Tag Archives: Bette Davis

Dead Ringer (1964)

dead ringer

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 5 out of 10

4-Word Review: She kills her twin.

Edith (Bette Davis) attends the funeral of her twin sister’s husband a man she secretly loved and who became very rich. Edith struggles as a bar owner and is jealous of her sister Margaret’s affluent lifestyle. When she finds out that Margaret tricked her way into marrying this man it sends Edith over-the-edge in rage. She kills Margaret and then assumes her identity only to come into some unexpected complications and realize things would have been better had she just remained herself.

Davis shines in the dual role. She had already played this type of role before in 1946 in A Stolen Life. I was surprised that although she was only 56 at the time this was filmed her face looked very old and haggard almost like she was 70. Watching her eyes get all wide and roll around every time she becomes suspicious or nervous is a treat in itself.

Paul Henreid an actor turned director who is probably best known for playing the role of Victor Laszlo in Casablanca doesn’t quite give the story the zing that it needs. He employs a lot of long takes especially during the first hour that slows things down too much and doesn’t build any tension. There is a lot of extended dialogue and scenes that could have been cut out completely that would have made the movie faster paced and more exciting.

The story itself has a few too many plot holes. One is the fact that Edith meets Margaret for the first time in several decades at the funeral and then suddenly the next day decides to kill her and assume her identity, which seemed too quick. I would have expected a lot more complications than there are and the fact that she can seem to remember all the servants’ names without a hitch didn’t quite jive. There is also a scene where the detective character played by Karl Malden enters someone’s apartment and riffles through his personal belongings without any type of search warrant or probable cause, which is not realistic. They do find some incriminating evidence, but I think it would have been thrown out based on that technicality, which in turn would have completely altered the film’s ending.

The supporting cast adds some spark. Malden is good as the dogged detective a type of part he refined even more in the 1970’s TV-series ‘The Streets of San Francisco’. Peter Lawford who is always terrific is fun as Margaret’s conniving lover Tony. You can also spot in bit parts the familiar faces of Jean Hagen, Henry Beckman, Bryan O’Byrne, Bert Remsen, and Estelle Winwood. Henreid even casts his own daughter Monika in the part of Margaret’s maid Janet.

There are some fun twists that come near the end, but it takes too long to get there. The film would have been more successful had it had a more compact running time and direction that was flashy and creative.

My Rating: 5 out of 10

Released: February 19, 1964

Runtime: 1Hour 55Minutes

Not Rated

Director: Paul Henreid

Studio: Warner Brothers

Available: DVD, Blu-ray, Amazon Instant Video

Burnt Offerings (1976)

burnt offerings 1

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 2 out of 10

4-Word Review: Evil house menaces family.

Marian and Ben (Karen Black, Oliver Reed) are a couple who takeover for the summer as caretakers for an old gothic-like mansion.  They bring along their son Davey (Lee Montgomery) and Aunt Elizabeth (Bette Davis). Soon there are strange occurrences as well as a transformation of their personalities, which makes them believe that the place is haunted.

The attempt at going back to an old-fashioned type of horror movie doesn’t work. Dan Curtis’s direction is too restrained and most likely will be a turn-off to even those that like these types of films. The pace is slow and the film takes way too much time telling a story that in the end adds up to nothing. The scares are non-existent and I didn’t even find it to be the slightest bit creepy. The only impressive scene involves a body flying out of an upstairs window and crashing head first into the windshield of a car, but that doesn’t occur until the very end. There is also a potentially interesting subplot involving Ben’s reoccurring nightmares about a traumatic childhood experience with a chauffeur, but it is never fully explained what this is about, which ultimately makes this more frustrating instead.

The soft lighting approach is another mistake as it makes the whole thing look like a shampoo commercial and adds nothing to the atmosphere. There is also the backyard pool that was clearly shot at another location from the summer house one that they reside.

