Noirvember – Freudian Femme Fatales – 1946 : The Dark Mirror (1946) & The Locket (1946) ‘Twisted Inside’

The Dark Mirror (1946)

In films such as The Dark Mirror and The Locket, the male psychiatrist is posited as an antidote to the bad female by being ‘’established as a detective figure whose principal function is to investigate and ultimately to eradicate ‘deviance’ (represented in these instances by excessive female desire.)’’ From Frank Krutnik IN A LONELY STREET; FILM NOIR, GENRE AND MASCULINITY 1991

It is the phantom of our own Self, whose intimate relationship with and deep effect upon our spirit casts us into hell or transports us to Heaven – E.T.A. Hoffmann

”The figure of the double has been manifest in diverse forms. At times the doppelgänger has shown itself as an ether being – a shadow, a reflection or an animated portrait. At other points, it has taken the shape of an identical being – a person of kindred appearance, a relative, a twin.” From TWO-FACED WOMEN: THE ‘DOUBLE” IN WOMEN’S MELODRAMA OF THE 1940S – Lucy Fischer Cinema Journal 1983

In the 1920s hard-edged and gritty crime fiction became popular, and by the 1940s Hollywood embraced them. At the same time Freudian psychoanalysis became a big deal in America. People knew the basics of Freud’s ideas, so Hollywood could paint stories with ideas the audience could recognize, knowing that people would get the main gist. It became the foundation for some amazing visual displays. Dream sequences started popping up a lot in American cinema, most distinctive in thrillers and in particular in film noir. The Dark Mirror is one of the standout films made during the 1940s and 1950s that introduced psychiatry – like – Spellbound 1945 and two years later, de Havilland would star in Anatole Litvak’s The Snake Pit 1948.

Much of film noir’s psychological pathology gives rise to obsessive fixations on the object of one’s desire. What differs with Siodmak’s The Dark Mirror is that the psychotic’s fixation lies with their sibling and not a lover.

The Dark Mirror is a psychological film noir released in 1946, directed by Robert Siodmak who worked with shadows in his various film noir/horror/ and thrillers like an artist works with paints.  The film was produced and screenplay written by writer/director Nunnally Johnson who penned a slew of diverse screenplays that spanned the 1940s through the 1960s – including The Grapes of Wrath 1940, and The Dirty Dozen 1967.

Nunnally Johnson, transitioning from writer and producer to director, secured the rights and brought the story to life on screen. The film materialized through a collaborative effort between International Pictures, co-founded by Johnson and William Goetz, and Universal Pictures, marking their inaugural project under the Universal Pictures-International Pictures Banner.

The recently established studios were looking for a well-known name for their picture and Olivia de Havilland who was a huge star at the time came on board. She had recently taken legal action against Warner Bros. to terminate her contract and was now free from the studio’s stranglehold.

In 1947, she delivered a noteworthy performance in To Each His Own for Paramount earning her the Academy Award for Best Actress. Following two films, The Well-Groomed Bride and Devotion in 1946, she entered into an agreement with Nunnally Johnson to star in The Dark Mirror.’

The Dark Mirror, like The Spiral Staircase both of which were classic ‘paranoid women’ /  ‘woman’s films’ stars de Havilland who plays identical twins, one of whom is a knife-wielding paranoiac killer. The casting of de Havilland is significant particularly because she not only starred in a variety of women’s pictures but her sister Joan Fontaine was also an iconic star of the paranoid woman’s films. Some of the most notable are Hitchcock’s adaptation of Du Murier’s Rebecca 1940 and Nicolas Ray’s Born to Be Bad 1950. The Dark Mirror presents itself as a psychological noir right from the start of the film with the Rorschach blots backgrounding the titles.

Olivia de Havilland engaged in a notable real-life conflict with her younger sister – silver screen star Joan Fontaine. This behind-the-scenes rivalry positioned the actress to confront her own duality in Robert Siodmak’s 1946 quintessential film noir, The Dark Mirror.

Siodmak made some of the most critical film noirs in the late 1940s and early 1950s, including, The Killers 1946, Cry of the City 1948 Criss Cross 1949 and The File on Thelma Jordon 1950. he had left the spotlight that shined on his pictures specializing in terror and became one of the most prominent directors of crime noir and suspense. By the early 1950s, he grew weary of Hollywood and returned to Germany.

In this way, the reception of Siodmak’s 1940s Hollywood films demonstrates the ways in which the category of horrors incorporates films now seen as thrillers, film noir, and examples of the ‘woman’s film.’ Siodmak brought with him the sensibility of German cinema strongly associated with the art of shadows and horror.

It’s clear, that director Robert Siodmak was drawn to exploring the human psyche in his picture, and The Dark Mirror is a perfect example of this. Siodmak was fascinated with the dynamic of the good sister/bad sister which was apparent in his earlier works like Cobra Woman (1944) and The Strange Affair of Uncle Harry (1945).

Siodmak’s penchant for the use of shadow in his other work holds back his enduring use of chiaroscuro in The Dark Mirror. Apart from the opening scene, the only instances where he delicately manipulates light and shadow occur within the confines of the twins’ bedroom.

The bedroom is the place where we are most vulnerable, where they sleep, which is symbolic of the psychological warfare Terry wages against her sister Ruth. There was a historic rivalry and jealousy over the years. The perceived rejections by male suitors, even the adoptive parents who chose Ruth over her. At the end of the film, Detective Stevenson tells Dr. Elliot that he had the idea to lay a trap for Terry because he feared for Ruth’s life. ‘’Even a nut can figure out that it’s simpler to get rid of a rival than to go on knocking off her boyfriends all the rest of her life.’’

A narrative featuring identical twins presented an ideal chance to delve deeper into the realm of the doppelgänger mythology, a theme that captivated him and inspired by Fritz Lang’s Metropolis (1927).

Based on a short story by Vladimir Pozner that appeared in Good Housekeeping in 1945, The Dark Mirror is notable for its exploration into the complexities of the human mind and the manifestation of conflicting identities.

Pozner’s story was nominated for Best Story at the Academy Awards, though it lost to ‘’Vacation from Marriage” by Clemence Dane, which was adapted into a British movie released as Perfect Strangers in the UK starring Robert Donat and Deborah Kerr.

Collaborating with cinematographer Milton Krasner, known for his work on Lang’s Woman in the Window 1944 and Scarlet Street 1945, and All About Eve 1950, Siodmak enlisted an old colleague – Eugen Schüfftan, for visual effects. Schüfftan created the visual effects for Metropolis 1927. In the film, over three dozen shots feature mirrors, some to set the tone, but mostly to depict the inner conflict of the twins, highlighting their interchangeable likeness. De Havilland is shot beautifully in split screen using a stand-in when both twins appear.

Though de Havilland gave a very nuanced performance balancing opposing identities, down to the tone of her voice used for each sister, their body language, facial expressions, the subtle arching of her eyelids, and the sister’s diverging character traits, Siodmak tried to ensure that the audience would have subtle cues for each of the characters. They were visibly ‘labeled’ for us. De Havilland’s Ruth is gentle yet timorous and softly spoken. She wrings her hands out of nervousness. Terry, however, is the bolder one, more assertive and hostile by a hair’s breadth when challenged. Terry also smokes and is left-handed, while Ruth chooses to favor her right hand.

In a large part of the film, as in so many films, clothes often tell a story, in particular at the beginning of The Dark Mirror the twins wear identical clothing, Irene Shraff’s costume designs, monogrammed dressing gowns, tailored houndstooth suits, initialed brooches, and largish necklaces bearing the letter ‘T’ and ‘R’ might have been used as visual clues to help us sort out which twin was which, however, this does not dismiss de Havilland’s ability to traverse the dueling roles.

It is important to note once we become aware of how unbalanced Terry is, the sisters begin to dress differently. For example: Ruth can be seen wearing a white long-sleeved sweater and conservative pencil skirt, while in contrast – Terry goes to Elliott’s apartment pretending to be Ruth wearing a chic black satin dress with a jewel-encrusted pill-box hat. The visual clues summon the fall of the girl’s connection to each other and begin to symbolically delve into the cliché good vs evil through the emblematic use of color coding- black vs. white.

The narrative is framed by the presence of two significant mirrors, serving as visual parentheses for the story.

Siodmak initiates ambiguity with his use of mirrors and reflections: right from the opening sequence there is a shattered mirror which is reiterated or ‘mirrored’ at the climax of the film when Terry throws an object at the mirror after she sees Ruth’s image in the glass. Throughout The Dark Mirror appearances are deceptions – this is the central substance of the story.

