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Unique film poses the question "How do you punish the guilty without violating the rights of the innocent?" A Siamese twin is charged with murder. In flashback style, the facts leading up to the murder, and subsequent trial are presented. the case is presented before only a judge. No jury is involved. He alone must decide how to punish only the guilty sister, without violating the innocent sister's rights. How will he decide? How would you decide? Definitely low budget, but worth viewing as an oddity. Definitely at the top of the list as far as Siamese twin murder mystery films go! Film will also hold the interest of vaudeville / circus side show fans.
"Chained for Life" is the story of two Siamese twin sisters, who at
this point appear to be in their late 40s, as one sister falls in love.
The film stars real life Siamese twins Daisy and Violet Hilton. The
twins are connected at the lower back, and are able to function as
normal people except that they are connected. It makes one wonder that
if they were to have been alive today, would they have been able to be
separated? The sisters made a living as vaudeville singers, not actors,
and the best parts of this film are the musical numbers, both sisters
had beautiful voices. When the sisters act, well lets just say its very
fake and stilted.
The plot is simple, as a publicity stunt a trick shooter in the same vaudeville show as the sisters decides to marry one of the sisters, only to divorce her the next day. As revenge the other sister shoots to death her ex in law, and the film is told in flash back as a courtroom trial.
It is an interesting question posed to the audience, and one that I wonder how it would be answered in real life. If one conjoined Siamese twin commits murder, a crime punishable by death, the other sister will die too, meaning the state is committing murder. An interesting questions, and one that the audience is asked to answer. Sadly, its one answer I don't have.
The film is not quite exploitation, as the sisters are not exploited as freaks. This film is in the public domain and is available on VHS and DVD.
Director Harry L. Fraser, who gave us the unforgettable "I Accuse My
Parents," went over the top with Hollywood's first (and, I suspect, lone)
drama of the travails of two women who truly were, both in the film and in
real life, inseparable.
Teen actresses and major merchandising mavens Ashley and Mary-Kate Olsen have been described as joined at the hip. That was the reality for former vaudevillians Violet and Daisy Hilton, the Siamese twins starring in this crime film. Violet is Vivian and Daisy is Dorothy, not that it matters much.
The twins, a bit long in the tooth when the movie was made, reprise their old hoofer routine in a show that includes a master marksman and his gal, a beautiful on-stage assistant. Having Vivian get married is a publicity idea which she accepts enthusiastically, her close sibling less so. But she comes around hoping for her sister's connubial joy. The intended groom is the show's Dead Eye Dick. His motive: money to go through with the wedding.
Complications arise including the refusal of a number of states to issue marriage licenses on the tenuous, indeed unsustainable, grounds that a marriage by one of the twins would constitute bigamy. Nonsense. In fact Siamese twins in the nineteenth century, never mind later, got married in the U.S. Vivian is jilted on her wedding night so we don't get to see any conjugal maneuvering (not that we would have seen much in a 1951 feature).
Vivian and Dorothy watch the marksman do his act and Dorothy casually shoots the guy dead. The film begins with a judge asking, from his desk, for help from moviegoers in deciding whether to find the homicidal woman guilty, the sentence then either requiring that the other also be executed or, if a lesser charge was sustained, both would go to the slammer. I imagine conversations going on long into the night by folks who viewed the film and couldn't stop talking about the jurist's dilemma. This is a film with a question about justice-unfortunately it's too arcane for any serious discussion.
Court scenes alternate with recounting of the tale. The courtroom is as fake as the plot. And the Alpha Video DVD cover's posters from the original release promise licentious tidbits that never come close to surfacing. "Joined Together How Can They Make Love?" "What Happens in Their Intimate Moments?" That's what I wanted to know and why I forked out $4.99 for the disc. Phooey.