Probably the only fun element of this otherwise blah film is the eclectic cast. Burgess Meredith, who shows up at the beginning, should’ve won an award for campy performance of the decade. Black plays another one of her flaky characters with her usual flaky style and Montgomery is good as the no-nonsense kid. Reed is outstanding as he ends up showing the widest array of emotions.

However, it is Davis whose latter day presence gives the film its broadest appeal. She spent a career playing strong-willed women with electrifying performances and yet here her character is downright ordinary. The change of pace is interesting especially the scene where she gets shouted down by Black. She also has a pretty good deathbed sequence and there is even a moment where Reed pats her on her rear. Depending on one’s point-of-view you will either find this to be amazing, amusing, or really gross.

On the whole though I found this to be a pretty hopeless excuse for a horror film with the most horrifying thing about it being having to sit through it.

burnt offerings 2

My Rating: 2 out of 10

Released: October 18, 1976

Runtime: 1Hour 56Minutes

Rated PG

Director: Dan Curtis

Studio: United Artists

Available: VHS, DVD

The Anniversary (1968)

anniversary 2

By Richard Winters

My Rating: 6 out of 10

4-Word Review: Bette eats them up.

Since tomorrow will mark the 1st anniversary of when this blog started I wanted to choose a movie that had a similar theme in its title. The anniversary here deals with Mrs. Taggart (Bette Davis) celebrating the date of when her and her now deceased husband where married. Taggart is a bully who enjoys manipulating her grown sons and having her way. On this occasion all three of her sons carries a secret, which will all slowly come out as the evening progresses. Terry (Jack Hedley) is the oldest and is married to Karen (Sheila Hancock) their secret is that they plan on moving to Canada much to his mother’s dismay as she likes having her children close by. Henry (James Cossins) harbors a secret fetish to dress in women’s underwear. Tom (Christian Roberts) brings his fiancée Shirley (Elaine Taylor) to visit with their secret being that she is already pregnant.

If you’re a Bette Davis fan then this is required viewing as she is at her bitchy best. Although Mona Washbourne played the role when it was on stage it was revised by Jimmy Sangster for the screen with Davis’s personality very much in mind. It has all of her famous caricatures and she revels in it. Her insults are like arrows that slice through the other characters until they are mush. She gives her part just the right amount of camp and her infatuation with a statue of a little boy that is hooked up with a hose that when squeezed spurts water out of its front end like he is peeing is priceless.

Hancock makes for a good adversary and in fact out of all the other performers she is the only that seems to be able to stay toe-to-toe with Davis. Apparently Davis did not like Hancock and tried to get her replaced with Jill Bennett. Hancock was aware of this and I think that animosity comes out perfectly on the screen.

Taylor is young and gorgeous and she has one good moment when she tells off Davis, but that is about it. The three male actors are just not as effective as the females. Part of it could be the characters that they play, but on the most part they are rather blah.

Director Roy Ward Baker, who replaced Alvin Rakoff one week into the shooting at Miss Davis’s request, does his best to avoid the filmed stage play look. He opens the movie at an outdoor construction site, which is unusual. He also has a dazzling fireworks display in the middle, but my favorite is when Henry steals women’s bras and panties from an outside clothesline and replaces them with dollar bills in an attempt to ‘pay’ for what he is stealing. Yet despite all this the movie eventually gets stagy and becomes a bit draggy for it.

My biggest complaint is the fact that this type of thing has been done before. There is no new angle or perspective to any of it. Davis rants on and on with the other characters too cowardly to fight back. The little that they do is not enough. This is the type of film that screams for a big payoff, but it never happens. Taggart, as mean as she is, comes through it pretty much unscathed and for most viewers that will probably not be satisfying.

My Rating: 6 out of 10

Released: February 7, 1968

Runtime: 1Hour 35Minutes

Rated NR (Not Rated)

Director: Roy Ward Baker

Studio: 20th Century Fox

Available: DVD