The Dark Mirror is a psychological study of identical twin sisters Terry and Ruth Collins both played by Olivia de Havilland who vex and bewilder Thomas Mitchell (Stagecoach 1939, Mr. Smith Goes to Washington 1939, Gone with the Wind 1939 also with de Havilland, It’s a Wonderful Life 1946, High Noon 1952.) who plays surly Detective Stevenson who gets frustrated and ornery trying to solve a murder he is convinced one of them has committed. Lew Ayres plays the role of Dr. Scott Elliott, a psychiatrist tasked by Stevenson to help unravel the mystery as to which one of the twins is guilty of murder.

De Havilland’s performance is striking under Siodmak’s direction a tough process considering both Collins sisters had to be filmed separately for the scenes where she/they occupied the screen at the same time. Adding to the struggle to make this work was the disagreements between Siodmak and de Havilland who clashed from the beginning over how to approach the way the twins were portrayed. Siodmak was making a psychological thriller and de Havilland saw the film as a character study of paranoid schizophrenia (Greco) ‘’One sister could and one couldn’t commit murder, and that’s all there is to it,’’ the film’s resident psychiatrist explains.

‘’The film suggests but does not develop the possibility that Terry is Ruth’s other self, the ‘dark mirror’ that reflects the negative potential lurking beneath Ruth’s sunny mask. However, the insistence on the separation of the characters into icons of good and evil makes the film a superficial melodrama rather than a probing psychological study. Good and evil do not engage in an internal clash but are presented as the essence of two separate characters, as in a medieval morality drama.’’ – Foster Hirsch The Dark Side of the Screen: Film Noir

The film’s foundation rests on the ‘old wives tale’ about twins, suggesting that one must possess an inherent darkness—in this instance, a deep-rooted psychological one. Featuring the dramatic taglines: Dramatic tagline Twins! One who loves… and one who loves to kill! This is conveyed in the film’s promotional ads, “To know this twin is to love her… to know this twin is to die!”

When one of the twins is accused of murdering a doctor, both come under scrutiny. Ironically, it becomes impossible to establish which twin was identified by the eyewitnesses, so the law can’t touch them.

In The Dark Mirror, Terry, the malevolent sister, murders her fiancé the prominent Dr. Frank Peralta when she realizes that he actually feels more genuine affection for her virtuous sister Ruth, though he is unaware of Ruth’s existence. He experiences a tenderness in Ruth’s and a peculiar absence of emotion when he’s actually with Terry. Seeking understanding, he consults a psychiatrist to explore the possibility of a split personality in the woman he loves. The primary suspect is one of the Collins twins. However, the authorities are confounded by the fact that the twins are identical in appearance, making it difficult to determine which one committed the crime. Dr. Scott Elliott is brought in to evaluate the sisters and aid in solving the case.

Dr. Scott Elliott who frequents the medical plaza’s magazine stand where he purchases his lemon drops from Terry, is shocked when he discovers that she has an identical twin sister Ruth. Dr. Elliot (Lew Ayers) is called to the district attorney’s office to help with the investigation because he is an expert in the study of behavioral genetics in twins.

The Dark Mirror was Lew Ayers’s first movie after a four-year absence acting as an Army medic and awarded three battle stars during WWII. He returned to acting and became famous for his kindly Dr. Kildare series of films which was on the nose having been away for four years working as a doctor.

A darkened cityscape leads to an apartment that unfolds with a nighttime homicide and a shattered mirror like a fractured mind, an overturned lamp, and a man lying on the floor with a. knife stabbed through his heart. It establishes an atmospheric backdrop for a sinister and psychological story where the thin line between the narratives’ proposed trope of good vs evil is obscured behind the enigma of perceived ‘female’ duality.

At the opening of the film, it is nighttime in the city and Siodmak masterfully employs protracted camera movements through two rooms in an apartment. He unveils the time of a violent struggle, the time is precisely 10:48 pm. A man has been stabbed in the back. A prominent mirror over the fireplace becomes the silent witness to the murder – shattered – it is a visual testament to the intensity of the attack.

Cut to Detective Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) assigned to the case, who is interviewing several witnesses in his office at the police station. The identity of the victim is revealed to be Dr. Frank Peralta. Two of the witnesses claim they saw a woman leaving his apartment around the time of the murder. Soon he learns the name, Theresa ‘Terry’ Collins.

Peralta’s assistant tells Stevenson that the doctor was in love with Terry and had planned to propose to her which gave Terry a motive. It was no secret that Terry was dating Peralta. Maybe it was a lover’s quarrel? As far as Detective Stevenson knows, the only suspect is Terry Collins.

The next morning, Stevenson brings his two solid witnesses to Terry’s magazine stand in the medical building, in order for them to lay eyes on her and confirm she is the woman they saw leaving Peralta’s apartment. They are both certain it was her. He begins to interrogate her but is cut off when Dr. Scott Elliot comes by to purchase his well-loved lemon drops. Stevenson continues to put pressure on Terry to give her whereabouts the night before. She is able to detail every move as well as deliver the names of several witnesses who can swear to her presence, including a police officer and her butcher.

Once Terry learns that Peralta has been murdered she faints and seems genuinely shaken up by the news. Stevenson cannot break Terry’s alibi so he can’t arrest her. But this cop is doggedly convinced the girl is good for the murder and drops by her apartment to get to the bottom of the confusion with the witnesses. Then Ruth appears. The sisters are wearing the same bathrobes, though one is adorned with the monogrammed ‘T’ and one has the letter ‘R’ on it.

Stevenson almost combusts from the revelation that there are two of them- identical in every way and he is convinced that one of them murdered Peralta. The Collins sisters are resolute to stay silent. Neither sister will confess to which one has the foolproof alibi and which one stayed home that night. This drives Stevenson to distraction. The interrogation is getting him nowhere, there are no fingerprints on the knife and no way to prove that either one of them was there at the crime scene.

Orphans since childhood, Ruth and Terry Collins are inseparable. They live together, dress alike, and even wear wire necklaces that bear their names with a peculiar— over-obsessive clunky jeweled monogram – as if they force their identities upon us or perhaps each might be threatened by losing themselves without them. Ruth is older by seven minutes, yet Terry seems to be the more dominant, controlling sister. Terry has a maniacal obsession with Ruth and is driven to prove that she is the superior twin.

The story unfolds – Stevenson learns how Terry and Ruth seamlessly orchestrate a charade, both working at the magazine stand as the same girl – taking turns to enjoy moments of respite – essentially to ‘switch out’’ when one of them wants time off.

Under the guise of a singular job (which they cleverly share under Terry’s name), to the casual observer, no one can tell the difference until the murder exposes that they are, in fact, two separate people. Even Dr. Peralta didn’t know he was actually dating twins at the time he asked Dr. Elliott about split personalities.

Terry stands as a mother figure, a notion that the ‘bad twin’ constantly drives home to Ruth by asserting she is protecting her, making it more of a challenge for Ruth to betray her sister in the maternal role.

Among other films exploring dynamics projected by the good twin/the bad twin trope – they are often suggestive of variations on schizophrenia.

Detective Stevenson brings the sisters in for a line-up but they are so uncannily alike, that the witnesses can’t tell them apart.

Because both Terry and Ruth stay quiet, the DA is forced to drop the case against them because they won’t be able to convict with no evidence. But Stevenson is a bulldog and isn’t willing to give up. That’s when he seeks out Dr. Scott Elliott to help him uncover the truth about which one murdered Peralta.

The investigating officer on the case is Lt. Stevenson (Thomas Mitchell) enlists the unofficial help of up and coming psychiatrist, though Stevenson is more of a skeptic about psychology referring to him as a ‘fortune teller’ who employs ‘gimmicks.’ “Don’t you witch doctors treat people with tinker toys?’’

Dr. Elliot doesn’t ascribe to the age-old superstitions that twins are usually “penalized in some way, physically or psychically.”

He believes that “character, personality is the key” – that the two elements which are very black & white are pivotal, though one is a moral question and the other is scientific. Ayers is an actor who often comes across as a paternalistic figure puffs on his pipe and uses softly phrased insights as the even keel Dr. Elliott.

Dr. Elliot says, “Not even nature can duplicate’ this quality, “even in twins” so this is what would tell who is the murderer. He adds that ‘one could and one couldn’t commit murder, and that’s all there is to it.”