4/10 (for its curiosity value)
Remember the old brain teaser, where someone is on trial for murder, and the judge states that though the party is clearly guilty, he is forced to set him free, and it turns out that the guilty person is a Siamese twin?? Well, someone decided to base an entire feature film around that brain teaser. "Chained for Life" stars the Hilton sisters; real life Siamese twins from the vaudeville era who play (guess what) Siamese twin vaudeville stars (vaudeville, by the way, was pretty much a dead issue by the time this film was made), one of whom gets involved with a gigolo who abandons her on her wedding night, and the terrible retributions that follow. The Hilton sisters seem to be quite competent singers (though somebody should pick out better songs for them to sing), but don't quite cut it as actresses. When one has dialogue, the other completely goes blank, as if she were somewhere else. Most of the film, though, is padded out with other corny vaudeville acts who add nothing to the story, but help bring the movie to feature length rather than being a short subject. And there's a dream sequence that's not to be believed. All in all, for exploitation completeists only.
One has to really feel sorry for the Hilton sisters. Fine vaudeville
singers, they were screwed over throughout their whole lives due to the
that they were conjoined (siamese) twins. It should be fitting then, that
they took the lead roles in this film, based on their lives.
CHAINED FOR LIFE tells the story (typical of the time, in "flashback") of Vivian and Dorothy Hamilton (couldn't they be a little less obvious with the names?), conjoined twins who sing in a vaudeville show, but are humiliated by their manager through a publicity marriage stunt that goes horribly wrong when one of the twins genuinely falls in love with the "husband" Andre, only to have her heart broken when he takes the pay advance promised him for the stunt, reveals he never loved her, and annuls the marriage to marry his "normal" lover. The other twin, who never liked him anyway, avenges her sister's sorrow by shooting him during one of his final presentations with his own pistol (he was the show's trick shooter). A single judge in court has to hear the case and decide the fate of both twins, the guilty and the innocent.
Sounds interesting right? I thought so too, unfortunately this film totally ditches the court-room aspect which pulled me in, focusing instead on the re-telling of the plight of the heartbreak and the marriage stunt. In retrospect, this was probably a good thing, because the film is boring, and limiting it to the court room would be the only thing that could make the film even worse. The acting is totally dry, and, although the film attempts to address the morality of the situation and has some interesting/thoughtful quotes in monologues towards the end, the script is humdrum, exactly the same as all the other dull, low-budget '50s "thrillers", only with conjoined twins!
One can't really blame the Hilton sisters though. They deliver the goods in several musical sequences in the film, which have no purpose whatsoever other than to show us that, though bad actors, the Hilton sisters are great singers; this is really the only reason to watch the film, to see the "amazing singing siamese twins". Really, it's sad that this film and FREAKS were the only way the Hiltons could be preserved, since neither film shows their true potential, as prejudice against them had ensured that they would never get a proper recording or film contract. This is why the film itself is ironic, since its only appeal to the audience is to gawk at the siamese twins (save for those short times when we are swept up in song and hear the voices, ignoring the bodies they came from) and its overlying message is about how they have suffered throughout their lives and how this gawking and exploitation is wrong.
If you want a story about gripping law drama, this isn't the place to go,
but then I suspected that before I obtained the film. Chained for Life
isn't Judging Amy, the Practice, Ally McBeal or Law & Order (thank
if you ask me). It's pure grade B, with dead performances from Daisy and
Violet Hilton, yet seems better than what I expected; filmed better and
interesting dialogue at times (the blind doctor the twins went to see
a separation). They sang better than I do and I was a single
Today's vaudeville is a webcam on the internet.
And the music organ being played with a gun then stopping on one note was
pure Hitchcock ( a master, yes, but at times, he stretched it
The dream essentially summed up the movie: seeing how these conjoined
lived and loved and contemplated being separated. They had a similar
offering in Freaks, where one is engaged, yet the other one is always
present. Both the dream and the doctor pretty well cover any curiosity
about how they may have lived with their situation in real life.
If not for the completely and utterly disappointing ending which took place in less than five minutes and did not involve the sisters, the film might have held up better. Don't go looking for tense courtroom drama. It's not here. Want to see how someone copes with a physical challenge? This would be one to think about.
