1964's Dead Ringer is the middle film in Bette Davis's personal trilogy of tacky terror, falling between the unforgettable What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? and the slightly more forgettable but still tacky and terrifying Hush, Hush, Sweet Charlotte. It almost seems as if Davis was trying to keep up with Joan Crawford, her archenemy and Baby Jane co-star, whose axe-murderess epic Strait-Jacket came out the same year. It's safe to say that 1964 was a weird year down at the Bijou.
Dead Ringer is a classic good twin/bad twin murder mystery and identity swap that will keep you on your toes. Davis, directed her by her Now, Voyager co-star Paul Henreid, plays the twins: Edie Phillips, the down-on-her-luck twin who runs a seedy bar in downtown L.A., and Margaret Phillips DeLorca, the just-widowed wife of an outrageously rich Spanish nobleman who lives in an enormous mansion decorated to look like a 17th-century Andalusian monastery. It's ookey and it's spooky.
When Edie finds out that Margaret stole DeLorca away from her with a false pregnancy scare in order to grab Mr. Moneybags for herself, she decides to pull the ultimate scam, luring Margaret down to the bar, killing her, puttting on her fancy clothes, and returning to the mansion in her limo. Edie is now Margaret. She may not have her man back, but she's got his real estate, not to mention the family jewels.
But can she pull it off? She'll have to fool plenty of people, including the eagle-eyed butler, the household's suspicious Great Dane, and the detective investigating "Edie's" death (Karl Malden). Big twist: the detective was also Edie's fiancé, so he's got a vested interest in finding out who did her in.
Another big twist: it turns out that Margaret has a gigolo/boyfriend, the slippery Tony Collins (Peter Lawford). How the heck will Edie/Margaret be able to keep up this charade with him? Turns out she can't, and the ensuing blackmail and double-crossing as the detective circles in closer and closer are plotted out with great elan.
Davis had actually played twins once before in 1946's A Stolen Life, and she must have enjoyed it enough to give it a second go. In fact, you can see the amusement in her eyes as she camps it up in the crucial scene in which the two sisters have their final confrontation. It's a must-see moment for any Davis fan and is probably performed to this day by better Bette Davis impersonators everywhere. Add the Addams Family-ish harpsichord soundtrack courtesy of Andre Previn, and you're all set. Ookey and spooky indeed.
Some good archival material can be found on the DVD, including a vintage featurette, along with retrospective commentary and an interview by Davis biographer Boze Hadleigh.