‘’the insistent separation of the characters into icons of good and evil makes the film a superficial melodrama rather than a probing psychological study. Good and Evil do not engage in an internal clash but are presented as the essence of two separate characters, as in a medieval morality drama.’’ Foster Hirsch

Terry and Ruth agree to be added as another set of twins for Dr. Elliott’s research, though Ruth appears to be more wary of submitting to his examinations and acts cautious believing that Terry might be guilty of the murder.

Terry admits to Ruth that Peralta did propose to her and that she did see Peralta the night he was murdered. But Ruth agrees not to talk. She poses the question to Ruth, why would I kill him? Ruth is frightened that the truth will come out during Dr. Elliot’s examinations, but Terry thinks she’s smarter than him and can pass all his ridiculous tests.

He invites the sisters to come to his office separately, where he puts them through a series of psychological tests, including the cliché inkblots that were groundbreaking at that time. Dr. Hermann Rorschach created them in 1921 to diagnose schizophrenia but that was modified in 1939 when it was used as a standard personality test.

As Dr. Elliott delves into the lives of Terry and Ruth, he discovers the stark contrast in their personalities. While Terry is manipulative, cunning, and emotionally unstable, Ruth is kind-hearted and virtuous.

The mystery deepens as Dr. Elliott tries to understand the motives behind the murder and grapples with the challenge of distinguishing between the sisters. The film takes an intriguing turn as Dr. Elliott employs psychological techniques to uncover the truth.

Elliott puts the girls through a series of standard psychological tests that seem to imply more of a moral evaluation than a psychiatric one. After Terry gives her impressions of the inkblots Elliott determines that she has a dark inner conflict, clever and calculating, even a tendency toward violence, after she describes “the lamb looks so innocent, but it has two men under its paws.”

Terry’s answers seem rehearsed, suggesting an attempt to assert her power though she tries to convey a helpless innocence. But Elliott notices the contrast in Ruth’s answers right away. She appears very genuine, and is not aggressive, or threatening, with her contemplations more of a refined nature, as in dancers around a maypole and skaters in an ice show. Ruth is more retiring and amiable. This leads Elliott to conclude that Ruth is normal and Terry is the one who is mentally disturbed. Eventually, the monograms are disposable as de Havilland manifests the difference through her acting skills.

As Dr. Elliott delves deeper into the two personalities he begins to fall in love with Ruth, while Terry pursues him romantically. A pattern that is replaying itself. In the past, men have always chosen Ruth over her, while Terry desires them herself.

We learn that as orphans, a couple wanted to adopt Ruth but not Terry, and as they grew up, men were always drawn to Ruth, even Dr. Peralta preferred Ruth though he didn’t know why. It was when he was with Terry that he feared she suffered from a split personality.

Ruth isn’t aware of Terry’s psychosis but Dr. Elliott is convinced that she is insane and killed Peralta in a jealous rage.

The narrative appears somewhat superficial, adopting a simplistic approach wherein the individual potentially toying with Elliott’s psyche, teasing him with aggressive insights, is labeled as the embodiment of evil. Meanwhile, the one exhibiting a gentler perspective through her mild and innocuous visions is deemed the epitome of normalcy.

‘’20 percent of people who see things in the inkblots that expose the ‘’true secret patterns of their own minds’’ The results for Elliott point to this… ‘’one of our young ladies is insane.’’

During the free association session, Dr. Elliott is left a bit mystified because the only unusual reflex is Ruth’s reaction to the word ‘’mirror,’’ to which she responds, ‘’death.’’ Now he cannot wait to see how Terry responds to his prompts. But being visibly unnerved, having found out from Ruth how she reacted to the word mirror, it is not clear whether Terry would have given the same answer or if she is now toying with Elliott.

Terry is agitated when she hears Ruth’s answer which shows some understanding of ‘that mumbo jumbo.’ She refers to Dr. Elliott’s tests as ‘’kindergarten games’’ obviously trying to poison Ruth’s faith in the doctor’s credibility and that his psychological tests are nothing more than childish trials.

When Dr. Elliott gives them both a polygraph, it is hard for Terry to successfully manipulate her responses. Terry’s blood pressure spikes every time Elliott invokes Ruth’s name. Whenever her sister is mentioned the needle bounds frantically across the paper in a storm of black lines, especially bringing up the subject of a particular boy who liked Ruth.

From these tests, Elliotts makes his diagnosis – Ruth is sane and innocent of the murder while Terry is ‘’a paranoiac- a paranoiac is capable of anything.’’ He is assured that Terry merely found his tests ‘’another challenge to her, another opportunity to show the world what contempt she has for it. That was the tip-off.”

“A marker for insanity, or at least ‘’abnormality’’ for women, then, is the transgression of typical patriarchal authority. The ‘tip-off’ to Elliott that Terry is the ‘’wrong’’ twin is her effort to thwart the masculine power and rules that are being applied to explain her motives, psyche, and very existence.” – THE DARK MIRROR PSYCHIATRY AND FILM NOIR BY MARLISA SANTOS

Though Terry thinks she is putting one over on Elliott with his psychological ‘analysis’ she begins to feel threatened by the growing romantic relationship between him and Ruth.

Terry witnesses Elliott and Ruth in an embrace outside their apartment building, but when asked Ruth doesn’t mention it. Terry becomes more desperate to sabotage Ruth’s budding romance, something she evidently has done in the past. She decides to seduce Dr. Elliott herself, while gaslighting Ruth, trying to make her think she is losing her mind.

She begins to torture Ruth, hoping to push her to commit suicide and pin Peralta’s murder on her. She crafts illusions, spins nightmares, and conjures conversations, savoring every moment of her imaginative ploy.

Initially puzzling is why Ruth willingly covers for Terry despite being the target of Terry’s cruel gaslighting, nearly driving her to a mental breakdown. As Ruth witnesses Terry’s darker side, she hesitates to betray her, fearing that Terry’s potential for evil, even going as far as murder, might also exist within herself.

Terry starts by telling Ruth that she’s been having nightmares, talking in her sleep, and then waking hysterical and terrified. Persuading Ruth to consume an excessive amount of sleeping pills, Terry secretly uses flashbulbs to light up their pitch-black bedroom in the dead of night. Ruth awakens startled while her cunning sister Terry pretends not to have seen anything.

Terry also secretly turns on a music box so it will remain playing after she leaves their apartment, to create the illusion that Ruth is only hearing the music from inside her head.

After all this, Ruth begins to believe she is descending into madness. Her head grasped between her hands she breaks down, – “Something’s happening to me, and I don’t know what it is. I don’t understand it. I’m so scared; I don’t know what to do.” Pleased with her scheme to drive her sister crazy Terry reassures her –

‘’Just remember that I’m with you and I’m always going to be with you. no matter what… no matter happens, they can’t do a thing without {her} consent.’’ 

Terry is suggesting that Ruth is mad, but she’ll be there to protect her as always. ‘’We’ll be together as long as we live.’’

“Terry converts feelings of loss and fragmentation into fantasies of total power and god-like control; she projects lack onto her own sister in the form of psychological disorder.‘’ – Lutz Koepnick from Doubling the double: Robert Siodmak in Hollywood

Self-absorbed, Terry constantly seeks approval from Elliott, wanting to know what it is about Ruth that draws him to her. In a crucial scene, she even pretends to be Ruth, kissing Elliott and challenging him to be able to tell the difference. Yet she cannot restrain herself from self-aggrandizing “Terry is the smart one,” the one men usually go for.’’

The use of a one-way mirror becomes a visual metaphor and a symbolic tool, reflecting not only the physical likeness of the twins but also the duplicity and hidden facets of their personalities. As the story unfolds, the audience is taken on a journey through the labyrinth of the human mind, exploring the nature of identity, morality, and the thin line between good and evil.

As the walls close in around Terry, she becomes more and more possessive of Ruth: “You and I are never going to be separated, as long as we live. You and I are going to be together. Always.’’

Elliott tells Stevenson that Terry is a paranoiac and definitely killed Dr Peralta. Stevenson becomes concerned for Ruth’s safety, so Elliott promises to tell Ruth that night about her sister. He calls the sister’s apartment and asks Ruth to come to see him later. But he is actually talking to Terry pretending to be Ruth. Fortunately, Ruth stops by his office right after the phone call, so he uncovers Terry’s ruse. Later on, Terry arrives at his apartment not realizing that Elliott knows about her trickery.

