FILM / Good Boy, Bad Boy: Hollywood has a quiet obsession with twins. John Lyttle considers the similarities

BORIS Karloff's The Black Room (1935) typifies what's expected of the good twin / bad twin, male order. If women compete to personify a deranged ideal of the feminine, then The Black Room is a primitive struggle for macho dominance. Dumas' The Man in the Iron Mask is perhaps the most naked expression of the equation. It takes the Three Musketeers to save Philippe (Louis Hayward) from conniving Louis XIV and restore the throne of France to order.

David Cronenberg's subtle Dead Ringers (1988) plays havoc with the sort of simplistic good-bad equilibrium personified by Charlton Heston's Mother Lode (1982). Orthodox notions of right and wrong evaporate as gyno twins Jeremy Irons and Jeremy Irons merge. Used to sharing everything, they have sex with the same women, including heroine Genevieve Bujold (above, centre). Bujold's disruptive presence fatally upsets the delicate stability between the two: three's a triangle. Though the original book's homosexuality has been excised, there's an echo in the fact that Beverly, the shy twin with the girl's name, humbles his stud-ish alter ego. Beverly becomes chaos: mental breakdown and murder swiftly follow.

Death, as usual, accomplishes what life cannot, reuniting the warring halves. Ying and Yang need one another. As demonstrated by the simple farmers Lewis and Benjamin Jones (Mike and Robert Gwilym) in On The Black Hill, a detailed romance of the Welsh rural that succeeds only as a life-long male-to-male love story.

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