Two Living, One Dead (1961)

 |  Drama  |  1964 (USA)
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Three Post Office employees are at work when the facility is held up. The robber kills the supervisor and knocks out another employee. The third one offers no resistance and survives ... See full summary »


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Cast overview, first billed only:
Helen Berger
Erik Berger
Alf Kjellin ...
Dorothy Alison ...
Esther Kester
Noel Willman ...
Pauline Jameson ...
Miss Larsen
Isa Quensel ...
Miss Larousse
John Kester
Derek Francis ...
Nils Lindwall
Marianne Nielsen ...
Miss Lind
Peter Bathurst ...
Georg Skarstedt ...


Three Post Office employees are at work when the facility is held up. The robber kills the supervisor and knocks out another employee. The third one offers no resistance and survives unscathed. Afterwards he begins to wonder if his refusal to resist was a prudent move to preserve his family, or an act of cowardice, as many in the town believe. The resulting conflict begins to tear apart his family. Written by

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Release Date:

1964 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Asalto a mano armada  »

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Remake of To levende og en død (1937) See more »

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User Reviews

Family values: who can celebrate an observer over a dead hero?
11 July 2006 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

Fans of "Danger Man" will be surprised to see McGoohan playing a man so passive in the face of danger, but this film buttresses many of the values that McGoohan insisted upon for the character of John Drake, the spy who abhorred violence. Not only does his character Eric forego a violent response to the robbery; he spends the rest of the film demonstrating the futility of reflexive violence. Eric's friend John Kester died because he reacted violently to the thieves. Had Eric resisted, he too would have died. And the robbery would still have been successful. As Eric concludes, "It's stupid to risk your life for a few thousand kroner, especially when you have a wife and a child....I wish to God Kester had been an observer too."

The film does a nice job of depicting the price Eric and John's families pay for the robbery. The opening scenes set up the two parallel families: mothers happily serving breakfast, fathers good-naturedly walking their sons to school, sons happy and secure. That tranquility is forever lost to the Kester family with John's death. Kester's wife has no illusions about what she has lost; her son will grow up to conclude that his father was a good man, but she will always wish that he had chosen, like Eric, to be an observer so that he could return to his family.

Eric's family suffers in other ways. His wife Helen comes to wonder if he couldn't have done something to prevent the robbery; he comes to doubt himself and her; and their son Rolf is bullied by his schoolmates. From the beginning Rolf seeks to protect his parents. On the night of the robbery, he accedes to Eric's plea that they be careful not to upset Rolf's mother; later, once his schoolmates have made his life horrendous because of their scorn for his presumably cowardly father, he desperately tries to keep his father from discovering his misery. It takes Rolf's school teacher to point out the obvious: Rolf is as stubbornly protective of his father as his father is of Rolf and Helen. No matter how abused, Rolf and Eric stay true to themselves. The psychic price of this behavior, however, is high.

About 2/3 into the film, the viewer will be wondering whether this stoic persistence is worth it. Eric and Helen Berger have become strangers to one another, and neither can comfort Rolf. Perhaps, the viewer thinks, it might have been better if Eric had been killed--at least his memory would be honored and loved, and his marriage would never have known the doubt and alienation that has come to plague Eric and Helen.

The convenient deus ex machina of having Eric form a close tie to one of the robbers allows the film to resolve both the emotional and the philosophical issues at debate. After the thief insists that he would have shot Eric had Eric resisted the robbery, the question of the utility of violence is settled neatly. And because the thief also reveals that Andersson, the Post Office hero, did not in fact offer brave resistance, Eric can put aside the myth of successful violence. Confronting Andersson after hours and showing him up as a blowhard frees Eric to reassert his own self esteem and reclaim communion with his wife.

The ending (especially given McGoohan's famous reluctance to play love scenes) is quite touching, as indeed, is the entire film. The pain and loss that explode in the lives of the Berger and Kester families feels just as shocking to the viewer as it is to the on-screen protagonists. This film depicts their suffering with great sensitivity, and it's hard to begrudge the convenient dramatical device of the compassionate thief. The Bergers deserve some happiness after their ordeal, and a cautionary tale about the illusory appeal of violence is as instructive in 2006 as in 1961.

6 of 6 people found this review helpful.  Was this review helpful to you?

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