Friday, January 13, 2012

Tonight's Movie: Lightning Strikes Twice (1951)

Within the past few days I've seen 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.


Blogger panavia999 said...

I really enjoyed this movie despite it's stupidities - like the jury thing. I don't want to offer spoilers but the real killer was obvious too soon. (Because of the casting IMO.) Despite the weak red herrings provided by Zachary Scott, Darryl Hickman and the silly spider bludgeoning scene, we know who did it.
Then there is the cliff scene where Shelly bravely skirts a dangerous cliff (with a back drop that looks like Yosemite) to get to Trevelyan, but is so terrified to return that our dour hero has to rescue her. It looked like her ploy to get into a clinch with him. (A ploy which always works in movie land.)
Despite one cliché after another, it's a fun movie because of the excellent ensemble and good pacing.

11:37 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Laura,this is my first post though I religiously read your views of old films. I have to disagree about Mercedes McCambridge. I liked her in this part and she and Joan Crawford played the hell out of their roles in Johnny Guitar. As a disturbed, frustrated, obsessive woman she has no equal. I like her quite a lot. I loved Lightning Strikes Twice and think it should be better known. I really like Ruth Roman, yet the only role I think she was miscast in was her best known--Strangers on a Train. Richard Todd has the dreamiest eyes, though this is the first film I've ever seen him in. Thanks again for your great reviews!

4:38 PM  
Blogger Laura said...

Panavia, I agree, it's a fun film!

Anonymous, thank you so much for reading and for your kind words. I guess McCambridge comes down to personal taste. There are some actresses I have started out not liking who have grown on me with continued exposure but to date McCambridge isn't one of them. We both agree about enjoying LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE! I appreciate your regular visits here.

Best wishes,

10:09 PM  

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