Noir City at SIFF – The Dark Mirror

The Dark Mirror, from German-born director Robert Siodmak, is an oddity of a noir film. Its premise revolves around murder, and more or less the search for the killer. Its approach to going about that is something that, while different, is absorbing and fun. We begin with a murder; a man is found dead in his apartment. The police work quickly to question his neighbors and any other potential witnesses. Several people corroborate a similar narrative that our deceased, Dr. Frank Peralta, was seen entering his apartment earlier in the evening of his death with a young woman who works the cigarette booth at the building the good doctor works in. When the police approach the woman to question her, she gives them an alibi that is substantiated by more witnesses than the ones who saw her with Dr. Peralta.

Led by a Lt. Stevens, the police are puzzled by this conundrum of the woman’s alibi and the witnesses at the deceased doctor’s house. That is, until the Lieutenant pays a visit to the young woman’s apartment, where he, along with us, the audience, learn of the secret truth: twins. The young woman is indeed two young women—twin sisters, Terry and Ruth Collins, played by Olivia de Havilland. The twins play naïve, neither divulging which is which, or which one was the accounted for with the alibi, and which one has no alibi. Honestly, this was where, for a moment, I rolled my eyes at the ensuing absurdity. Turns out the twins know the law, and know how to work their identical looks to their advantage, manipulating the law so as no judge could hear their case. I’m not an expert in matters of the law; I did work for a time in a law firm, but that really doesn’t make me completely knowledgeable. However, I do feel there is some heinous misrepresentation going on here for the sake of entertainment.

The situation leaves the police aware one of the sisters is a murderer and the other an abating accomplice, but they cannot do anything about it. The police air the scandal to the press, and the twins, who had been masquerading as one person until now, are exposed as the two people they are. A friend of the now-revealed twins, who was one of the unawares, happens to be a psychiatrist, Dr. Scott Elliott, who specializes in studying twins. For the sake of justice, what a coincidence! Dr. Scott, covertly in cahoots with Lt. Stevens, sets out to gain the twins’ trust. Capitalizing on their inability to get jobs because of their notorious celebrity, he offers to pay them to be his patients in his ongoing study of twins. From here, the movie focuses on the triangular relationship between the twins and Dr. Scott. Scott, through his study, discovers one sister is insane and one is the woman he loves; but which is which? Does even Dr. Scott know?

The Dark Mirror works best once it embraces its absurdity. Olivia de Havilland inhabits the roles with enthusiasm, and in the process draws the film’s attention continuously to the twins, even when it tries to focus on Scott and Stevens and their pursuit of justice. Aside from de Havilland, the film should be solely noted for its use of editing techniques, especially for 1946, incorporating the use of film splicing and screen-within-screen shots, just to name a few. The use of lighting and shadows, which is a trope of film noir, doubles quite nicely as a means to execute the film’s slight-of-hand trickery, enabling de Havilland to have scenes with herself in the same shot. Here this is pulled off far better than some more latterday films that would employ the same acting tactics.

This movie will make for a great double feature with Crack-Up at the SIFF Cinema theater on Tuesday the 15th. Both films delve into the realm of madness and hallucinations. The Dark Mirror opens with the credits playing over a backdrop of Rorschach tests, which adds a nice touch to their place and significance later in the movie. While it is not necessarily the best of the film noirs I have seen this last week, it is fun in its own right. The movie boasts a fantastic performance by Olivia de Havilland, as well as the supporters, and the score is on par and not noticeably detracting, which sometimes can be the case. The filmmaking stature is solid; the shots are well-placed and the camera moves cleverly to allow the effects department to do their job. If you’re looking for some unusual and fun noir films to see, then this is the double bill for you.

The Dark Mirror will be playing at the SIFF Cinema as part of its weeklong “Noir City” series on Tuesday, February 15th, 2011 at 7:00pm. It will be the first of a double feature with Crack-Up (1946). Please visit for more details.


Benjamin Nason is a writer, film-maker and critic from the Pacific Northwest, where he lives with his cat Lulu.

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