Dedications: My four late friends Rory, Stan, Bryan, Jeff - shine on you crazy diamonds, they would have blogged too. Then theres Garry from Brisbane, Franco in Milan, Mike now in S.F. / my '60s-'80s gang: Ned & Joseph in Ireland; in England: Frank, Des, Guy, Clive, Joe & Joe, Ian, Ivan, Nick, David, Les, Stewart, the 3 Michaels / Catriona, Sally, Monica, Jean, Ella, Anne, Candie / and now: Daryl in N.Y., Jerry, John, Colin, Martin and Donal.

Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Dolores or Bette ?

Dolores Del Rio (1904-1983) was of course one of the great beauties of her time, the first Mexican superstar? I know her best from her early films like FLYING DOWN TO RIO or her later ones, as Elvis's Indian mother in FLAMING STAR, 1960, or Indian again in Ford's CHEYENNE AUTUMN in 1964, where for once he took the side of the Native Americans. So I enjoyed seeing one of Dolores's '40s Mexican films LA OTRA from 1946.

I also liked Bette Davis's DEAD RINGER in 1964, an early camp trash classic favourite. My pal Stan and I used to like saying those lines to each other like "But you haven't seen my cast-offs" as we liked Bette's clipped delivery of lines like "Poor. Father. A. Wino" as bitch sister Margaret (drag queens of the time like Charles Pierce built a career on Bette impersonations in this movie).  What I did not know then was that DEAD RINGER was a new version of LA OTRA (THE OTHER ONE) starring Dolores as the twin sisters, Maria (the poor nice one) and Magdalena (the rich, rotten one). This is a fascinating film too, Dolores is fabulous in both roles and the plot works out nicely as Maria kills Magdalena once she realises how she has been cheated, at the funeral of the man she loved whom Magdalena took for herself. She takes her sister's place at her luxurious mansion and has to cope with how to fake her signature, the dog who knows she is not Magdalena, and that lover who comes out of the woodwork, as it turns out Magdalena and the lover killed her husband ..... then there is the police inspector on the case who loved Maria, will he suspect what is going on? The plot twists and turns nicely to a very satisfying conclusion, and it all looks marvellous too, a terrific '40s noir.

This then was tailored and adopted for Bette Davis in 1964, after the success of WHATEVER HAPPENED TO BABY JANE?, directed by her old co-star Paul Henreid, with a score by Andre Previn, and co-starring Karl Malden as the detective and Peter Lawford as the lover. This was the height of classy trash at the time with 2 Bettes for the price of 1. Nice Edie who ran a cocktail lounge on Figueiroa, and nasty Margaret, who tries to buy off Edie by offering her her discarded clothes .... Edie plots her revenge accordingly and Bette has a field day, as per this review from (now defunct) magazine "Films & Filming". John Cutts was a great reviewer for them, specialising in Hollywood's more delirious offerings, those Lana and Susan and Joan and Bette camp classics. Here he is on splendid form here:

"Nobody's as good as Bette when she's bad" proclaimed an oldtime publicity slogan. And, as it was true then, so its most certainly true in DEAD IMAGE (as the film called then in the UK). For here's Bette in full throttle - outrageously dramatic and dramatically outrageous. Here's the real McCoy, the genuine article - a Hollywood queen 100 per cent proof. The last of the great dramatic dinosaurs ("Write a play about a nice normal woman who just shoots her husband") in a specially written part that nobody else could have played - or might have wanted to. A player who only has to enter a scene to dominate it, a trouper who bites off her lines as if they were cigar ends. A star then, and one of the best.
The plot: twin sisters Edith (poor and nice) and Margaret (rich and rotten) meet after a separation of 18 years, at the funeral of Margaret's husband, whom Edith had loved prior to his marriage to her sister. Learning how Margaret tricked him into marrying her on a fake pregnancy claim, Edith decides to kill her sister and adopt her identity. Faking the murder to look like suicide, Edith (now Margaret) is called in to identify Margaret's body as her own (are you following this?). Having now fooled the police plus all of Margaret's in-laws and friends, and having got over one or two nasty hurdles (like trying to fake her sister's signature or having to know the combination of her wall safe) Edith is all set and ready to take a long European vacation, but ....
Wild, eh? The sort of thing that the sillier it gets, the better it seems. A drunken novelette almost. Wildly unreal and madly theatrical. Yes played with such stylised conviction by Miss Davis that one sits there in a drugged state of near-belief, mesmerised and thoroughly charmed by the fullness of theatricality, by her ability to make it seem so outrageously acceptable. Ah, but they don't make them like this anymore.  John Cutts, May 1964.

Yes, that is DEAD RINGER exactly, Bette of course went on to even more outrageous playing in HUSH HUSH SWEET CHARLOTTE, THE NANNY, THE ANNIVERSARY etc, even the awful BUNNY O'HARE, MADAME SIN and others before returning to the fold with DEATH ON THE NILE and others. I must really re-visit Bette's other pair of twins, one of whom replaces the other, in the 1946 A STOLEN LIFE ... here though Bette (both of them) is a dumpy middle-aged woman, but just try looking away ... the Davis version then is a campy black comedy, whereas the Del Rio is an authentic '40s noir with a bitter twist as Maria realises she did not need to kill her sister after all, as the murdered husband remembered Maria in his will so she would have got some money, and the detective confesses to Magdalena how much he loved her sister (whom he thinks has committed suicide), as Maria (now Magdalena) has to go to prison to pay for Magdalena's crimes.
Dolores though could be a new '30s favourite now - she is as stunnng as say Merle Oberon or Hedy Lamarr or any of the other great beauties of the time.

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