The Dark Mirror is a psychological thriller and film noir starring Olivia de Havilland and Lew Ayres, where she plays the role of twin sisters and he the psychiatrist interested in examining them after a murder has taken place. Said crime was, according to Lt. Stevenson as played by Thomas Mitchell, committed by one of the women, but as to which one, it is impossible to prove. This becomes the crux of the picture – just which sister is which and is one of them guilty of taking a life. Both deny it and both believe the other, but as they are identical twins and both are sticking up for each other, there is no way to say if one or both are guilty of the crime. That is where Ayres comes in, a doctor whose research coincidentally involves twins and the only one who might be able to discern the truth of it all.
Written by Nunnally Johnson and directed by Robert Siodmak, the movie tends to simmer for most of its running time, never boiling over until that final scene when all is revealed. It works perfectly in that respect as it holds the attention of the audience and it does so, not with flashy camerawork, but with the simple interaction between de Havilland and Ayres. Unlike many a film noir, there is no plethora of shadows or a mysterious killer nor any furtive movements in the dark. Everything is right out in the open and all that remains to be seen is whether one of the sisters will break and give it all away or if they are indeed innocent. Essentially, Siodmak films it straight up, there being no need for anything else and the film is carried by the cast and Johnson’s script and story. Exploring the nature of good and evil as represented by these women was slightly ingenious on his part and unlike the very obvious Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde; Johnson’s characters were low-key in comparison.
Playing the femme fatale was not something audiences were used to seeing de Havilland do, and yet she makes the role her own and it is as compelling as anything she has ever done. Playing two distinct personalities required a bit of subtlety and de Havilland had that in spades and as Ayres continued to delve into the histories of the women, it became more and more interesting to see her at odds with herself. It would soon come to a point where Ayres would confront one of the sisters, but as to whom and if he was right in his conclusions, would either mean the revelation of a murderer or quite possibly, his own murder.
The visual effects were not only fantastic, but flawless and it made Siodmak’s picture look amazing because of them. One de Havilland is great, but two are indeed better and what better person to star alongside with than oneself. Watching this, it does make the audience wonder if real-life events factored into de Havilland’s performance at all, her well-known feud with her equally famous sister Joan Crawford possibly being on her mind. Though it does start out a little benignly, The Dark Mirror does end up turning darker towards the end and packed with tension just waiting to explode. Altogether, the film would end up being highly entertaining and worth it just for de Havilland alone.
4 out of 5