In a demeaning and sexist soliloquy, Elliot begins to enlighten fake ‘Ruth’ about sisterhood rivalry. All sisters are rivals for men. How it is stronger for sisters than other women. Elliott doesn’t even take into consideration ‘social class’. This jealousy is ‘‘why sisters can hate each other with such a terrifying intensity.” Considering this misguided theory, the rivalry between twins is even more intense. It is this rivalry that has consumed Terry.

Dr. Elliot –‘’ All women are rivals fundamentally, but it never bothers them because they automatically discount the successes of others and alibi their own failures on the grounds of circumstances – luck, they say. But between sisters, it’s a little more serious. Circumstances are generally the same, so they have fewer excuses with which to comfort themselves… That’s why sisters can hate each other with such terrifying intensity. And with twins, it’s worse.’’

He describes how the murder might have taken place. When he confronts Terry about her split personality, she realizes that he was in love with the part of her that is Ruth, even though he didn’t know that Ruth existed. In a jealous rage, she stabbed him in the heart. It struck me how risky this meeting is for Elliott, as Terry is genuinely dangerous having already killed one man. Sure enough, she goes to grab a pair of scissors when the phone rings, and Stevenson gives him the news that Ruth has killed herself. Terry snaps out of her homicidal rage and they rush to the sister’s apartment.

Terry as ‘Ruth’ tells Stevenson that Ruth killed herself because she was ‘sick’ and ‘twisted inside,’ words Elliott used to describe Terry. That it was Ruth who was insane and committed the murder. She killed herself over the guilt. Terry begins to ramble that she is actually Ruth. That it is Terry who has killed herself because she was so jealous of Ruth.

Elliot tries to provoke the fake ‘’Ruth’’ into revealing herself as Terry, antagonizing her about her past rejections. The family that wanted Ruth but not her, and the boys who preferred Ruth.

He confronts Terry by telling her how mentally disturbed she is. He tells her while she is pretending to be ‘Ruth’ that “Terry is ‘sick inside’ and needs help. He imagines that it is tied to something that happened in their past when they were quite young but has grown inside like a poisoned seedling. ‘’more and more bitter and is now abnormal.’’

Finally working with the police, Ruth, who has been reluctant up til now to believe that Terry is dangerous stages her own ‘’suicide’’ in order to trap her sister. As Terry begins to unravel, Ruth suddenly emerges from the bedroom. When Terry sees her reflected in a mirror behind her she throws an object and smashes it, symbolically destroying her sister who is the constant evidence of her ‘lacking.’

At this revelation it is all over for Terry and she smashes the mirror when she sees Ruth’s reflection.

By the end of the picture, Elliott and Ruth are united. He asks Ruth, ” Why are you so much more beautiful than your sister?”

‘’Terry’s possessiveness may be interpreted as a desire to absorb Ruth, to eliminate the ‘difference’’ between them that haunts her and frustrates her desires.’’ Marlisa Santos -The Dark Mirror

Dr. Elliot’s comment in the end supports the actuality that good and evil can exist within two identical people as he tells Ruth, ‘’That’s what twins are you know, reflections of each other, everything in reverse.‘’

This mental image –  signals the shattering of the mirror by the darker souled Terry at the climax of the picture when she is ultimately caught in her game of deceit, tricked by Detective Stevenson into thinking that the real Ruth has committed suicide. Caught by her own duplicity, she cannot help through her conceit she reveals her lies while claiming that she is actually Ruth and it was Terry that has killed herself.

She tries to convince Stevenson that “Terry’ despised her (Ruth) out of jealousy because men always found her more attractive and likable. Unlike the doppelgänger who inhabits an evil that is transferred to the good person, this is subverted with the evil person Terry claiming that she possesses all the good attributes from their double.

The Dark Mirror is often praised for its innovative narrative and psychological depth. The film’s exploration of the duality within a single person, embodied by the twin sisters, adds layers of complexity to the story. Olivia de Havilland’s stellar performance in the dual role is a highlight, showcasing her ability to convey the nuances of two distinct characters.

It is lauded for its psychological depth, but some critics have noted that the resolution of the murder mystery may be somewhat predictable for modern audiences. However, it’s essential to appreciate the film in its historical context, considering its influence on subsequent psychological thrillers.

‘’Sugar wouldn’t melt in the mouth of Nancy, the heroine of The Locket. Yet if we are to believe the evidence, she is a first-class criminal. With this to go on, Nancy brings the wicked-lady psychopathic parade up to date. Laraine Day gives what must be her most fascinating performance. As with so many of these wide-eyed innocents who are supposed to be baddies inside, the spectator maybe have difficulty in crediting her with such heatless villainies. However, there is just enough of a defiant something about Miss Day. More of the spirit than the actual behavior, to raise the shadow of doubt. It is this question mark that holds one rapt.’’ —Philip K. Scheuer, “Laraine Day Psychotpath.’’ Los Angeles Times May, 27 1947

‘’The complexity of Sheridan Gibney’s plot was what really enticed me to the material. It was an enigma within an enigma within an enigma. John Brahm, had done a very good horror picture at Twentieth about Jack the Ripper called The Lodger. He was a German- but not too German — and I thought he would be good to direct this and give it some of the same atmosphere.’’ —producer Bert Granet in Lee Server’s Baby, I don’t Care

The New York Times (1946) found The Dark Mirror to be a lamentable production that operated as little more than a vanity project for Olive de Havilland, who ‘has been tempted by the lure of playing against herself.’

‘’Siodmak explained that ‘audiences love a picture like The Dark Mirror because it affords what psychoanalysis call a psychic renovating’’ The strategy of bringing all aspects of The Dark Mirror under the rubric of psychological science including even its purportedly positive influence on audiences, is indicative of the representational shift away from the cynical and at times gruesome depictions of psychiatrists and psychological practices that characterized wartime horror cinema. The horror films that went into production after the ebbing of the Shock controversy evinced Hollywood’s newfound commitment to responsible depiction of psychiatry. A case in point was the 1947 film Possessed’’– Bad Medicine from book Merchants of Menace: The Business of Horror Cinema edited by Richard Nowell.

In 1948 the Screen Guild Theater produced a radio version of The Dark Mirror starring Lew Ayres and Loretta Young. In 1950 de Havilland reprised her role for a radio broadcast at Screen Director’s Playhouse.

Continue reading “Noirvember – Freudian Femme Fatales – 1946 : The Dark Mirror (1946) & The Locket (1946) ‘Twisted Inside’”

It’s the pictures that got small! – “Good Evening” Leading Ladies of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Part 4

See PART 1 & 2 & 3 Here


*The Lonely Hours -Gena Rowlands & Nancy Kelly- s1e23 – aired May 8, 1963

Gena Rowlands Bio:

The alchemy of Gena Rowland’s acting style is how she integrates her craft with an indescribable beauty and presence that is reminiscent of Hollywood’s Golden Age.

Before the emotionally distilled and complex actress emerged as an icon, Gena Rowlands set out with her husband John Cassavetes to create a new naturalistic landscape of independent American movies in the 1970s, that inspired generations of filmmakers. She began showing the attractive pull of her strength in dramatic teleplays for early television programming.

Shows like Robert Montgomery Presents, Ponds Theater Armstrong Circle Theatre Studio One The United States Steel Hour Goodyear Playhouse General Electric Theater, and of course Alfred Hitchcock Presents and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour. She had a regular stint on the television police procedural series, 87th Precinct playing cop Robert Lansing’s deaf wife. In 1975 she starred alongside Peter Falk (One of Cassavete’s inner sanctum of actors along with Ben Gazzara) in Columbo’s season 4 episode Playback.

In feature films, she was cast as Jerry Bondi in Lonely Are the Brave in 1962, in Cassavetes’ A Child is Waiting in 1963, and in Gordon Douglas’ Tony Rome 1967 starring friend Frank Sinatra and Richard Conte.

Working since the mid-1950s Rowlands began to give shades of the forceful performances to come in the three episodes of Hitchcock’s series, in particular, The Lonely Hours playing off veteran stage actress Nancy Kelly.

Gena Rowlands was nominated for two Academy Awards for her performances in director/actor husband John Cassavetes’ films. In 1974 for A Woman Under the Influence and in 1980 for her gutsy portrait of one tough broad in Gloria 1980.

She was also nominated for eight Golden Globes having won two, and eight Emmys winning three. On November 14th, Gena Rowlands was finally given an Honorary Oscar at the Governors Awards ceremony.

