who played the piano at the Parisian Room in Los Angeles for several years, provides the jazz piano renditions in the scenes set in the little L. A. bar/club owned by Edie. A touch suggested, perhaps, by the composer of the film's music - André Previn, who also attempted to provide a Max Steiner-type score. But it sounds like ... André Previn. (All his movie stuff sounds alike to me.)
While Beverly and Elliot may be identical, they couldn't be more dissimilar in personality, with Elliot the more confident, aggressive and dominant of the two. Beverly is is definitely passive and subservient in comparison and often inherits a woman when Elliot tires of the her. For example, they both date an actress named Claire Niveau (Geneviève Bujold) but, like the other women, she's under the impression that she's seeing one man.
The sharing and comparing of women is a noxious plot point and it is upended when the shy Beverly falls in love with Claire. A drug addiction that ensnares both brothers exacerbates their issues and Cronenberg adds to the carefully planned creepiness of his film with the introduction of curious gynocological equipment that the brothers have invented, reported to be friendlier to the female body, and that adds to their fame.
Cronenberg has directed the movie in a fashion that makes it seem as if it is slithering, not just moving, and abetting his distinct vision are the contributions of composer Howard Shore and cinematographer Peter Suschitzky. Visually, the film is drop-dead gorgeous. In tandem with Irons' jaw-dropping one man/two man show, the creators here have made sure that the film is all of one piece. Everyone involved was clearly on the same bizarre wavelength, as if they were, well, conjoined. "Dead Ringers" is that rare movie that is at once difficult to recommend but also a must-see.
Note in Passing: Should I decide to turn my fantasy into a triple bill, I'd gladly add François Ozon's provocative ”Double Lover”/”L'amont Double" to the mix. It also involves twins. Of sorts.
Two sets, in fact.
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~Poster art for "Dead Ringer"
~exterior shot of the Thalia theater
~Poster art for "Dead Ringers"
~Bette Davis and Bette Davis in "Dead Ringer"
~photography: Warner Bros. 1964©
~Jeremy Irons and Jeremy Irons in "Dead Ringers"
~photography: Twentieth Century-Fox 1988©
~Original French poster art for "L'amont Double"/"Double Lover"