The Dark Mirror: A Reflection of Olivia de Havilland’s Life

The Robert Siodmak film noir/thriller The Dark Mirror (1946) presents Olivia de Havilland in a dual performance: portraying twin sisters, one a good girl and the other a killer. Jeanine Basinger’s 1993 book A Woman’s View: How Hollywood Spoke to Women, 1930-1960 explains a crucial scene: “In a bizarre episode in Dark Mirror, de Havilland enacts a double-layered scene in which she is the bad twin pretending to be the good twin in a futile attempt to grasp the truth about why men prefer her sister to her. ‘Why me and not her? We’re so much alike. What makes the difference? Am I better looking that she is?’ Ayres, pretending he thinks he’s talking to the good twin when he knows he’s talking to the bad twin, explains it all for the audience: ‘There’s a natural rivalry between sisters. All women are rivals fundamentally, but it never bothers them because they automatically discount the success of others and alibi their own failures on the grounds of circumstances. Luck, they say.’ (And this man is supposed to be a psychologist!) He goes on to explain that, since sisters are raised in similar circumstances, they have no ‘alibi’ and thus fewer excuses for themselves. ‘That’s why sisters can hate each other with such terrifying intensity,’ he triumphantly concludes. ‘Twins … especially identical twins … well, agonies of jealousy are possible.'”

While watching that scene, it was impossible not to think about the nature of de Havilland’s rivalry with her sister, Joan Fontaine. Olivia and Joan, who are only a year apart in age, had (and still have) a highly contentious relationship, hence their not speaking since the 1970s. I wonder how much of Olivia’s performance in The Dark Mirror was influenced by her actual feelings toward her own sister; surely some of the malice seen in the film was coming from a real place.

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One thought on “The Dark Mirror: A Reflection of Olivia de Havilland’s Life

  1. Pingback: The Dark Mirror (1946) | timneath

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