Sisters (1973)

R | 92-94 mins | Black comedy, Horror | April 1973

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HISTORY

The film opens as “Philip Woode” finishes dressing in a locker room. When a blind woman enters, believing that she is in the woman’s locker room, she begins undressing. Philip’s face is then shown in freeze-frame as a pull-back shot reveals that he has been filmed secretly as part of a television program called Peeping Toms . A host then explains to the studio and television audience that the contestants must guess what action Philip will make as the blind woman is removing her blouse. After the contest is resolved, “Danielle Breton” is introduced as the actress portraying the blind woman.
       During portions of Sisters a split or dual screen, sometimes showing the same shot from exact opposite angles, provides additional information. One sequence features “Grace Collier” telephoning the police in one screen while in the other, several of her columns from the fictitious Staten Island Panorama are displayed. Another sequence features different views of the same hallway outside Danielle’s apartment as “Detective Kelly,” “Spinetti” and Grace arrive while “Emil Breton” hides from them just feet away. The documentary “Blanchion Twins Separated,” which is viewed by Grace, is in black-and-white. After Emil drugs Grace at the clinic, the story of Danielle and “Dominique” plays out as if it is part of the black-and-white documentary, with Grace in the role of Dominique.
       According to a Feb 1972 DV news item, Louis Gossett had a starring role in Sisters but due to scheduling difficulties, was forced to withdraw from the film. An Apr 1974 HR news item indicated ... More Less

The film opens as “Philip Woode” finishes dressing in a locker room. When a blind woman enters, believing that she is in the woman’s locker room, she begins undressing. Philip’s face is then shown in freeze-frame as a pull-back shot reveals that he has been filmed secretly as part of a television program called Peeping Toms . A host then explains to the studio and television audience that the contestants must guess what action Philip will make as the blind woman is removing her blouse. After the contest is resolved, “Danielle Breton” is introduced as the actress portraying the blind woman.
       During portions of Sisters a split or dual screen, sometimes showing the same shot from exact opposite angles, provides additional information. One sequence features “Grace Collier” telephoning the police in one screen while in the other, several of her columns from the fictitious Staten Island Panorama are displayed. Another sequence features different views of the same hallway outside Danielle’s apartment as “Detective Kelly,” “Spinetti” and Grace arrive while “Emil Breton” hides from them just feet away. The documentary “Blanchion Twins Separated,” which is viewed by Grace, is in black-and-white. After Emil drugs Grace at the clinic, the story of Danielle and “Dominique” plays out as if it is part of the black-and-white documentary, with Grace in the role of Dominique.
       According to a Feb 1972 DV news item, Louis Gossett had a starring role in Sisters but due to scheduling difficulties, was forced to withdraw from the film. An Apr 1974 HR news item indicated that Pressman-Williams Enterprises, Inc. filed a $2.25 million suit against American International Pictures for failure to provide a complete financial accounting and alleged unfair competition. The outcome of the suit has not been determined. As noted in reviews, Sisters was filmed on location in New York City and Staten Island.
       Most reviews of Sisters commented that it was an obvious homage by writer-director Brian De Palma to the suspense thriller films of director Alfred Hitchcock. Several shots mirror well-known shots in Hitchcock’s films, such as the camera going “into” and coming out of Grace’s eye, recalling the opening credits of the 1958 Paramount release Vertigo (see below). Other shots in Sisters emulate scenes from Hitchcock’s Paramount productions, Rear Window (1954) and Psycho (1960, see entries above). Reviewers also praised the Sisters score by Bernard Herrmann, who had worked with Hitchcock from 1956 through 1963, producing distinctive scores for Vertigo , Psycho and the 1963 Universal production The Birds (see above). Later films made by De Palma that paid narrative and visual tribute to Hitchcock include Obsession (Columbia, 1976, and which also features a score by Herrmann), Dressed to Kill (Filmways, 1980) and Body Double (Columbia, 1984).
       In a contemporary interview with De Palma included as added content on the DVD release, he indicated that he conceived of the story after reading a Life magazine article on Russian Siamese twin sisters Masha and Dasha Krivoshlyopova (1950—2003). The sisters were brought up in a Soviet research institute, a theme which De Palma used in Sisters . De Palma revealed that he was so struck by a photo within the article that featured one sister with a sullen look while the other smiled cheerfully that he recreated the image in Sisters . De Palma stated that as well as using literal shots that recalled Hitchcock films, he wanted to utilize the shock feature of killing off a major character (Philip Woode) early in the film, as Hitchcock had done in Psycho . In the interview De Palma stated that he had hoped to use a major star like Sidney Poitier in the role of Philip and television star Marlo Thomas as Grace, but was constrained by the film’s limited budget. De Palma added that editor Paul Hirsch recommended Herrmann after admitting he had cut the film listening to the composer’s scores. Since its release, Sisters has become a cult classic that is frequently cited by critics as the launching point of De Palma’s foray into black-humored suspense thrillers. More Less

