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Remembering Actor Margot Kidder in a Favorite Film, 1973’s “Sisters”

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“Superman” (1978) via YouTube

Margot Kidder:

“I’m not choosy at all! I’ll do practically anything. I’m the biggest whore on the block. I live in a little town in Montana, and you have to drag me out of here to get to LA, so I’m not readily available. Unless it’s something sexist or cruel, I just love to work. I’ve done all sorts of things, but you just haven’t seen them because they’re often very bad and shown at 4 in the morning.”

As World of Wonder writer Trey Speegle noted earlier, we lost actor Margot Kidder on May 13. Speegle’s piece features a swell personal remembrance, and he also noted that Kidder is best known for playing Lois Lane in Superman (1978), and its sequels Superman II (1980) and Superman III (1983). She maintained a deep friendship with her Superman co-star Christopher Reeve until his death in 2004.

The smoky voiced Kidder portrayed smart, indomitable characters, while she also struggled with addiction and bipolar disorder. In 1996, she made tabloid news when she suffered a breakdown and disappeared for four days. When police finally found her battered and bruised in Glendale, she was hiding in the bushes behind a house. After Kidder recovered from that incident, she became an outspoken advocate for mental health awareness.

Aside from the Superman trilogy, here are Ten Kidder Films worth noting:

Gaily, Gaily (1969), a sweet, gentle comedy film directed by Norman Jewison,  based on the autobiographical novel by Ben Hecht (The Front Page), Kidder stars with Beau Bridges, Brian Keith, and Hume Cronyn.

Black Christmas (1974), is a Canadian horror film directed by Bob Clark, it’s a standard issue slasher flick about sorority sisters who are stalked and murdered during the holiday season by a killer hiding in their sorority house, made special by the off-kilter performances of Kidder and Andrea Martin and eye-candy Keir Dullea and John Saxon.

The Reincarnation Of Peter Proud (1975), horror American style with juicy Michael Sarrazin in the title role, along with Jennifer O’Neill (Summer Of ’42).

On The Other Hand, Death (2008), a gay-themed mystery film, the third film adaptation of a Richard Stevenson novel featuring fictional gay detective Donald Strachey. The film was screened at several LGBTQ film festivals, before going into rotation on the here! television network.

Kidder worked frequently in horror films; The Amityville Horror (1979) features Kidder and James Brolin as a real-life couple who purchase a haunted home where a mass murder had been committed the year before. It was a major commercial success, grossing over $80 million ($300 million in 2018 dollars), making it one of the highest-grossing independent films of all time.

Heartaches (1981) is a road trip comedy with Annie Potts and Robert CarradineWillie & Phil (1980) is a counterculture comedy written and directed by Paul Mazursky starring Kidder and hottie Michael Ontkean.

Pygmalion (1983) is a critically acclaimed made-for-Showtime adaptation of the George Bernard Shaw play starring and produced by Kidder with Peter O’Toole as Professor Henry Higgins.

Crime And Punishment (2002) is with Vanessa Redgrave in an adaptation of the Fyodor Dostoyevsky novel.

My favorite Kidder film is Sisters (1973), the movie that defined Brian De Palma‘s career, and where she plays twins! De Palma had been making films since the mid-1960s. His earliest movies were a series of strange, hippy comedies, but Sisters marked De Palma’s first major step in the Hitchcockian mode that would figure so strongly in his career for the rest of the 1970s and into the 1980s. It would be an oversimplification to dismiss Sisters as a just another Alfred Hitchcock homage; Sisters is stranger and much more intriguing than that. It is more like Hitchcock had died while directing a film from a screenplay by David Cronenberg, and then David Lynch took over to complete the project.

Sisters was produced by American International Pictures, the studio known for its exploitation flicks, many of them Roger Corman productions. The sickeningly sensational Sisters was influenced by De Palma watching surgeries conducted by his doctor father, and inspired by reading an article about Russian conjoined twins in Life Magazine.

Drawing directly on Hitchcock’s Rear Window and Rope, it opens with two main characters meeting on a television game show titled ”Peeping Tom”, a reference both to the great Michael Powell psychological thriller from 1960, and to the act of voyeurism, a favorite De Palma subject. It features a gripping score by Hitchcock’s long-time collaborator Bernard Herrmann, who also wrote the music for De Palma’s Obsession (1976), a reworking of themes from Hitchcock’s Vertigo.

Kidder x 2, with William Finley in “Sisters”, photo via YouTube

Mostly set on unfashionable Staten Island, Sisters features a major character stabbed to death in the first few minutes, troubled conjoined twins (Kidder), and the Hitchcockian figure of an intrepid amateur sleuth named “Grace Collier”, homage to Grace Kelly (Jennifer Salt), and a pinch of perverse psychiatry via Psycho. The succession of Hitchcock references stops just short irritating, while the use of the split-screen to show scenes from different angles and the elaborate tracking shots indicate the arrival of a new original film stylist forming his own approach.

De Palma was previously noticed for his counterculture comedies with Robert DeNiro: Greetings (1968) and Hi, Mom! (1970), so this nod to Hitchcock came out of leftfield when it was released in 1973. Sisters is a case of style surpassing substance. And what style. De Palma has a real gift for ratcheting tension, and those split-screen scenes are a wonder to behold.

Kidder absolutely shines assaying the distinct personalities of the separated French-Canadian conjoined twins, Danielle and Dominique. She had already done an earlier film opposite Gene Wilder, the spry Irish comedy Quackser Fortune Has A Cousin In The Bronx (1970) that demonstrates her versatility as an actor, but who knew she could pull this off?

Kidder dated former Canadian prime minister Pierre Trudeau (father of my boo, Justin Trudeau), De Palma, Steven Spielberg, and Richard Pryor. She was married and divorced three times: writer Thomas McGuane, the late John Heard in 1979 for only a week, and to French film director Philippe de Broca for a year in the early 1980s. Kidder became an American citizen in 2005 and was a supporter of Democratic and liberal causes throughout her career. She loved dogs, and after her marriages, she preferred the company of canines.


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