"WAIT! YOU'VE GOT THE WRONG GUY!"

"WAIT!  YOU'VE GOT THE WRONG GUY!"

There are times when you wish you were somebody else - giving a speech, shopping for a swimsuit or receiving a dental deep cleaning are just a few of them. Reinventing yourself is rarely an option in real life, but it does happen in the movies.

Whether somebody got switched at birth, faked their own death or is wrongly accused of a crime, there is a mistaken identity film for everyone.

Here are some of my favorites:

The Big Lebowski (1998)

Based loosely on Raymond Chandler's The Big Sleep, this instant cult classic from the Coen brothers stars Jeff Bridges as a likable stoner who just wants to be reimbursed for his rug ("that rug really tied the room together") after it was fouled by two robbers who mistake him for a millionaire, also named Lebowski. Ransom demands, x-rated performance art, White Russians and lots of bowling are the outcome from the mix-up.

The House on Telegraph Hill (1951)

After her Warsaw home is destroyed and her husband killed by Nazis, concentration camp survivor Victoria Kowelska assumes the identity of her recently deceased friend, Karin, in order to live in luxury in San Francisco. A handsome American falls in love with her and they both move into a home on Telegraph Hill, along with Karin’s small son who was smuggled out of Europe early in the war. But her husband is not what he seems, either, and intrigue and danger result.

North by Northwest (1959)

I like a movie that has stolen microfilm. When advertising executive Roger Thornhill is mistakenly kidnapped by foreign spies, he is forced to drink bourbon (see video below) in order to stage a drunken, fatal car accident. When he escapes, not even his own mother believes his story. Thornhill must spend the rest of the movie getting it all straightened out, and ends up rescuing Eve, whom he met while hiding from the bad guys on a train. Or is she rescuing him? After tremendous bouts of Hitchcockian suspense, the final scene shows them snuggling in a train berth, with the train itself speeding into a tunnel.

The Wrong Man (1956)

All Manny Balestrero (Henry Fonda) wants to do is borrow some money against an insurance policy to pay for dental work needed by his wife. Instead, he is wrongly identified as an armed robber who has held up the office twice before. Not only does his wife not receive her dental work, she ends up institutionalized from the stress of the accusation and the eventual trial. A darker Hitchcock entry, based on a true story, with bravura performances that capture the nightmare of being falsely accused.

Being There (1979)

Simple, middle-aged Chance has been the gardener for a rich man his whole life, never venturing out but getting his entire worldview from TV. After the death of his benefactor, Chance borrows the deceased's expensive clothes and sets out in the world, where his random and nonsensical comments are interpreted as profoundly wise and visionary. One scene shows Chance pointing his remote control at a mugger, hoping to change his reality to something more pleasant.

The Big Clock (1948)

George Stroud (Ray Milland), as an ambitious news editor, plans to go on a long-awaited honeymoon, but instead is framed for murder by his ruthless boss (Charles Laughton) – and tries to desperately to gather evidence against the true culprit before his own team of crack crime magazine investigators catch up with him. Set in glamorous 1940s New York, this story of early modern media is told in flashback, typical of the noir style. Later remade as No Way Out, with Kevin Costner.

Laura (1944)

Laura, Gene Tierney) is a beautiful socialite found murdered in her Park Avenue apartment in this elegant, atmospheric mystery.  Detective Mark McPherson (Dana Andrews) becomes fascinated with Laura's portrait and lifestyle while investigating the men in her life - playboy fiancee Shelby Carpenter (Vincent Price) and foppish columnist Walso Lydecker (Clifton Webb). 

A Stolen Life (1946)

Demure Kate (Bette Davis) and man-hungry Pat (also Bette Davis) are identical twins on a boat ride when Pat falls overboard and is drowned. Kate assumes her identity to reclaim Bill, a lighthouse keeper Pat stole from her years before. Bette is so masterful in her portrayal of both characters that you can tell them apart even without dialogue.

Dead Ringer (1964)

An older Bette Davis plays herself as twins once again. Margaret, haughty and wealthy, and Edith, poor and downtrodden, meet up after a twenty-year estrangement at the funeral of Margaret’s insanely wealthy husband who she stole from Edith twenty years ago. Edith, desperate for money, hatches a plot to kill her sister and take over her life. There’s a great scene where Bette Davis pushes herself into a chair.

Comments

Cary Grant's initials in N by NW are R.O.T. -- a brilliant comment on Madison Avenue! Great selection of classic mistaken identity films. Like Chauncey Gardner, I like to watch...thanks!

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