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Sunday, June 21, 2009

Double Your Pleasure (originally published 12/03)

From Shakespeare’s “Comedy of Errors” to the familiar old Doublemint Gum commercials, twin siblings have been a constant presence in popular entertainment for centuries. Movies, of course, have a distinct advantage in that camera trickery can be used to transform a single actor into twins.

In their new release, “Stuck on You,” the Farrelly Brothers bring their own peculiar twist to the theme, casting Greg Kinnear and Matt Damon as Siamese twins joined at the hip. If you prefer your movie twins to be a bit more conventional – identical but separate – here are some titles to look for on home video.

“Our Relations” (1936). Laurel and Hardy play a couple of sailors who happen to put into port in the hometown of their long lost twin brothers (also played by Laurel and Hardy). The sailors hang out, as movie sailors will, in disreputable beer halls. Their twins, a pair of family men, find themselves with lots of explaining to do when their wives learn that they’ve been seen chasing skirts in waterfront dives.

“Wonder Man” (1945). Danny Kaye must have concluded that the only way to top his wildly successful movie debut in “Up in Arms” was to become twins, because that’s exactly what he did in this classic musical comedy. The first brother, a brash entertainer, is knocked off by gangsters for knowing too much. His ghost then returns to convince his twin, a mousy intellectual, to avenge his murder. When the living brother’s staid temperament proves unequal to the task, the dead brother simply takes possession of his body to get the job done.

“The Corsican Brothers” (1941). Douglas Fairbanks Jr. carried on the family tradition in action pictures such as this adaptation of the Alexander Dumas classic. Fairbanks uses movie magic to take on both title roles as Lucien and Mario Franchi. Born as Siamese twins, the Franchi brothers narrowly escape the massacre of their family by the evil Baron Colonna. When an operation to separate them miraculously succeeds, the orphaned twins are raised separately for their protection. Lucien grows up in the forests of Corsica, becoming a kind of Robin Hood figure, while Mario is raised by friends of the family in Paris. When they meet for the first time at age 21, they both swear vengeance on the Colonna family.

“Dead Ringer” (1964). Bette Davis, in her gothic horror period, plays twin sisters. One sister has never forgiven the other one for stealing away her sweetheart by convincing him that she was pregnant with his child. Ultimately her resentment drives her to murder the offending sister. In addition to avenging the wrong she has suffered, this also allows her to assume the murdered sister’s identity and to assume control of her considerable wealth. Unfortunately, it transpires that the dead sister had been mixed up in homicide herself, leaving the surviving sister in the ironic position of getting away with one murder while standing in the shadow of the gallows for a murder she didn’t commit.

“Start the Revolution Without Me” (1970). On the eve of the premiere of their groundbreaking television show, “All in the Family,” Norman Lear and Bud Yorkin unleashed this historical romp on the big screen. It begins with a kind of loose parody of “The Corsican Brothers,” then, like the man in the Stephen Leacock story, rides off in several directions. Gene Wilder and Donald Sutherland play two sets of twins in 18th Century France, one of noble blood and one born to commoners. The attending physician, confused about which babies belonged with which family, had switched two of them in the cradle. Naturally, the sets of twins are mistaken for one another, involving the commoners in royal intrigues about which they know nothing. The lunacy builds until at last the story can no longer contain it, leading to a truly wild conclusion.

“The Parent Trap” (1961). We can’t, of course, forget this Disney confection, with Hayley Mills as twin sisters who have been raised separately by divorced parents. When they finally meet, they devote their combined energies to reuniting their wayward parents. It’s good, clean fun for those who are up to the challenge of suspending their disbelief to a degree above and beyond the usual call of duty.

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