SOURCE CITATIONS
SOURCE
DATE
PAGE
Box Office
26 Mar 1973
p. 4575.
Daily Variety
23 Feb 1972.
---
Daily Variety
23 Mar 1973.
---
Hollywood Reporter
31 Mar 1972
p. 20.
Hollywood Reporter
7 Jul 1972
p. 9.
Hollywood Reporter
29 Nov 1972.
---
Hollywood Reporter
9 Apr 1974.
---
Los Angeles Herald Examiner
20 Apr 1973.
---
Los Angeles Times
18 Apr 1973
Section IV, p. 30.
New York Times
27 Sep 1973
p. 44.
Newsweek
7 May 1973.
---
Variety
21 Mar 1973
p. 26.
CAST
PRODUCTION CREDITS
NAME
PARENT COMPANY
DISTRIBUTION COMPANY
NAME
CREDITED AS
CREDIT
DIRECTORS
Asst dir
Documentary [dir]
PRODUCERS
Assoc prod
Assoc prod
WRITERS
From an orig story by
PHOTOGRAPHY
Dir of photog
Cam op
Key grip
ART DIRECTOR
Prod des
FILM EDITORS
Asst ed
SOUND
Sd ed
VISUAL EFFECTS
Titles des
Title seq filmed by
PRODUCTION MISC
Unit mgr
Casting
Prod supv
Courtesy of OAKTREE
DETAILS
Release Date:
April 1973
Premiere Information:
World premiere at Filmex: 18 November 1972
Los Angeles opening: 18 April 1973
New York opening: 26 September 1973
Production Date:
early March--early Julyy 1972 in New York City and Staten Island
Copyright Claimant:
Pressman-Williams Enterprises, Inc.
Copyright Date:
18 April 1973
Copyright Number:
LP43792
Physical Properties:
Sound
Color
Movielab; with b&w seq
Duration(in mins):
92-94
MPAA Rating:
R
Country:
United States
Language:
English
PCA No:
23580
Passed by NBR:
No
SYNOPSIS

In New York City, after appearing on the television program Peeping Toms , model Danielle Breton runs into the show’s contestant, African-American Philip Woode, an advertising manager. Laughing about their respective prizes from the show, a cutlery set for her and an evening of dining and dancing at the African Room for Philip, Danielle suggests they use his coupon for dinner. Philip agrees and the couple goes to the club where, over drinks, Danielle relates that she is from Quebec. As Danielle grows increasingly tipsy, a stranger introducing himself as her husband Emil Breton, appears and insists Danielle accompany him home, but she refuses, telling Philip they are divorced. When Emil persists, Philip summons the club’s bouncers who escort Emil away. Philip then offers to take Danielle home and is surprised when she reveals that she lives on Staten Island. At her building, Danielle invites Philip inside to her sparsely furnished apartment, to which she has only recently moved. Peering out a window, Philip notices Emil standing in the street below. When Danielle grows angry over Emil’s presence, Philip offers to drive away, park around the corner and return after Emil departs. After the suggestion goes as planned, Philip returns and spends the night with Danielle on the pullout sofa bed. The next morning, Philip awakens to overhear a brief argument in French from the bedroom between Danielle and another woman. A few moments later, Danielle apologizes for awakening Philip, then reveals that her twin sister Dominique is visiting to celebrate their birthday ... +


