Chained for Life (Harry L. Fraser / U.S., 1951):

Either a poverty-row exploitation item or a self-reflexive exercise in audience gawking, though in any case neither tawdry nor compassionate enough. The stars are the original Hilton sisters, Violet and Daisy, conjoined twins back in front of a camera after their 1932 twirl among the Freaks, their real-life travails mercilessly leeched for the narrative -- vaudeville-headlining career, sham-marriage publicity stunt, etc. Violet and Daisy offer passable vocals to complement the flatlining readings; Allen Jenkins, their manager, carries authentic Warner Bross. seediness along with the concept of beefing up the duo's popularity on the vaudeville circle by forging a wedding. Vaguely European sharpshooter Mario Laval is picked for a mock-matrimony to Daisy, who believes she can, by now, afford to be "shortchanged in love," though with the groom a greasy gigolo involved with a shapely assistant (Patricia Wright) and the plot framed as a flashback from a murder trial, it's only a matter of time before one of Laval's pistols gets vengefully turned against him. Dish-juggling and "William Tell Overture" crammed through an accordion provide the padding for the slim 65 minutes; Harry L. Fraser's no-frills, dollying-'n'-panning technique has nothing on Wellman's in Lady of Burlesque, much less on Browning's sublimely calcified tableaux. Laval serenades his smitten bride over the phone, and a watery dissolve triggers the dream sequence, Daisy magically unstuck (a stand-in in long shot, natch) and prancing by the garden with her beau; Freaks beats that with a single image of one sister feeling tingles as the other smooches with her boyfriend. Still, it's "not easy to understand God's ways," intones the blind pastor, for the inescapability of the Hiltons' bond (physical, familial, spiritual) survives undimmed at the courtroom, the movie itself perched between exploitation and sympathy for its vulnerable "monstrosities," the quandary finally, literally handled to the audience. In black and white.

--- Fernando F. Croce

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