Bette Davis remains a true Hollywood icon. Like other classic stars: Joan Crawford, Greta Garbo, Katherine Hepburn, Clark Cable, Humphrey Bogart, Rock Hudson, James Dean, Cary Grant and Marilyn Monroe, one only has to mention their name to elicit a film fan’s adoration, or a smile of approval and recognition from even the casual movie goer. One Bette Davis performance is more than enough for any silver screen evening indulgence, but how about two co-starring roles in the same movie? Davis deftly played twins in two Hollywood movies, and also, the double duty theme followed her in a British flick, starring Alec Guinness – Obi-Wan Kenobi of “Star Wars” fame – called “The Scapegoat”, where Guinness plays two strangers who are identical in looks. Bette Davis had the irresistible charm and talent to pull off playing twins, and “A Stolen Life”, starring Glenn Ford, and “Dead Ringer”, opposite Karl Malden and Peter Lawford, prove she can carry a film with two times the energy and double the trouble fun.
A Stolen Life (1946)
Twin sisters fall in love with the same man, but only one can have him. Which one will it be? Bette Davis is in her physical and acting prime here, and actor Glenn Ford (Pa Kent in Superman: The Movie) playing a man who must choose romance between twin sisters keeps up with Davis and Davis respectively.
When Davis, playing the artistic Kate, falls in love with Bill (Ford), it’s a whirlwind and whimsical romp, even a fairy tale kind of romance. When sister Pat enters the scene – Davis playing Kate’s scheming, man eater twin sibling – the fairy tale turns dark, as Pat smoothly steals away Bill’s growing affections. Dane Clark (Hollywood Canteen), plays a brilliant, though tortured artist, who mentors Kate in her artistic pursuits and vainly tries to woo her.
Dead Ringer (1964)
Also known as, “Who Is Buried In My Grave?”, and directed by actor Paul Henreid (Now Voyager), the film runs a similar course as “A Stolen Life”, as different as night and day twin sisters clash, which causes death, misdirection and identity theft to ensue.
Indeed, way before our modern troubles of digital finger and foot prints enabling thieves to pose as us to reap financial rewards, the Davis character here steals her sister’s identity without a keystroke or Wi-Fi connection. Davis is again fantastic in a dual role, and Karl Malden as the sincere cop who’s in love with one of her characters also shines.
The Scapegoat (1959)
Before British actor Alec Guinness slashed away at the dark Lord of the Sith with his Jedi lightsaber, he played two strangers who could be mistaken for twin brothers.
Based upon Daphne du Maurier’s novel, the first choice to play the two central characters was Cary Grant (North By Northwest), but the author insisted on casting Guinness in the lead roles, since he resembled her father. Instead of being the twins in this one, Davis plays the mom – a spoiled, drug addicted Countess – of the scheming manipulator named Jacques De Gue. As Guinness delves more into the complex and high stakes world of his look alike, he realizes he’s been royally set-up.