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With: Margot Kidder, Jennifer Salt, Charles Durning, William Finley, Lisle Wilson, Barnard Hughes
Written by: Brian De Palma, Louisa Rose
Directed by: Brian De Palma
MPAA Rating: R
Running Time: 93
Date: 03/27/1973

Sisters (1973)

4 Stars (out of 4)

Double Trouble

By Jeffrey M. Anderson

The moment Brian De Palma's Sisters (1973) starts, we know we're in for it. One of Bernard Herrmann's last and greatest scores thrusts at us over images of unborn children. This is a score that stops just short of physically reaching out and shaking you by the shoulders. It's the score of a master, and it is what elevates Sisters from just another B-movie to an American classic, newly released on DVD by the Criterion Collection.

The next thing we see is a small television screen in the middle of the larger movie screen. We're watching a game show called "Peeping Toms" (no doubt a tip o' the hat to Michael Powell's 1960 film.) in which a black man (Lisle Wilson) has the opportunity to watch a blind woman undressing and the contestants must guess what he will do.

Sisters was director Brian De Palma's first venture into Hitchcock territory. He borrowed an idea from Psycho (1960), the bond between mother and son, and took it one step further, to the bond between Siamese twins. Margot Kidder brilliantly plays the twins Danielle and Dominique (with a French-Canadian accent). De Palma also borrows bits from Vertigo (1958) and Rear Window (1954), but the energy in the film is all his. De Palma is most interested in the voyeuristic nature of cinema itself--we sit in the dark and watch others in their most intimate moments without their knowledge--and loves to double up on that by making movies about voyeurs.

After a grisly murder scene, a nosy reporter (Jennifer Salt), who has seen the murder through her own window, calls a private detective (Charles Durning) to help solve the case. The detective sneaks into Danielle's apartment to find clues. The reporter watches him with binoculars through the open windows. Indeed, De Palma shows us the action through windows as often as is feasible, such as in an early scene when Danielle brings home her "Peeping Toms" co-star for a night of seduction. And, in another scene, we watch the reporter as she watches a videotape about Siamese twins.

In other words, Sisters is De Palma's masterpiece. It's the culmination of all the themes he developed over his long career. Perhaps Blow Out (1981) or Scarface (1983) are more accomplished films, but Sisters is the truest picture to De Palma's soul. Up until now, Sisters has only been available on cruddy old videotapes (I sat through it once in that format) and that has undoubtedly helped sink its reputation. Now that such a prestigious company as the Criterion Collection has released a new DVD, the movie is bound to get a second chance from film scholars.

The DVD is the best possible transfer available, using the original camera negative as its source (the film still looks a little grainy, but we're talking low-budget here). The Bernard Herrmann score is crisp and clean and sounds even more amazing now. The liner notes contain two excellent essays, one on the film itself and one by De Palma on working with the legendary Herrmann (who scored, among other things, Citizen Kane, Vertigo, and Psycho.). On the disc is the original 1966 "Life" magazine story on Siamese twins that caught De Palma's eye, a 1973 print interview with De Palma, a seemingly endless amount of production stills and paraphernalia, and optional English subtitles.

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