“With her bold bone structure and the curtain of her wheat-gold Jackie O coif, Gena Rowlands is the classic Hollywood icon that got away…. Had she been born into the Studio ear of the 1930s or 1940s, one suspects that she would have sured up a career running across the grand roles, from the tough boots molls through to the stoic others and peppery femme fatales. She has the angular hardness which typifies the best of them in that period- one can imagine her, as easily as Crawford, Davis, Stanwyck or Bacall.”

“I’d never seen anyone that beautiful with a certain gravitas. It was particularly unique in that time, when many women were trying to be girlish, affecting a superficial, ‘I’m a pretty girl’ attitude. It seemed to be the best way to succeed, but Gena did none of that. There was a directness—not that she wasn’t fun and didn’t smolder—but it came from a place that was both genuine and deep.” – Mia Farrow

Director Sidney Lumet in an interview with critic James Grissom, said: “The highest compliment I can pay to her—to anyone—is that the talent frightens me, making me aware of the lack of it in so many and the power that accrues to those who have it and use it well. And the talent educates and illuminates. She is admirable, which can be said of only a few of us.”

In Faces 1968, nominated for 3 Oscars, Rowlands plays prostitute Jeannie with director Cassavetes with something like steel and fearlessness behind her eyes asserting a challenge to try and reach her after being crushed by men. Rowland manifests a performance ‘aching with wordless solitude’ (Ebert)

In the visual poem about loneliness and the feeling of isolation, Minnie & Moskowitz 1971 stars Rowland as the edgy blonde Minnie who perceptively flickers with co-star Seymour Cassel and displays her captivating sensuality under Cyclopean sunglasses.

Minnie works in a museum and has never forgiven the movies for selling her a bill of goods. “The movies lead you on,” she tells her friend Florence. “They make you believe in romance and love . . . and, Florence, there just aren’t any Clark Gables, not in the real world. Still, Minnie dreams, and keeps a romantic secret locked in her heart: She’s glad the movies sold her that bill of goods. (Roger Ebert)

Rowlands garnered her first Oscar nomination for her unforgettable performance as Mabel Longhetti in A Woman Under the Influence 1974 co-starring Peter Falk who is in the grips of Mabel’s mental illness.

“It left me exhausted and depressed-feeling. Some of the time, when you’re walking out there where the air is thin, you just hope you can walk back again.” -Gena Rowlands

From an interview with Matt Zoler Seitz – talking about A Woman Under the Influence-

“That was my favorite movie. I loved doing that movie. I loved it because I loved working with Peter Falk, I loved the mix of comedy in it, that was sort of real comedy. 

The film was about a woman who was obsessed with the love of her husband, for her husband. And he was a regular guy, worked for the city, had to do his work at night, or in daytime when there was a call for it. She plans so heavily for a romantic night, gets her mother to take her children over to her house, gets house in tiptop shape—she was a woman who was really obsessed. Then he got a call that the water line had broken and had to call her and say that he couldn’t come home later, and then he came back the next morning with all of his friends, and she was very happy to see him to offer them all breakfast, but mostly because she wanted to please him always, and she offers to make them spaghetti. Do you remember that scene?

Yes, I remember the spaghetti scene. Everybody remembers that scene, it was a great scene.

”It’s so wonderful to do a scene like that, where it feels so true. You can tell a lot about her in that scene. You see that everything she did was to please him…

I also liked the fact that in that film, I was a little wacko, but my husband understood that and he loved me, and it didn’t bother him that I was as strange as I could be. When I have this terrible breakdown and have to go away for a while, leave him and my children, oh—that’s a hard scene. We’re showing a hard moment in a person’s life, a terribly hard moment. Then she comes back and they try to make it easy for her as possible. It’s just so good, all the scenes.”

As Myrtle Gordon, Rowlands gives another masterful performance in Cassavetes’ Opening Night portraying a successful stage actress’s ‘final agony of bottoming out’ (Ebert), rehearsing a production of The Second Woman in New Haven, whose life is turned upside down after she witnesses a 17-year-old fan’s death outside the theater.

Gena Rowlands in Opening Night 1977.

Rowlands plays the role “At perfect pitch: She is able to suggest, even in the midst of seemingly ordinary moments, the controlled panic of a person who needs a drink, right here, right now.” (Roger Ebert)

She captures the restless energy that imbues the behind-the-scenes world of the theater and the ‘dreary perspective of Myrtle’s uninspiring production she stars in.’ (Chris Wiegand- The Guardian).

“All while descending into a prolonged crack-up involving binge drinking, consultations with mediums, and a repeat hallucination of a young girl… Early on, when Myrtle is first confronted with the hallucination/girl, there’s a closeup of Rowlands’ face that is an example of her unique genius. Even very talented actors feel the need to show an audience “what a moment is about.” Not Rowlands. In that closeup, Myrtle stares at the girl, wondering if she has finally lost her mind, and then she puts an almost welcoming expression on her face, before mouthing the word, “Hello!” It’s hair-raising.” Ebert)

Nipping at booze, Myrtle trips between reality on and off stage, drenched in an alcoholic delirium – “Rowlands’ drunkenness in “Opening Night” is in the pantheon of Great Drunks onscreen.” (Roger Ebert).

Myrtle drifts in and out of character conjuring visions of two women who do not exist. Virginia the role for which she is wary of, struggles to portray an older woman for the first time, a character who is aesthetically defined by her age. And embracing the phantom of Nancy, the young girl who died, whose youthful receptiveness is what she seeks to direct, all within an oppressive environment driven by the men she works with, director (Ben Gazzara) and ex-lover co-star (Cassavetes).

How can you bring a character alive if you don’t believe in them – Myrtle asks playwright Sarah Goode played by Joan Blondell. Myrtle needs to reclaim her identity on stage and for herself.

“The scenes in which Myrtle in Opening Night consults first one and then another spiritualist are typical of Cassavetes’ genius in filming madness. He gives us characters who are clearly breaking apart inside, and then sends them hurtling around crazily in search of quick fixes and Band-Aids. (In “Love Streams,” the hard-drinking Cassavetes surrounds himself with hookers, while Sarah (Rowlands), as his sister, fills a taxicab with animals she has “rescued” from a pet store; in “A Woman Under the Influence,” a crowd of basket cases sit down to eat a big dinner that has been whipped together under the delusion that life is normal and everybody is having a great time.” Roger Ebert

Gena Rowland in Gordon Douglas’ Tony Rome 1967.

In Gloria 1980 directed by John Cassavetes, a film Rowlands considers a ‘gangster comedy’ gets to play the hard-edged gun moll she would have perfected in the best film noirs of the 1940s. The film takes an unexpected approach to motherhood- as Gloria Swenson becomes the reluctant guardian of a little boy whose family is murdered by the mob. The two go on the run in the gritty streets of New York City in possession of a book that the mob wants. Rowland is never fake while she roars and swears at the thugs chasing her on the subway, moving like the wind down the sidewalks of New York in her silk suits, handling her gun like an uncompromising pro. ‘‘I don’t want to be a victim! Victim, that’s passe, I’ve played a victim. I don’t want to be a victimized, you know, a victimized person again…This is a victimized person isn’t it?’  he assures her -‘’ No, it’s not a victimized person. A very strong person. You’re not a victim, you’re an ‘anti-victim.” ”Good, don’t get it in your mind that I’m a victim!’” (Rowlands from a conversation with husband John Cassavetes).

Cassel and Rowlands in Minnie and Moskowitz in 1971.

Gloria for Gena Rowlands is where she gives flight her roles rooted in vulnerability and deep psychological storms. In the film, she attains ascendency and puts a gun to the head of the personal victimization, and defies some of her older collaborative roles with Cassavetes interpreted by instability and downward spirals. She wouldn’t allow herself to be trapped by stereotypes of ‘eccentric, middle-aged women.’ which was a role that established her on-screen persona in the 1970s.

“Love is a stream. It is continuous. It doesn’t stop.”

In 1984’s Love Streams, directed by John Cassavetes, Gena Rowlands portrays Sarah Lawson, a character whose life has been unexpectedly upended when she finds herself in the midst of a divorce from her husband Jack, portrayed by Seymour Cassel.

Adding to her pain, her young daughter Debbie (Risa Martha Blewitt) chooses to live with her father instead. At a time when she questions whether she is worthy of love, experiencing an emotional breakdown she reaches out to her brother Robert (Cassavetes).

Rowlands objected to Cassavete’s script finding herself once again playing a ‘victimized person’, but he assured her that Sarah was truly strong.

