Peter Lawford

Dead Ringer (1964)

Bette Davis Dead RingerIn their youth, twin sisters Edith and Margaret (Bette Davis in a dual role) were both in love with Frank DeLorca.  Even though Frank had been pursing Edith first, Edith’s relationship with Frank comes to an end when Margaret announces that she’s pregnant with Frank’s baby and they are to be married.  Edith doesn’t see Margaret again until eighteen years later when they are reunited at Frank’s funeral.

After the burial, Edith visits Margaret at her home and all of Edith’s past resentment comes rushing back to her.  Frank had come from a very wealthy family so while he and Margaret were living in the lap of luxury, Edith was struggling to make the cocktail lounge she owns financially solvent. To make things even worse, she finds out that Margaret was never really pregnant all those years before.  With so many financial problems hanging over her head, Edith plans to get Margaret to come over, kill her, and switch clothes with Margaret so it looks like Edith committed suicide and Edith can assume Margaret’s identity.

Even though Edith has no problem physically passing as Margaret, she struggles to cover up the differences in their behaviors.  But as Edith spends more and more time living Margaret’s life, she discovers that Margaret had a few skeletons in her closet — specifically one named Tony Collins (Peter Lawford).  And with police sergeant Jim Hobbson (Karl Malden), who had been dating Edith, getting involved, can Edith keep up the act?

I’ve always thought Dead Ringer was one of Bette Davis’ more under-appreciated movies.  What Ever Happened to Baby Jane? is generally thought to be Bette’s last significant movie, but she made a few gems after that and Dead Ringer is one of them.  It has its moments of pure camp; the scene where Margaret offers Edith money and Edith yells, “You haven’t got that much!” before knocking the checkbook out of her hands and shoving her into a chair is the stuff Bette Davis drag queen impersonator dreams are made of.  And you have to admit that the whole concept of getting to see Bette Davis duke it out with herself on screen is pretty campy in and of itself.

But on the whole, Dead Ringer is actually a very interesting thriller.  Bette has a field day in this movie; she’s great in both roles. The story has plenty of suspense and twists to keep you wanting more.  I love its supporting cast; Karl Malden is good and even though I don’t generally care much about Peter Lawford, I loved how wonderfully sleazy he was in this.  The musical score by André Previn serves as the icing on the cake.  Dead Ringer also features some fine direction from Bette’s Now, Voyager and Deception co-star Paul Henreid.

A word of warning: If you have never seen Dead Ringer, do yourself a favor and do NOT watch the trailer first! It’s one of those trailers that gives away absolutely everything.

Dueling Divas Blogathon 2013

Thanks to Lara from Backlots for hosting the third annual Dueling Divas Blogathon! Head on over to Backlots to read more contributions.

On an Island With You (1948)

Navy Lieutenant Larry Kingslee (Peter Lawford) is one of actress Rosalind Reynolds’ (Esther Williams) biggest fans.  He even had a chance to meet her during World War II when she was doing a USO show and chose him to do an act with her.  During her act, she kissed him, but even though it was just part of her job to Rosalind, it meant a whole lot more to Larry.  Luckily for Larry, though, he gets to meet Rosalind again a few years later when she films a movie where he’s stationed.  Since the movie is about Rosalind’s character falling in love with a Naval officer, Larry is asked to serve as a technical consultant.  The only problem is that Larry is still carrying a torch for Rosalind and her fiance Ricardo Montez (Ricardo Montalban) is playing the Naval officer her character falls in love with.

While shooting one day, Larry feels like Ricardo isn’t playing the scene with enough passion, so he tries to demonstrate how he thinks the scene should be played (because apparently technical consultants have directorial authority over a movie).  During his demonstration he kisses Rosalind and decides that he’s going to get Rosalind away from Ricardo if it’s the last thing he does.  His love of Rosalind is hardly a secret, though.  When the crew goes out to a nightclub one night, Rosalind turns down his offer to dance so she doesn’t lead him on and Buckley (Jimmy Durante) tries to get him to go after fellow actress Yvonne (Cyd Charisse) instead.  Even though Yvonne is Rosalind’s friend, she’s secretly got a thing for Ricardo.

Back on the set, Larry is needed to circle his plane around with Rosalind on board.  However, he doesn’t just circle around once like he’s supposed to.  Instead, he flies off with Rosalind to the secluded island where they first met years earlier.  At first, he just intends to be gone for an hour so he can make Rosalind dance with him and declare his love for her.  But then some of the island natives take some parts from his plane and they’re stranded.  Rosalind is furious and tries to explain that she was just doing her job at that USO show.  To prove that she can kiss someone without feeling anything, she kisses him again, but this time she does feel something.  The next day, Larry sets out to find the natives and get his parts back, but while he’s gone, Ricardo, Buckley, and a search party come and rescue Rosalind.  Buckley stays behind to find Larry and finds him having a feast with the natives.  When they get back, Larry finds himself in plenty of hot water for this stunt.  Not only is he fired from the movie, but he’s also in trouble with the Navy for improper conduct.  Rosalind tries to save him, saying going to the island was her idea, but he insists on taking the blame.  The relationship between Rosalind and Ricardo just isn’t the same after she returns and he begins to go after Yvonne instead.  When Larry comes to apologize to Rosalind, she kisses him and they live happily ever after.

On an Island With You just fell flat all around.  It wasn’t awful, but it wasn’t remarkable either.  There was nothing noteworthy about the story and the way Larry dragged Rosalind off to an island and made her dance struck me as creepy and stalkerish rather than romantic.  Esther Williams, Ricardo Montalban, and Peter Lawford all have made far better movies, but if you’re a Jimmy Durante fan, you might want to see this one.  Even though Esther, Ricardo, and Peter were the stars, Jimmy Durante was a total scene stealer.  Even during Esther’s swimming scenes, I was more eager to see Jimmy again.    I’d watch it again if nothing else was on, but I’d be hard pressed to highly recommend it to anybody other than Jimmy Durante fans.