A judge is having trouble deciding on a verdict for the murder case he is presiding over. His problem is this: although it looks like a simple cold-blooded killing, the perpetrator is Vivian Hamilton (Violet Hilton) who happens to be a Siamese twin, joined at the hip to her sister, Dorothy (Daisy Hilton). We are privy to their testimony as they explain how they got into this situation; they were singers performing in vaudeville and a marriage stunt was dreamt up by their manager (Allen Jenkins) to bring publicity to their act. Dorothy's husband-to-be was Andre (Mario Laval), who had a pistol and rifle shooting act, and he saw the marriage as a way of getting to the top of the bill, but things got complicated when Dorothy actually fell in love with him...
Written by Nat Tanchuck, Chained for Life is an odd item of fifties exploitation which starred two real-life conjoined twins, Daisy and Violet, and drew on their experiences with their disability. The murder plot was, you'll be relieved to know, invented by the screenwriter, and the twins had made an appearance on the big screen two decades before, in director Tod Browning's notorious Freaks, another film that they were only cast in because of their distinctive medical condition. Here, as stars of the show, they get to do a little more acting - and singing too, just to include part of their act to pad out the already short running time.
Ah yes, those musical numbers. The sisters get to perform two songs onstage, and their voices are pleasant enough, better than their thespian skills at least, but the other musical interludes are introduced with all the subtlety of a crowbar. We hear an accordion player presenting his extremely fast versions of popular classics, a piano player at a restaurant holds up the action by belting out a ballad, and Andre even phones up Dorothy to serenade her with his guitar down the line. In fact, other vaudeville acts make up quite a portion of the film, with a juggler (quite impressive the way he juggles with a piece of a broken plate) and a trick cyclist (marvel at his tiny bicycle) also appearing.
Then there's the two-timing Andre's pistol routine, where he shoots at small targets, uses a mirror or, erm, plays the organ with bullets. He's not alone in this act, no, he has a glamorous assistant Renée to help, and it's she he is really in love with, not poor old Dorothy. Yet Dot allows herself to believe there's more to the arrangement than publicity, and starts to wish she wasn't attached to Vivian at all. This is where the problems of the real life twins are addressed, with Andre being accused of potential bigamy, and the ladies visiting a doctor to see if they could be separated. Alas, it's not to be, and Vivian puts them both in jeopardy when she pulls the trigger on Andre and the death sentence hangs over their heads.
As a social document, Chained for Life is poor. Dorothy's desire to be free of her sister is illustrated by a ridiculous dream sequence featuring a Daisy double leaving her twin behind to gambol in a garden - closeups are achieved by having Violet hidden by a tree, which nowadays can't help but make you think of the Farrelly brothers' comedy Stuck on You. When the defence informs the judge that the twins can't fairly be put to death or incarcerated, he invites you to take pity on them (saying they're described as "monstrosities"), and you will feel sorry for the Hiltons' real life situation, but mostly the film makes you think, "Why did the sisters have to include details of all the acts in their testimony?" Amateurish and coy for the most part, the movie is also inconclusive: you don't even get a proper ending. And despite supposedly being sympathetic to the twins, this is essentially an old-fashioned freak show. Music by Henry Vars.