Sarah’s divergence from the past ‘madwoman archetype’ is in her resilience from her earlier roles in the 70s – as Mabel in A Woman Under the Influence whereas her therapist in Love Streams has a similar commentary that her love is “too strong for her family,’’

And unlike Minnie who is stripped down by Cassel in Minnie and Moskowitz in 1971, and Myrtle Gordon whose mind becomes fractured during the New York premiere of her play in Opening Night, Sarah comes to a reckoning about how love flows and can be reached. And no one but Rowlands could compel heartache to emerge out of a smile.

Source Andrew Key

Source Chris Wiegand The Guardian

Source: RogerEbert.Com

Nancy Kelly Bio:

Actress of radio, stage, film, and television, Nancy Kelly with her whisky voice became a Hollywood child actress who performed alongside Gloria Swanson she was talented enough to appear on Broadway in a revival of Macbeth Macbeth in 1926 and was Tyrone Power’s leading lady in John Ford’s western Jesse James 1939. And cast in the lead role in the low-budget horror movie about a woman who claims the is the reincarnation of a witch burned at the stake 300 years ago in Woman Who Came Back 1945. Having worked on the radio on The March of Time between 1932-37 and appearing on stage drawing great reviews for her performances as Blossom in Susan of God and for Clifford Odets’s The Big Knife, and Season in the Sun 1950, her most unforgettable role was as Christine Penmark, Rhoda’s (Patty McCormack gave a delirious performance as the sociopathic Rhoda) mother in director Mervyn LeRoy’s psychological drama The Bad Seed 1956.

Nancy Kelly in John Ford’s Jesse James 1939.

Kelly’s performance is a riveting at times cringeworthy examination of a mother cornered by maternal conflict when she discovers that her seemingly innocent little blonde angel is in fact a cold-blooded psychopathic murderer.

“virtually everyone in the film becomes so fantastically abnormal that it grows ridiculous and grotesque. Little Patty McCormack, who plays the murderer, not only acts with incredible sang-froid but she also postures with such calculation that it is hard to see how anyone could mistake her show of innocence for a fraud.” – Bosley Crowther

Nancy Kelly wore the role of Rhoda’s mother in both the theatrical Broadway, 1954-55 stage production and the adaption to the big screen.

Walter Kerr of the New York Herald Tribune wrote of her Tony Award-winning stage performance:

“Though Miss Kelly has done attractive work on Broadway before, she has never really prepared us for the brilliance of the present portrait” (Walter Kerr-New York Times, January 14, 1995).

In contrast to Kerr’s take on Kelly’s performance, the often unforgiving Bosley Crowther wrote this scathing assessment of her work in the film:

“Nancy Kelly makes the mother of this child so saturnine and so foolishly fatalistic that her outbursts of frenzy toward the end when little darling coolly compounds her murders, deprive her of the sympathy she should have. This reviewer had the inhuman feeling that this poor woman oddly got what she deserved.”

In 1956, she was nominated for an Academy Award as Best Actress for her performance in The Bad Seed but lost to Ingrid Bergman in Anastasia.

Kelly dove effectively into television starting in the 1950s by appearing in episodes of Studio One, Playhouse 90, Climax!, Suspicion, Alcoa Theatre, and a particularly tense performance as Janet Willson who is daunted by an unseen manic during one dark rainy night in

As sure as my name is MonsterGirl, this is a Boris Karloff Thriller! “The Storm”

The Boris Karloff’s Thriller episode The Storm. She also appeared in the Edmund O’Brien series Sam Benedict, Medical Center, and her next last appearance in Jack Palance’s underappreciated cop show Bronc. And lastly, the made-for-TV movie Murder at the World Series in 1977.

She died in 1995 of complications from diabetes at the age of 73.


Vera-“Michael and I are leaving now Mrs Henderson, I’m taking him home with me. Oh, I am sorry for you because I think in your own way, you’ve grown really fond of my baby. But you see Michael is my child. I’ve known that from the very beginning….”


Amidst the chaos of family, confusion, and anxiety, Murray’s music is tragically beautiful and stretches you in deep places.

Directed by Jack Smight this is perhaps one of the most disturbing yet poignant performances for  Nancy Kelly The Bad Seed 1956 as Mrs. J. A. Williams/Vera Brandon alongside Gena Rowland as housewife Louise Henderson. Louise finds herself in conflict with the cryptic Vera Brandon who lives under the cloud of delusion, and despair.

Joan Harrison had envisioned a narrative that is entirely woman-centered, and the story is framed within the world of women, a tribalization of motherhood, viewed through the eyes of women and by using an all-female cast.

The episode which is driven by a sense of extreme unease was nominated for an Emmy Award for Outstanding Single Program – Drama. It is considered to be one of the best episodes of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour.

Joyce Van Patten is delightful, playing Louise’s next-door neighbor Grace, and it’s always fun to see her do anything. Juanita Moore has a bit part as Mrs. McFarland. And character actress Jesslyn Fax plays the landlady, Miss McGuiness.

Based on a novel by Celia Fremlin called The House Before Dawn with a screenplay by William Gordon, and a most extraordinary soundtrack music by composer Lyn Murray.

The Lonely Hours features the work of two masterful actresses, Rowlands who is solid and intuitively manages to tap into the wavelength that something is just not right with Kelly’s character. Nancy Kelly, while a menacing figure who threatens Rowland’s breezy yet frenetic suburban world, manages to come across as a sympathetic, damaged woman who is haunted by loss.

It is perhaps one of the most intense teleplays, the story and its performances of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour series, aside from perhaps Teresa Wright’s performance in Lonely Place, interesting that both titles include loneliness as their theme.

The Hendersons had considered renting a room upstairs to a student to bring in extra money. Louise’s husband is out of the picture for the entire episode except when Louise invokes his existence during their sparse one-sided phone calls.

When the curious Vera Brandon shows up looking for a quiet room to rent in order to finish her thesis, she spots Louise’s little boy Lonnie and the camera catches her fixating on him in his high chair. It strikes us as well, that little Lonnie has dark curly hair, looking more like he’d be the saturnine Vera Brandon’s child than the polished blonde Louise.

Once the dangerous, deranged Vera Brandon moves in the suspense begins.

but first…

The episode opens with Tchaikovsky blasting on the record player. Rowlands is on the phone trying to make arrangements and going over the minutia of life, taking care of the house and her two little girls who are a distraction running around. Nancy Kelly walks in on the din of the crazy life of an upper-middle-class housewife.

Though obviously a tireless mother and housewife, Louise Henderson is purely flawless, dashing around the kitchen serving breakfast, feeding her 7-month-old little boy named Lonnie, and keeping tabs on her girls, she still manages to look like the cover of Good Housekeeping with her chic sleeveless dress and fetchingly coifed golden hair. The telephone rings and it’s her husband calling long distance, he is away on a business trip and will be gone for another week.

The harried Louise is trying to wrangle the precocious and imaginative girls, one of them is Joyce Van Patten who comes over most days to play. All three keep her busy while her husband is away on business. We never meet him, he is a phantom on the phone to us.

Miss Vera Brandon (Kelly) enters comely, polite, tailored, and a bit more old-fashioned, she is a bit of a contrast next to Louise who is more bourgeois and chic. The girls let her in while their mom Louise is still talking on the phone. Vera Brandon already transforms the space as she begins to take control in tiny ways. She immediately turns off the record player, then she concentrates on Lonnie.

As Vera inquires about the room to let, and when Louise remarks that she and her husband had only been thinking about renting a room, Vera explains that someone at the university must have mentioned it. She explains to Louise (Rowlands) that she needs a quiet place to work on her thesis.

After seeing the room, which is a bit small and cluttered at first, Vera decides to rent the room for $30 a month.

Shortly after Vera Brandon moves in, Louise becomes very suspicious about the woman in her house and why she seems so engrossed in Lonnie.

In the next scene, Vera pulls up in front of a different house carrying a bassinet bundled up in blankets that she watchfully holds close to herself while she goes into this other secret apartment that she is renting under the name of Mrs. J.A. Williams.

Her landlady Miss McGuiness (character actress Jesslyn Fax known for Rear Window (1954), Kiss Me Deadly 1955 and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken (1966) is renting it to the mysterious Miss Brandon for an extra month and has been told that it’s for her and her baby son Michael.

Something strikes us as off with the way she is holding the bassinet, we sense there is no baby. There is something tangible about Vera – she is deranged and may even be dangerous.

