Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Dark Mirror

Pimeä peili / Den mörka spegeln. US © 1946 Inter-John, Inc. Original distributor: Universal Pictures Company, Inc. P: Nunnally Johnson. D: Robert Siodmak. Dialogue D: Phyllis Loughton. SC: Nunnally Johnson – from a story by Vladimir Pozner. DP: Milton Krasner. Second camera: Harry Davis. PD: Duncan Cramer. Set dec: Hugh Hunt. Special photographic effects: J. Devereaux Jennings, Paul Lerpae. Cost: Irene Sharaff. Makeup: Norbert Miles. Hair: Mary Freeman. M: Dimitri Tiomkin. M selections: Brahms? (on Dr. Elliott's record player); "Frankie and Johnny"? in the music box. S: Fred Lau, Arthur Johns. M mixer: Leon Becker. ED: Ernest Nims. ED: Olivia de Havilland (Terry / Ruth Collins), Lew Ayres (Dr. Scott Elliott), Thomas Mitchell (Lt. Stevenson), Richard Long (Rusty), Charles Evans (D.A. Girard), Garry Owen (Franklin), Lela Bliss (Mrs. Didriksen), Lester Allen (George Benson). Helsinki premiere: 6.2.1948 Metropol, released by: Oy Filmiseppo – tv: 11.10.1974, 5.11.2006 YLE TV2 – VET 28029 – K16 – 85 min. A BFI National Archive print viewed at Cinema Orion, Helsinki (Robert Siodmak's film noir cycle), 4 April 2012.

The design concept in the opening and closing credits: Rorschach patterns.

The exaggeration in the pop psychological plot of The Dark Mirror is so gross that the movie belongs more to the domain of cinefantastique, side by side with The Student of Prague. Together with The Spiral Staircase The Dark Mirror comes close to the horror genre among the films that Siodmak directed during his film noir years. (This makes sense to me personally, because I have written together with my brother Asko Alanen a history of the horror movies called Musta peili, a title which can be translated into English as The Dark Mirror).

Gilbert Adair has written about Olivia de Havilland and Robert Siodmak "managing admirably to counteract the contrived plot". The Dark Mirror was produced at a turning-point in Olivia de Havilland's career when she was determined to act in more ambitious roles. A dual role as a good and an evil sister is an actress's dream, and Olivia de Havilland's performance is excellent, especially as the evil sister masquerading as the good sister. De Havilland's other prominent roles in these years included To Each His Own and The Snake Pit, culminating in the masterpiece The Heiress.

The special distinction of Olivia de Havilland is that she is able to project profound serenity and innate goodness. At first viewing we don't pay attention to her performance in Gone with the Wind, but the more one sees it the more prominent de Havilland's role as Melanie grows alongside Vivien Leigh's flamboyant Scarlett. De Havilland was an inspired and far from obvious choice for Errol Flynn's partner in eight of their best films.

Like with Deanna Durbin, Robert Siodmak was the director to project the dark side of Olivia de Havilland, another actress famous for her nice star persona. While the plot is contrived, there are revelations such as "sisters can hate each other with terrifying intensity".

The opening is compelling, the characters are introduced in effective satirical vignettes, the Polygraph sequence is handled like a magic ritual, and the denouement is sharp and dramatic.

The print viewed was excellent.

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