Chained For Life (1951)
** 1/2 (out of 4)
The Hilton Sisters of FREAKS fame were brought back to the screen in this, at the time, controversial film that tries to take a closer look at their lives. The two sisters are part of a theater group and to make money their manager sets up a marriage. When the man hurts one of the sisters the other kills him and it's up to a judge to see how this should be handled. Unlike FREAKS, this caught me off guard because it wasn't simply an exploitation film, which is what I was expecting. The film shows the personally lives of these Siamese twins and it's all rather interesting. I think it would have been better had the film not started in the courtroom and then replayed the events as they happened. Either way, those fans of the Browning film should certainly check this one out.
If you've missed "Chained for Life," you haven't missed much. Based
loosely (very loosely) on Siamese twins Daisy and Violent Hilton's
lives, Chained For Life is low melodrama at its lamest. The starring
ladies did, however, sing very sweetly, and their musical performances
are worth sitting through the rest of the movie.
The movie opens with a judge begging the audience for help in resolving a terrible dilemma. The action moves to a courtroom, where conjoined twin Vivian Hamilton is on trial for the shooting death of her sister Dorothy's two-timing husband. The story unfolds in flashback as various characters are called to testify about how a publicity stunt turned to cruel heartbreak and eventually murder.
With a premise close to the sisters' real-life romances, "Chained for Life" could have been compelling drama in the hands of competent writers, a competent cast, and a director capable of pulling adequate performances out of Daily and Violet. We're left with a pure exploitation film, memorable only for its novelty.
*** This review may contain spoilers ***
More of an exploitation movie using the Siamese twins Violet and Daisy Hilton. The sisters have a vaudeville act that needs some more promotion by their 'no shame' manager Ted Hinkley(Allen Jenkins). He has a shame marriage arranged between one of the sisters and a playboy magician(Mario Laval). The two timing husband is shot and his sister-in-law is tried for murder. It was hard enough to get a marriage license due to regulatory laws and now it is a moral dilemma to punish one sister for the other's crime. Supposedly based loosely on the actual career of the Hilton sisters, who were born joined at the hip. Others in this melodrama: Patricia Wright, Alan Keys, Edna Holland and Norval Mitchell.
The plot has been repeated elsewhere and so on to the film itself.
The cast is rather good, the only exception being the Hilton sisters' own wooden delivery. Still, if you can ignore that, you get a very interesting "moral issue" over which to ponder and, lest your humanity threaten to plunge you into the depths of despair over the poor darlings' conundrum, the film is sprinkled with numerous vaudeville acts which do not fail to entertain.
The movie presents a special treat to those fans of the Hilton twins who fell in love with them in "Freaks". The scenes on stage are part of the girls' real act, giving us what is perhaps the only glimpse we'll ever get into their real lives. Why has there only been a Broadway play based on them and no real biography yet? Someone out there must have the love and resources to make sure they are forever remembered fondly.
I felt a slight pinch of sadness thinking of Daisy and Violet Hilton, now in their early forties, playing roles that are essentially cruel jokes on their real lives. At one point Daisy's character ponders what they could possibly be missing that they do not have already (in allusion to Daisy taking the sham marriage seriously). As she puts it, "We have reached the top in show business." Quite stinging, considering their deformity ensured they'd never get past the vaudeville circuit. And, although Daisy's answer to that original question is part of a contrived script and delivered with all the emotion of a doorknob, I couldn't help but whisper a silent "god damn" to myself when she responds: "Happiness."
Ah, well. In the end, these were two brave, wonderful little ladies who deserve to be properly remembered and admired, not pitied. Hopefully one day they will receive their own tiny place in Americana as more than early 20th century cinematic oddities. In the meantime, even an exploitation piece such as this was not enough to obscure their charm, and it shows through every line of stilted dialog they deliver.
It's been said the ending is disappointing. I believe it to be a typical device (or gimmick, for the cynics among us) of movies of this period, but the question is: how else *could* they have ended it?
Enjoy the film. It has been given a bare bones release by Alpha Video and can be found on Amazon as well as oldies.com for a very low price.
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