When Miss McGuinness knocks on Vera’s door she seems alarmed. She tells her that Michael is asleep and keeps her landlady at bay standing outside the door, but takes the toy from her that came in the mail that day. After she tells her that they’ll be staying longer and that she and the baby will be staying with a friend for a few days. Vera puts the toy next to the bassinet and the baby is revealed to be a doll.

Miss McGuiness seems curious about the baby peeking in the baby’s room just a little to try and catch sight of him. Miss Brandon takes out a brand new musical toy horse, winds it up, and places it by an almost lifelike baby doll covered in the blanket.

Later while having coffee together with Grace (Van Patton), Louise mentions that Miss Brandon knows her professor’s husband but she tells Louise that Vera Brandon’s name doesn’t mean a thing to her.
Although Miss Brandon said she knew Grace’s brilliant husband. Brandon also seemed to know both she and Mark are blondes. Vera Brandon is very dark like Lonnie who has very thick dark black hair.

Joyce Van Patten – “If this woman is going to arouse all your latent hostility why take her in?”
Rowlands “In the first place it wasn’t hostility It was idle curiosity and in the second place I need the extra money in the first place.”

Vera Brandon arrives with her suitcase, and Louise introduces her to her friend, Mrs. Grace Thorpe

in a telling moment, explains the topic of her doctoral dissertation to Grace, who looks on blankly and then turns and invites Louise to a fashion tea. Vera is portrayed as a slightly older, educated woman, who does not fit in among the vapid suburban housewives.

Grace (Joyce Van Patten)“Louise tells me that you’re writing your doctoral thesis.”

Vera “Hmm, I’m a few years behind my original schedule.”

Grace “In what field?”

Vera “Oh, I’m doing a comparative study of the effects of alien philosophy. I’m in history – Greek origins really.”

Perhaps allusions to the classical myth of Medea about the woman who murdered her children.

Grace looks completely struck dumb by Vera’s intellectual nitty gritty. She switches to a topic she’s more comfortable with and tells Louise that she really wants her to come to the fashion tea tomorrow and so Vera Brandon uses the opportunity to volunteer to watch Lonnie and Louise agrees to it.

Vera Brandon goes into Lonnie’s room while he’s fussing and she quiets him down, “I’m here now. I’m here with you and I’ll never leave you. I’ll never leave you – sshh Michael.” She holds Lonnie’s hand as he looks up smiling at her.

The next morning the girls joke that Miss Brandon is ‘a spy… a secret, atomic spy’ but Louise is used to the girls and their wild imaginations and the games they play with each other.

When Louise leaves for the fashion tea, Vera is left alone with Lonnie, and she is able to call him Michael. She drives him to her other home and now can freely show him off to her landlady, no longer a doll hidden in a blanket. Vera is thrilled when Miss McGuiness tells her that Michael is ‘just the image of you.’ Once inside, she takes Lonnie into the room she has turned into a nursery with a crib and toys. Vera’s neurotic motherly attachment to the baby only intensifies the tragic and disturbing nature of her actions.

We assume that Vera has finally taken off with Lonnie but at the end of the day she has returned to Louise’s home, Vera opens up Lonnie’s door. It is a surprise to us that she has brought him back to his mother. Louise finds Vera holding Lonnie very dearly.

The moment is a tense one and Louise seems disquieted by Vera’s attention on her son, then she sees the toy horse in the crib. “Where did this come from?” She asks the little horse. Vera Brandon tells her she bought it while she was out and that it has a music box and plays a lullaby. Louise seems visibly struck in a weird way. Her Intuition?

At night, Louise is reading in bed when she hears Lonnie crying. She goes to his room to find Vera holding him and walking back and forth, trying to comfort him. Louise gives Vera a quick lesson in parenting and Vera internalizes her antagonized by this.

cross Fade:

Late at night, Louise hears Lonnie crying. When she goes in to check on him she finds Vera Brandon holding him.

“I was awake Mrs. Henderson. I thought I might reach him before he disturbed your sleep.”

Louise seems vexed and grabs Lonnie from her arms and admonishes her.

Louise “It’s wrong to pick up a baby every time he cries, Miss Brandon. I’m trying to coax him to sleep through the night.” But she replies, “I think the baby is hungry Mrs. Henderson.”
Louise “I’m sure he is, I’ll take care of it. “

Vera Brandon looks wounded. Louise calls upon her maternal privilege to put Vera in her place.

Louise is quickly developing a more heightened sense of distrust, and drawing on her instincts that something’s off with this woman in her home.

Her girls find a little book with a few men’s names in it, including their father’s name. Louise assures her daughter that Miss Brandon is not a spy. But even her little girl notices that there’s something strange about Vera. And senses that her mother doesn’t like her.

Vera overhears that Mark will be home in a couple of days.

When Louise and Grace go out for the day and Lonnie is left with Katie, a babysitter that Louise specifically hired to watch Lonnie instead of Vera.

But Vera takes Lonnie out of the house again, telling Katie that Louise said it would be okay for her to take him out with her shopping. Vera takes Lonnie back to her secret apartment again.

When Louise returns home and finds Lonnie gone, Katie tells her, “Miss Brandon hasn’t come back yet.”
Louise “Yes I noticed her car was gone.”
Katie  (Willa Pearl Curtis) “But the baby’s with her.”
Louise “What!”
Katie ”Well Lonnie was fussy and she had some shopping to do, so she thought the fresh air might do him good.”
Louise yells “Katie!”
Katie “What, What’s wrong?”
Louise “Wrong! She has Lonnie”
Katie “Well she said it would be alright with you.” Shaking her head
Louise “Katie you had no right to do this.”
Katie “Do what?”
Louise “How could you let her take him out of your sight?”
Katie “Well she said it was alright with you.”
Louise “Katie I changed your day this week so you would be here with him YOU, not HER!”
Katie “But you never told me, Mrs. Henderson.”
Louise “Oh Katie.”

Grace “Louise Louise you’re falling apart.”

Louise “You haven’t seen anything yet!”

Grace “What are you going to do?”

Louise “I’m gonna call the police.”

Grace “Louise don’t you think you should find out what happened first before you make a fool of yourself?”

Vera Brandon walks in with Lonnie.

“Mrs. Henderson.”

Louise “Where have you been?’’

Vera Brandon “Surely Katie told you we went for a little walk.”

Louise “How dare you take my baby out of this house without my permission!”

Louise grabs him away from Vera Brandon. 
Vera Brandon “It just never occurred to me that it would upset you. I was out shopping and I found your little bakery. Well, we’d a been home earlier but I stopped to buy you some of that coffee cake you like so much.”

Louise looks over at Grace. Feeling guilty and Grace looks back like she believes that her friend has overreacted to a very nice gesture. She has embarrassed herself momentarily but trusts that she’s right about the situation and her suspicions about Vera Brandon.

Louise is snooping through the drawers in Vera’s bedroom and finds the small black book with three names and addresses in it and tears out the page. Her husband, Mark Henderson is one of them.

As Louise does some investigating she finds out that Vera Brandon has given three different reasons including her renting the room from her, for trying to get close to each of the three families, each with a boy 7 months old.

Louise goes in search of the two other names in the book. Looking for some answers and hoping to find a connection between the three people and Vera Brandon.

Louise hunts down Sandra Mathews, (Jackie Russell who appeared on episodes of Thriller and The Night Stalker, as well as the episode with Diana Dors- Run for Doom of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour) a young mother who accomplishes looking upbeat and snapping gum in her mouth while filling Louise in about her encounter with Vera Brandon. Sandra recalls that Vera came to the house when her baby was three months old to offer him a modeling contract. Robbie is a little blonde boy.

She tells Louise –“Oh yeah did she come after you too? That one with that baby modeling pitch?”

Louise “Well she’s rather tall and dark.”

Sandra “Yeah that’s her. She came around when Robby was about 3 months old. I told her when Robbie’s six months I’ll sign, but I didn’t expect to see her again.”

Louise “Why not?”

Wife “Well I mean my little guy’s real handsome, I mean a real doll, but this Miss Brandon hardly even looked at him. Like nothing.”

Next Louise goes to the McFarland Motel. There she meets Juanita Moore. Her son Joel is 7 months too, like Robbie and Lonnie.

Louise “I’m looking for some people name McFarland.”

Mrs. McFarland (Juanita Moore) “I’m Mrs. McFarland.”

Louise “Oh how do you do I’m Mrs. Henderson. Your name was given to me by Vera Brandon.”

Mrs. McFarland ‘‘Oh yes, I remember her.”

Louise “Was she working with a modeling agency?”

