Actress Shelley Carnes (Ruth Roman), is looking forward to an exciting vacation at a dude ranch, but she gets more than she bargained for, including a perhaps murderous new husband. Only by sheer luck has Richard Trevelyan (Richard Todd), her new husband, escaped execution for murdering his first wife Loraine. In a second trial, a single juror held out, causing him to be released. A local priest, Father Paul (Rhys Williams), and other eyewitnesses paint a deadly picture to the future bride but the actual murder was not witnessed and somehow, unbelievably, love wins out. Because of local expectation, Shelley ends up at a competing dude ranch run by J.D. (Frank Conroy) and Myra Nolan (Kathryn Givney). The picture of Richard over their fireplace suggests a close relationship. They loan Shelley their car and direct her to go to Trevelyan's ranch. En route, she meets Trevelyan on horseback, a handsome, but damaged, and mysterious young man. Upon arrival at the ranch she finds out the dude ...Written by
Melodramatic and moody mystery with poorly motivated characters...
You know something's wrong with a film when you keep asking yourself, in the middle of plot complications, where is Zachary Scott? He's given fourth billing in the screen credits but doesn't appear until the first hour is over. And after watching the film, it's clear that he would have been a better choice than Richard Todd to play the man suspected of killing his wife, rather than the playboy cad he always played.
Richard Todd almost sleepwalks his way through his miscast role as a newly released jailbird exonerated of being guilty, except when staring intensely at Ruth Roman. Poor Ruth Roman has a heck of a time trying to decide which side to take in the stories she's heard about a man suspected of killing his wife. She meets that man (Richard Todd) on a dark and stormy night and from that moment on it's anyone's guess as to whom the real culprit is.
Is he going to tell her what really happened to his murdered wife or is he staying mum to hide the truth or shield someone else? All of it is pretty contrived, asking us to believe that people behave in ways that defy common sense. Roman's character accepts Todd's innocence long before she has any right to do so, and the Mercedes McCambridge character is never given enough depth to suddenly change and revert to someone else for the final showdown.
Everyone acts with their face toward the camera rather than facing each other whenever there's a moment of confrontation or even an intimate chat taking place. It's a cinema device encouraging the viewer to notice the subtle changes of expression on the faces, to better illustrate what their feelings and inner thoughts are. Unfortunately, it comes across as making the acting seem ludicrously over-the-top--no subtlety at all.
Ruth Roman and Mercedes McCambridge, more than anyone else in the cast, uses this emoting device throughout. This seems to be a trademark of '50s acting--or at least it is under King Vidor's direction.
Despite its faults, LIGHTNING STRIKES TWICE remains watchable and taut as it winds its way toward a twisted resolution. Just don't expect too much, but it will keep you intrigued.
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