The Dark Mirror (1946 ): On the other side

The Dark Mirror (1946)

Robert Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror (1946 ), for Republic Pictures, is one of the early psychological noir thrillers. The story of two attractive young women, identical twins, implicated in a murder explores the extremes of personality – the dark side, the wraith in the mirror.   A theme of the entrapment of the disturbed mind and it’s insatiable demands add a decidedly noir feel to the film. A crisp script from Nunally Johnson, the solid camera-work of  Milton Krasner, and a Dimitri Tiomkins score provide competent support.  The original story by Vladimir Pozner received an Oscar nomination.

Siodmak’s direction is workman-like with some flair reserved only for the opening scene and the climactic scenes towards the end. The fluid opening scene sees the camera pan from a cityscape at night to a building in the foreground, through a window into a darkened room, up to a smashed mirror, and then down to a man dead on the floor. The smashed mirror is also a book-end in the film’s closing scene – the dark reflection has to be destroyed.  As the drama heightens towards the denouement, the insanity of one of the protagonists is melodramatically rendered in a darkened room at night, where key lighting focuses attention on the crazed eyes of a psychopath.

The picture is carried by an elegant and accomplished performance from Olivier de Havilland in the double role of the twin sisters. As their personalities diverge with the story’s progression, so her performance strengthens. By the climax, she is breathtaking.  Thomas Mitchell is entertaining as the cop investigating the murder.

Interesting use of a psychologist’s tool-set, Rorschach inkblots, word association, and a polygraph, carry the centre of the film to its dramatic conclusion.

Worth seeing for de Havilland’s subtle performance alone.

4 Comments

  1. Of course, Robert Siodmak is a master with a capital T, but oddly I must admit I have never seen this particular film, sad to say, Any film with the likes of Olivia de Havilland and Thomas Mitchell is esential of course, and in view of Tony’s modestly bravura assessment I will seek it out. Very insightful capsule review, particularly that fascinating second paragraph. Of course Tony, when you mention the names of Milton Krasner, Dimitri Tiomkin, and Nunnally Johnson, the pulse increases.

    Your authoritative knowledge in this field never ceases to amaze me.

  2. I’ll always remember watching this on a horribly hot summer night a few years back. What struck me–and continues to in retrospect–is the almost crushing insularity of the film. Perhaps it was the mind-altering heatwave, or the mood Siodmak conjured with this film, or more likely a combination of both, but it seemed like a certain intangible madness apart from the melodramatic storytelling was at work. A strange, bewitching film–if for no other reason than de Havilland’s performance, which Tony rightly praises. This one is certainly “worth a look,” for her turn especially. And as Sam notes, the names of Milton Krasner, Dimitri Tiomkin and Nunnally Johnson all recommend the film as well.

  3. Thanks Sam and Alexander.

    Apart from Olivia de Havilland who shines, for me the gestalt is less than the sum of Robert Siodmak, Nunnally Johnson, Milton Krasner, and Dimitri Tiomkin. Also Lew Ayres is just Ok, and I suppose being studio bound is a factor.

    Btw, Alexander, I only watch movies at night. It feels oppressive to enter a cinema or watch a DVD during daylight hours. My family think I am wierd :)

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