Mrs. McFarland “No, she didn’t mention that. She read my husband’s advertisement and telephoned for part-time secretarial work We’re in insurance and real estate, we run this Motel.”

Louise “But she never worked for you?”

Mrs. McFarland “She came by to see us but then she lost interest right away.”

Louise “Oh well thank you I won’t take any more of your time. Bye-bye Joel. He sure is a healthy looking one.”

Mrs. McFarland “He really is. I had him with me from the very first. I think it makes a difference.”

Louise “So did I. That’s why I love St. Dominics.”

Mrs. McFarland “St Dominic Hospital? That’s where I had Joel.”

Suddenly Gena has a flash, “St Dominics?”

She goes to the hospital and asks about the other two mothers she finds from the book and
questions the sister if she remembers a Vera Brandon. The sister tells her, there was a Vera but, “it wasn’t Brandon, it was Williams.” She goes to look at the records. Louise finds out that Vera lost her baby named Michael.

The sister, “Oh yes I remember her now. She was one of our sad ones. Her husband had deserted her and her baby died.”

Later on the phone with her invisible husband “Oh no Marc I’m not afraid, it’s just that I don’t want her here any longer.” Louise plans on gonna asking her to find another place to live.

Vera Brandon comes into the room once Louise hangs up with her husband, and informs Louise that she’s leaving. “Actually Mrs. Henderson I’d like to talk to you about the room. I do hope you won’t be offended, but I spend almost the entire afternoon looking for another place to live.”

Louise, “Well no, we said we’d try it, and if it didn’t work out.”

Vera Brandon “Well if it weren’t for my work I’d be pleased to stay, but I did see a place this afternoon that I think will be a little better for me.”

It seems that Vera is planning something with Lonnie and it’s about to happen.

Louise seems relieved, a light comes over her she doesn’t have to deal with this problem anymore –

Louise “When would you be leaving?”

Cinematographer John F. Warren always seems to frame the two women’s faces using low-key lighting to emphasize their eyes.

Gena Rowlands sparkles and Nancy Kelly is deep and sadly hollow. The dramatic exchange between these two marvelous actors throughout the episode is remarkable as it is disquieting.

Vera Brandon “Oh tomorrow, the weekend is a good time to get settled.”

She asks for a cup of coffee, then she laces it with sleeping pills to knock Louise out so she can grab Lonnie/Michael.

In Louise’s stupor -half sleep-half woozy from the drugs she hears Vera Brandon speak to her

“Michael and I are leaving now Mrs. Henderson. I’m taking him home with me. Oh, I am sorry, I really do feel sorry for you. I think in your own way you’ve grown really fond of my baby. But you see Michael is my child. I’ve known that from the very beginning. From that first day 7 months ago. See they brought me your baby and they told me it was mine. Oh, that poor pale weak little thing. But I knew they were lying.”

Louise figures out where Vera Brandon has taken Lonnie after the girls tell her that ‘the spy lady’ left her coat behind with a piece of paper with her address on the rent receipt in the pocket. She calls the police and tells them that Vera has kidnapped Lonnie, and Grace comes over for support.

Louise confronts Vera.

Louise “If you’ve harmed that baby.”
Vera “Harmed, you think I’d harm my own son.”
Louise “That baby’s not yours.”
Vera Mrs. Henderson everybody in this neighborhood knows my son. We’ve lived here for over a month. They know him at the candy store, they know him at the drug store, at the toy store, and even my own landlady knows him. “Would you like to talk to her?”
Louise Mrs. Williams, Miss Brandon, You’re Michael is dead.”
Vera “Your Lonnie is dead. Oh, I know how hard it is for you to face it. I know but you have a beautiful home and a lovely family.”
Louise “Hospitals don’t make mistakes.”
Vera “It was deliberate they meant to do it.”
Louise “No you’re wrong.”
Vera “No I was conscious every minute when Lonnie was delivered I saw him before he took his first breath I know. Mrs. Henderson, I don’t think there’s any point in continuing this. Now I want you to go away and I want you to stop annoying us and if you still persist in coming here I’m gonna have to take steps to see that you stop.”

Finally, a policewoman arrives pretending to come help clear everything up and to take Vera to the hospital to get the birth certificate for Michael so she can prove he is hers. She convinces Vera to come with her to St. Dominics.

The turmoil wakes up Lonnie but when Vera picks him up, she cannot quiet him, becoming frustrated she begins to shake him violently. Hysterical, Vera yells at him “What’s wrong with you!”

Vera speaks not to the two women, but to herself, “That’s another terrible thing that they’ve done, they’ve let him stay with them for all these months he doesn’t even know me.”

Louise comes out of the nursery holding the doll swathed in the blanket and offers him to Vera, “He’s quiet now.’ The pain of watching Vera Brandon quietly disassemble is unbearable to watch. His pain is palpable. She is lost in a state of agonizing delusion. Nancy Kelly’s performance is absolutely heart-wrenching.

The policewoman takes Lonnie and hands him to Louise, then there is a shot of the creepy lifelike doll sitting in a playpen.

Vera walks toward the door of her apartment, accompanied by the policewoman, and Louise returns to the nursery and holds Lonnie tightly in her arms.


Starting in 1960, Gordon added writing for TV to his repertoire in addition to his acting career. He went on to pen scripts for a range of shows, such as Thriller, The Fugitive, and The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, among others, until 1981. During this time, he also took on roles as story editor or consultant for various series, including The Fugitive, and directed a couple of TV shows. Moreover, Gordon produced a total of 32 episodes of The Fugitive. Among his notable writing credits are six teleplays for The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, the first being “Bonfire,” co-written with Alfred Hayes. He followed up with “The Lonely Hours,” adapted from the novel The Hours Before Dawn.

In 1958, Celia Fremlin Gollar published her debut novel, The Hours Before Dawn, which she wrote during sleepless nights spent pushing her baby around London. Inspired by her own experience with parental sleeplessness, she crafted a story exploring this theme, which became her first published work.

The Hours Before Dawn was adapted for television for the first time as a live broadcast on the U.S. Steel Hour on September 23, 1959. The cast included Colleen Dewhurst as Vera, Mark Richman as Mark, Teresa Wright as Louise, and Jack Carter as another character, with Philip Lewis credited as the teleplay writer. Unfortunately, this live broadcast is now lost.
The second TV adaptation of Fremlin’s novel, titled “The Lonely Hours,” aired on CBS as part of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour on Friday, March 8, 1963. The teleplay was written by William D. Gordon.

Joyce van Patten plays Louise’s friend, Grace; she was a busy actress in film and television from 1946 to 2018 – Her TV roles included parts on The Twilight Zone, The Outer Limits, and The Odd Couple.

Alice Backes plays the policewoman at the end of the episode. She is a familiar face on television having worked in radio and then in film from 1948 to 1978. Her busy television career lasted from 1952 to 1997 and included roles in Boris Karloff’s Thriller, The Night Stalker, and six episodes of the Hitchcock series, including one of the most eerie, The Jar.

Willa Pearl Curtis plays the babysitter, Katie, this was the only episode of the Hitchcock show in which she appeared. She had a part in The Wages of Sin 1948 as the Bordello maid. She appeared in Second Chorus 1940 with Fred Astaire and Paulette Goddard, as Mrs. Wertheim’s Assistant in The Lost Weekend with Ray Milland 1945, also a maid in The Pirate 1948, and as Hannah Thomas in Native Son 1951.

Juanita Moore (1914-2014) as Mrs. McFarland, is featured in 3 of this series starring in Where the Woodbine Twineth. She plays the second woman whom Louise visits after seeing her husband’s name and number in Vera’s little black book; she had a six-decade career on screen from 1939 to 2001 and is best remembered for co-starring in Douglas Sirk’s remake of Imitation of Life (1959). She was also in four episodes of the Hitchcock series, including Where the Woodbine Twineth.

Playing the role of Miss McGuinness, Vera’s landlady, was Jesslyn Fax (1893-1975) who appeared on screen from 1950 to 1969. She had minor roles in Alfred Hitchcock’s Rear Window (1954) and North By Northwest (1959), as well as on five episodes of Hitchcock’s TV show, including “Coming. Mama”. Fax also made an appearance on the TV show Batman.

Alice Backes plays the policewoman at the end. She had a busy career in television, including roles on Thriller, The Night Stalker, and six episodes of the Hitchcock series in particular the odd installment entitled The Jar.

Continue reading “It’s the pictures that got small! – “Good Evening” Leading Ladies of The Alfred Hitchcock Hour Part 4”