Classic Film Guide

Stolen Life, A (1946) - full review!

Directed by Curtis Bernhardt, this implausible drama does feature some unique special effects, earning it an Oscar nomination (one of several, including awards, for Nathan Levinson), which allow Bette Davis to appear as twin sister characters. Having become acquainted with some identical twins in my life, I know that the premise put forth in this story - that one twin could pose as another, remaining undetected by those close to them both - is ridiculous. Still, the film does offer the great Ms. Davis an opportunity to exhibit her talent, and the flawed premise does provide some intriguing moments ... if you can accept Glenn Ford as a romantic lead.

Kate Bosworth (Davis) has missed the ferry to the island off the coast of Massachusetts, so she convinces Bill Emerson (Ford) to give her a ride on his near full boat. During the two hour trip, the two get to know one another better - she's a Yankee, descended from a whaler. When they arrive after dark at the island docks, Bill is scolded by Eben Folger (Walter Brennan), the lighthouse keeper, for taking on a passenger. The two depart, leaving Kate happy that she'd met someone nice in Bill. She is greeted by guardian cousin Freddie Linley (Charles Ruggles), who was worried about her even though she'd had word sent ahead about missing the ferry. He maintains a home on the island, where she'll stay, and has scouted out scenes for her to paint. Later, when Kate sees Folger walking in town, she follows him and learns that he's got a passion for collecting "ships in a bottle", when he can't afford the $150 to buy one in a shop (run by Clara Blandick). She approaches him and asks Folger if he'd let her paint him; he refuses vehemently and leaves. Soon, however, she is sailing a small boat out to the lighthouse. Though he tries to shoo her away, "no visitors", Folger learns that Kate has brought the last "ship in a bottle" in the series he'd been collecting, and he agrees to sit for her one hour each day for a week. During this time, Kate gets to see Bill, to whom she later admits was the source of her interest in lieu of painting Folger.

Lonely Bill and "plain Jane" Kate begin spending time with one another, during which Kate learns that Bill turned down a salary three times what he makes repairing lighthouse motors to have the simple, uncrowded life he now has. When Kate returns home after a lovely day with Bill at his "secret" seaside picnic place, we learn that she has an identical twin sister Patricia. Pat is a different sort of girl from Kate, spending her time with the society set which includes a (never seen) man who owns a yacht to which she's usually chauffeured. However, Pat has noticed that Kate is particularly smitten this evening, though she refuses to discuss "her" Bill with her fancy sister. The next day, when a dressed up Pat "bumps into" Bill on her way to her friend's yacht escort, she allows him to think she is Kate. Bill had been waiting to meet Kate for lunch at another place, but Pat takes him to the cottage from which her sister had kept Bill away. So, Pat pretends to be Kate for Bill, who thinks he's seeing another, desirable & sexy side of Kate. He tells her that he's impressed with her appearance such that he thinks he's found in her what was missing for him. With her "package" now complete, he starts to kiss Pat before they're interrupted by the returning Kate. Bill does a double take before Pat explains to Kate that she was just about to tell him the truth before her sister had arrived.

Of course, Pat then pursues Bill while Kate retreats to her (apparently) tried-and-true posture of not competing with her sister in such affairs. In fact, Pat claims that her relationship with Bill is the real thing to her sister, such that Kate totally withdraws from trying, even though Freddie encourages her to fight for Bill. Pat and Bill get married and Kate returns to painting until she's ready for an exhibition. At the show, Kate meets a true starving artist, Karnock (Dane Clark), a temperamental man who disrespects her work. When she follows him to his shabby apartment, she learns that Karnock is truly gifted. He tells her that she's barely a woman, that she has no real passion and that it shows in her paintings. Intrigued by his skill & what he's said, Kate invites Karnock to share her studio, where he becomes a tutor of sorts for her. Peggy Knudsen plays a model who poses for them both. When Bill comes to town one day, Kate and he spend some time shopping for a birthday gift for Pat, during which Kate learns that Bill has taken the job he'd despised. She knows it's because of Pat, but not exactly why. Kate returns home and has a disagreeable redux with Karnock of their earlier conversation about her femininity, after which she declares that she's giving up painting and returns to the island cottage. There, she finds Pat, who had decided against traveling with Bill overseas to his new job.

The two sisters begin anew and decide to go sailing together, during which Kate learns that Pat despises the simple, outdoorsman qualities in her husband. Rough weather causes them to wreck near the lighthouse, where Pat is lost and Kate finds herself wearing her sister's wedding ring while recovering in Folger’s lighthouse. She overhears their assumption that it was Kate who was drowned, and slowly decides to become Pat. Even though this is when the film's believability really starts to break down, there are some interesting situations during which Kate must figure out how to be Pat and "steal her sister's life". However, she learns that Pat's marriage to Bill was coming to an end, due to an affair (with Bruce Bennett's character). Joan Winfield plays a maid "in the know"; Esther Dale (who else?) plays another servant. The whole movie's quality unravels and, of course, ends predictably.

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