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Two Before Zero (1962)

 -  Drama  -  31 October 1962 (USA)
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Basil Rathbone, Mary Murphy. This is one Rathbone fans have been looking for years. Basil is a black-robed purveyor of communism. He is periodically interrupted by the questions of a ... See full summary »


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Title: Two Before Zero (1962)

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Cast overview:
Mary Murphy


Basil Rathbone, Mary Murphy. This is one Rathbone fans have been looking for years. Basil is a black-robed purveyor of communism. He is periodically interrupted by the questions of a white-robed every woman played by Murphy. Watch for lots of disturbing historical Russian footage. A bizarre docu-drama with fantasy overtones. 16mm. Written by Anonymous

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31 October 1962 (USA)  »

Also Known As:

Russian Roulette  »

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Very Late Red Scare Propaganda
16 June 2014 | by (United States) – See all my reviews

This is in the form of a semi-acted propaganda documentary, but one that would have seemed more appropriate to the hysteria of 1952 rather than to the more mellow attitudes of 1962 - although one must recall that both Castro's Cuba and the Berlin Wall were recent occurrences at the time it was made, and that the Cuban Missile Crisis was just about to arrive. If viewed from the proper perspective - putting yourself back in time to when it was made - it could be considered a fascinating mirror of that time's political, moral and end-of-the-world concerns, which is why I've rated it a quite high 8. Certainly, as a movie, it hardly exists: There is but one semi-set, consisting of little more than a couple of platforms on which the two actors can stand, and a six-step stairway leading from the floor to Mr. Rathbone's lectern, where he makes some pretty cosmic statements about the history and nature of evil in the world, and especially about Karl Marx's and Soviet Russia's more recent contributions to our continuing bedevilment. If you happen to be a Mary Murphy fan (Mary having been Marlon Brando's leading lady in THE WILD ONE), she has never had more dialogue, more close-ups, or been more simply but fetchingly photographed than she is here, and her voice projects an extremely intelligent femininity. However, I imagine most people who pick this up will do so because of Basil Rathbone and, given the qualifications already mentioned, they will surely not be disappointed, for Mr. Rathbone has never before or since enjoyed so huge an amount of dialogue to deliver in his sepulchrally mellifluous and nasty tones as he gets to conjure with here. For a guy who was considered one of the most truly nice and friendly gentlemen in the acting profession over a long career, it's always amazed me how wonderfully he could project villainy and coldness in both his voice and aspect, even when playing non-villainous characters (need I mention which one in particular?), and how incapable he seemed to be of projecting any semblance of warmth in even his most sympathetic portrayals, despite a fabled excess of such warmth in his real life. Anyway, he's not called upon to do so here, yet almost manages it at the very end of his hour-long diatribe (which is interrupted frequently by Ms. Morris, as a kind of Everywoman on a Pedestal, to make a few comments and then ask another question which will send Mr. Rathbone off into further paroxysms of beautifully delivered, if quite purple, prose). Additionally, much of his commentary is broadcast - an appropriate description, I think, for even Mr. Rathbone's whispers could probably be heard in the highest and farthest reaches of the Metropolitan Opera House - over some of the most graphic, startling and downright horrendous newsreel footage of rotted corpses, shootings, hangings, beatings, etc. I have ever seen (and now, 52 years after this film's release - assuming it was released

  • it is still my first exposure to most of that footage). Anyway, the

whole point of the film is to be on guard against the ever-encroaching evils of communism, and that it is mainly Woman's role to be in the vanguard of this refusal to submit to The Ultimate Evil. People without a true sense of History may find much of this somewhat laughable and overwrought, but as someone who grew up in the 1940s and 1950s, I can assure them that what it covers was taken very seriously at the time. (I can still recall pulling my shirt up over my head and crawling down under my school desk in rehearsal for protecting myself as best I could against the possible nuclear explosion that might someday decimate New York City. Such thinking really went on back then, and not much of it from extremists!) So, if you can watch this film with the right mindset, not retch at some of the newsreel footage, and truly enjoy the stentorian Armageddon-inducing tones of the great Basil Rathbone, allied to the visual and vocal loveliness of Ms. Murphy, you should find this a fascinating and unique viewing experience. If not, you can just admire Ms. Murphy, dressed in a gown that seems to have been torn directly off the back of Valerie Gaunt's supplicating vampiress in THE HORROR OF Dracula (we must take our pleasures where we can find them). But I can promise you this: You won't see another film remotely like this one if you live to be 100! You may want to thank God for that small mercy, but maybe not.

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