In New York City, after appearing on the television program Peeping Toms , model Danielle Breton runs into the show’s contestant, African-American Philip Woode, an advertising manager. Laughing about their respective prizes from the show, a cutlery set for her and an evening of dining and dancing at the African Room for Philip, Danielle suggests they use his coupon for dinner. Philip agrees and the couple goes to the club where, over drinks, Danielle relates that she is from Quebec. As Danielle grows increasingly tipsy, a stranger introducing himself as her husband Emil Breton, appears and insists Danielle accompany him home, but she refuses, telling Philip they are divorced. When Emil persists, Philip summons the club’s bouncers who escort Emil away. Philip then offers to take Danielle home and is surprised when she reveals that she lives on Staten Island. At her building, Danielle invites Philip inside to her sparsely furnished apartment, to which she has only recently moved. Peering out a window, Philip notices Emil standing in the street below. When Danielle grows angry over Emil’s presence, Philip offers to drive away, park around the corner and return after Emil departs. After the suggestion goes as planned, Philip returns and spends the night with Danielle on the pullout sofa bed. The next morning, Philip awakens to overhear a brief argument in French from the bedroom between Danielle and another woman. A few moments later, Danielle apologizes for awakening Philip, then reveals that her twin sister Dominique is visiting to celebrate their birthday that day and is very sensitive about strangers. When Philip offers to leave, Danielle pleads with him to fill a prescription as she feels unwell. Returning from the pharmacy a little later, Philip impulsively stops at a bakery to purchase a birthday cake. Meanwhile, Emil telephones Danielle, who admits to feeling ill and asks him to come to the apartment. Overcome by pain moments later, Danielle collapses on the bathroom floor. After having Danielle's and Dominique’s names written on the cake, Philip returns to the apartment and seeing the woman he thinks is Danielle under the covers of the pull-out bed, lights candles on the cake and, retrieving the knife from the prize cutlery set, brings the cake to the bed as a surprise. Groggily, the figure on the bed reaches for the knife, then abruptly stabs Philip repeatedly and slashes him across the mouth. In the apartment across the way, Grace Collier, a columnist for the small Staten Island Panorama newspaper, watches the attack in horror from her window and witnesses Philip crawl to a window to scrawl “help” in his own blood. Upon telephoning the police, Grace is annoyed when, recognizing her as the writer of a column accusing the police of brutality, they hesitate to believe her report. Reviving in the bathroom, Danielle answers a pounding on the door and finds a stunned Emil, who glances around at the bloody floor. When Danielle bewilderedly reveals that Dominique is visiting, Emil hastily orders her to help him clean up. Discovering Philip dead by the window, Emil and Danielle place the body inside the pullout sofa. Emil then hurriedly cleans all the blood away and carefully places the stained knife in a plastic bag. Meanwhile across the street, police detectives Kelly and Spinetti meet the anxious Grace, who insists on accompanying them to Danielle’s apartment. As Emil slips away unseen with all the bloody evidence, the detectives question Danielle, who reluctantly allows them into the apartment. Frustrated by Kelly’s refusal to allow her to interrogate Danielle, Grace explores on her own and begins to suspect that there may have been another woman in the apartment. Discovering the birthday cake in the refrigerator with two names written on it, Grace eagerly brings it to Kelly only to trip, dropping and ruining the cake. After apologizing to Danielle for disturbing her, Kelly threatens to charge Grace with making false accusations, and departs. Exasperated by her inability to prove the murder, Grace is roused when, driving by a bakery, she recognizes its name from the birthday cake box. Presenting her credentials from the Panorama , Grace questions the shop attendants, Elaine and Louise, and confirms that Philip had the names “Dominique” and “Danielle” written on the cake. Later, when her attempt to pitch the story of the racist police force disregarding the murder of a black man by a white woman fails to get attention from her editor, Grace hires private detective Joseph Larch to validate her murder claim. Disguised as a window cleaner, Larch gets into Danielle’s empty apartment and smuggles out a briefcase he finds there just as Emil and Danielle return. As he