a film starring Ruth Roman and another film starring Zachary Scott, so why not next watch them starring in a movie together? That title was LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE, a romantic mystery also starring Richard Todd.
The film's come-hither poster art and tag lines have absolutely no relationship to an interesting melodrama about a very nice, proper actress named Shelley (Roman) who arrives in the Arizona desert planning a restful stay at a dude ranch in order to restore her health.
Shelley quickly meets and falls in love with a mysterious, emotionally remote man, John Trevelyan (Todd), who had been convicted for murdering his wife. Trevelyan was released when the jury hung after a retrial, but the locals in the small desert town continue to view him with suspicion and disdain. Although she's initially a bit wary, Shelley can't help feeling drawn to Trevelyan, and against his better judgment Trevelyan seems equally interested in her.
As Shelley's feelings deepen, she must discover the truth about the death of Trevelyan's first wife...
The movie doesn't always quite make sense; for instance, how did neighbor Liza (Mercedes McCambridge) end up sitting on the jury for a man she knew so well? The film also had its moments with red herrings, such as a scary drive Shelley takes with charming neighbor Harvey (Scott). Most of the cast acts suspiciously at one time or another, even a gas station attendant.
Quibbles and inconsistencies aside, I really enjoyed this film and found it quite entertaining. I very much enjoyed the cast, setting, and story -- with the exception of McCambridge, whom I've always found to be a singularly tedious and unappealing actress. (What a relief when Luz fell off her horse in GIANT!) The proverbial dark and stormy night when Shelley first meets Trevelyan was a particularly effective sequence.
Kathryn Givney provides excellent support to the three leads, as Trevelyan's foster mother. The cast also includes Frank Conroy, Rhys Williams, Darryl Hickman, Frank Cady, Ned Glass, Byron Foulger, and Nacho Galindo.
1951 was a very good year for Ruth Roman, who also appeared that year in TOMORROW IS ANOTHER DAY and STRANGERS ON A TRAIN. I've been enjoying becoming acquainted with her work for the first time.
Todd is effectively dashing as sort of a tortured Mr. Rochester type in this. Scott once again excels at his own particular brand of weasely charm, leading the viewer to variously consider whether he's a good guy, a killer, or something in between.
This 91-minute film was directed by King Vidor with black and white cinematography by Sid Hickox.
The screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee was based on a novel by Margaret Echard titled A MAN WITHOUT FRIENDS.
LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE is available on DVD-R from the Warner Archive. Glenn Erickson reviewed the DVD at DVD Savant.
This film can also be seen on Turner Classic Movies.