departs he overhears Emil ordering a moving company to ship the pullout sofa to Canada. Presenting Grace with the briefcase, Larch then relates his conviction that the dead body must be in the sofa, because when he tried to shift it to look for clues he found it unnaturally heavy. Examining the briefcase, Grace discovers a medical file on Danielle and Dominique Blanchion. After Larch departs to follow the moving van to discover who will retrieve the sofa in Canada, Grace meets with writer Arthur McLennon, who wrote a Life magazine story the year before on the Blanchion twins. Enthused that Grace is doing a follow-up to his own piece, McLennon shows her film footage of a never-broadcast documentary on the Blanchions, Canada’s first Siamese twins. The film reveals that Danielle and Dominique were born with the base of their spinal cords fused together and were raised in the church-run Loisel Institute after their parents died in an auto accident a year after their birth. Although the sisters were physically healthy, as they reached adulthood, they gradually developed psychological problems over their unique situation. The film ends with the news that the Blanchions were to undergo a separation operation. Grace excitedly notes that Emil is one of the physicians in the footage and asks why McLennon did not do the natural follow-up article. McLennon admits that after the Blanchions’ surgery he was abruptly barred from further contact with the twins or anyone from the institute, but upon bribing a surgical nurse he learned that Dominique had died on the operating table. At home that evening, when Grace hears nothing from Larch, she resumes spying on Danielle’s apartment and later follows Danielle and Emil to an isolated clinic in the country. After watching Emil subdue the agitated Danielle with an injection, Grace is shocked to see him pull a bloodied knife wrapped in plastic from his coat. Realizing the knife is evidence of the murder, Grace slips into the building to telephone the authorities but a paranoid patient who refuses to let her use the phone confronts her. A young attendant, Yansen, intervenes but ignores Grace’s overwrought demand to contact the police. When Yansen summons Emil, he lies that Grace is a new patient admitted the previous evening. Protesting furiously, Grace is led away and given an injection. Later, with Grace in a semi-conscious state, Emil repeatedly tells her she was mistaken about witnessing a murder and since there is no body, there has been no murder. Now aware that Danielle is on the bed beside her, Grace listens as Emil explains that as a physician treating the Blanchions at the Loisel Institute, he fell in love with Danielle who grew increasingly resentful of Dominique’s constant presence. To appease Danielle, Emil gave Dominique drugs to put her to sleep while he was with Danielle. Partially reviving during Emil’s chronicle, Danielle then explains that upon learning that she was pregnant, Dominique responded violently and attacked Danielle with gardening shears, resulting in the emergency surgery, which was necessary to save their lives. In a drugged stupor during Emil and Danielle’s account, Grace hallucinates that she is Dominique and is attached to Danielle. Dreaming that Emil is about to conduct the separation operation with a huge cleaver, Grace awakens screaming in terror, forcing Emil to give her another injection. Emil then tearfully embraces Danielle, declaring that her refusal to accept Dominique’s death during the surgery has driven her into a psychosis, which causes her to assume Dominique’s personality and become violent when confronted with sexual intimacy. Reacting when Emil then kisses her, Danielle breaks away from him but when Emil demands that she admit Dominique is dead and that she murdered Philip, Danielle attacks him with a scalpel. Traumatized by watching helplessly as Emil bleeds to death, Grace becomes comatose. Some time later after Grace has partially recovered and is resting in her mother’s home, Kelly visits her to report that they have arrested Danielle for Emil’s murder, but need details of the other killing. Although Kelly apologizes for not believing her earlier report, Grace adamantly insists that since there is no body, there was never any murder, unaware that she is parroting Emil’s instructions. Despite Kelly’s coaxing, Grace staunchly refuses to admit witnessing the earlier murder. Meanwhile in Canada, Larch has tracked the sofa’s delivery to a small, desolate train station and remains to watch it in anticipation of solving the crime. +

Legend
Viewed by AFI
Partially Viewed
Offscreen Credit
Name Occurs Before Title
AFI Life Achievement Award

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