Two on a Guillotine (1965) - Plot Summary Poster


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  • Duke Duquesne is a very eccentric magician, and owing to his lifestyle his two-year-old daughter, Cassie, is sent away to live with an aunt. After twenty years, news of her father's death brings her back to Los Angeles to attend his funeral. The day after her arrival, she is told he left a rather odd will. It specifies that she will inherit her father's estate on the condition that she stay in his creepy palatial mansion for seven nights in a row - alone.


The synopsis below may give away important plot points.


  • TWO ON A GUILLOTINE synopsis

    Magician Duke Duquesne (Cesar Romero) is performing onstage with his wife and partner Melinda (Connie Stevens) who is tied up by her wrists on a gallows and stabbed with a sword twice. It all looks real and the audience likes it very much. The curtain closes and Duquesne takes a bow, then brings out Melinda who is shown to be in good health. But Melinda is not happy. She goes to her dressing room where she finds her young daughter Cassie, who has gotten into the makeup on the dressing table. She calls for Dolly Bast (Virginia Gregg), the child's nanny, to clean her up. Duke enters along with their press agent and manager Buzz Sheridan (Parley Baer) and wants to show him their new trick for which a new costume just arrived. Against her wishes Melinda comes with them to the stage where the cover is removed from a guillotine just constructed to Dukes specifications. The blade is hoisted above and locked and a doll is placed below. Melinda complains that it is Cassies doll but Duke tells her he will replace it in the morning. To demonstrate the guillotine, he releases the lever, but nothing happens. Buzzy slaps the side of the device, and the blade comes down, severing the dolls head. At this point the title appears. Obviously the trick needs perfecting. Duke decides that they will go have dinner and return later to practice.

    Twenty years later, newspaper headlines proclaim the death of The Great Duquesne and say he promises to return from the dead.

    Cassie Duquesne (Connie Stevens) arrives to attend her fathers funeral at the graveside. Speaking to the minister (Jon Lormer), she apologizes for her plane being late. Dolly and Buzz talk to her, but she doesnt remember them. Several reporters are curious as to who she is and ask Buzz, who confirms that she is his daughter. Just before the minister begins, Buzz calls for men to chain and padlock the coffin (which also has glass windows showing Duquesnes head). Cassie, highly offended, protests and condemns Buzz for doing this but he insists that it was Duquesnes wishes. She runs off but is followed by reporters, who ask her about her fathers claims of returning from the dead. She tells them she hasnt seen her father in twenty years and to leave her alone.

    Watching her at the graveyard was reporter Val Henderson (Dean Jones), who next is seen talking to his editor (Russell Thorson) about her. He is shown a newspaper page from twenty years ago proclaiming DUQUESNE WIFE DISAPPEARS. No one knew why Melinda left, whether it was another man or simply a desire to get away from her husband. The police tried to find her but came up with nothing. From that time on, Duquesne gave up on life. He stopped performing and holed up in his house, cared for by Dolly Bast. The shock of losing Melinda was something he never got over. Cassie's aunt took custody of her and apparently wouldn't let the child see her father.

    Val tells the editor he knows about Cassie because he drove her back to her hotel from the cemetery that day. When the editor suggests a human interest story, he says that she wouldnt be interested. He reveals that she didnt know he was a reporter when they talked.

    The will is read at the Hollywood Bowl by attorney Carl Vickers (John Hoyt) to Cassie, Buzz and Dolly. (Val is listening nearby, unseen.) The inheritance is to go to Cassie provided she is able to stay in the Duquesne mansion for seven nights alone. If she is not able to do this, the money will be divided half to Buzz and half to Dolly. As she is leaving, Val approaches asking questions and offering to drive her to the house. She politely refuses and takes a cab.

    Arriving at the house, she is unlocking the door when Val comes up, making up a story about his uncle forcing him to buy the property to build a new subdivision. Uninterested, she tells him how he and his uncle are beneath contempt, citing that her father was buried yesterday. She asks him to leave and he walks off.

    Inside, she looks around and goes to turn on a light switch, which sets in motion a skeleton on a wire that descends and scares her. Hearing her screams, Val returns to the house and enters. She shows him the skeleton and he presses the button, which resets it. He suggests that they check the rest of the house to make sure no one is there before he leaves. She agrees and they begin with the ground floor. A white rabbit is found on a desk. As they look at various paintings, he makes joking remarks which she giggles at. The go through a music room which has a piano and harp. Upstairs they find a room containing masks of Duquesne along with swords, a dividing cabinet and a disappearing cabinet which Val enters. When she looks for him, he seems to have vanished. She calls loudly for him and goes out into the hall. He emerges from an adjoining room and scares her. He tells her the cabinet opened into the other room. They go on to the next floor.

    Finding a bedroom, they enter and Cassie notices the painting over the mantle of her mother. Val agrees that she is very beautiful. She tells him that she feels odd but a sense of closeness here in her mothers room. They talk about family, and then he says he will bring up the luggage. She invites him for cold roast beef sandwiches which are in a small case. Opening up the closet door, she screams as a full-sized stand-up of her father looms forward. Val comes back and sees it.

    They talk and eat before a roaring fire until she gets tired. He goes to escort her back upstairs when they hear the sounds of a woman moaning. Next the telephone rings and when she answers there is only heavy breathing. He tells her to hang on while he traces the line. Across the room he locates a tape recorder running which is wired to speakers throughout the house. She tells him to turn it off. He says he should sleep on the couch under the circumstances. She promises to stay in bed.

    The next morning he has already found keys and looked around but there is one room at the top of the stairs for which no key can be found. He says he believes the sound of chains came from that room. Going down to the kitchen, he tells her that he has already gone out and gotten breakfast, which is ready. He notices that the cellar door is ajar, remarking that he thought he had closed it. They sit down to eat and drink coffee, when the doorbell rings. They go outside to greet the new housekeeper, an older woman named Ramona (Connie Gilchrist). Inviting her to breakfast, they tell her about the haunted house and noises coming from the cellar. When she finds the vacuum cleaner, she goes to the front hall to begin cleaning. All at once they hear her scream. She has found the skeleton and fainted. When she comes to, she sees the rabbit looking at her and screams again. Helping her up, she grabs her things and leaves, with both Val and Cassie laughing. They drive her to the bus stop.

    Val talks her into taking the day off to do something fun. They go to a carnival and ride rollercoasters, bumper cars, house of mirrors and try their hand at games of skill. Riding in a tram-car, they talk about her living in the house. He suggests they go out for a steak, wine and some soft talk.

    They end up at a nightclub where an r&b group is performing. They watch the dancers, including three go-go girls dancing in a cage. They begin to kiss passionately.

    The scene shifts to the house, where the kiss continues until they hear a woman scream from upstairs. Val runs upstairs and finds Dolly, half out of her mind. Cassie asks what frightened her and is told that she saw her father at the top of the stairs. Val goes up to check. Finding no one, he tries the room at the top of the stairs which is still locked. He asks Dolly about it and is told no one ever went in that room but Duquesne. He asks where the key is and she tells them it was buried with him in the grave at his wish. They take her downstairs. At this point the rabbit is seen climbing the stairs, stopping at the top room door. Underneath the door the light inside is shown to go out.

    Downstairs, Dolly confesses her love for Duquesne, saying after Melinda left he went mad, mourning for her every night. Once she said he saw Cassies picture in the paper and thought it was Melinda. He had Dolly write her a letter at her aunt Elizabeths who had adopted her, but the letter came back unopened. Duquesne was devastated, she said. Cassie is told that her father adored her and embraces Dolly. At this point Val takes her aside to another room and tells her they should take her to the bus station. Cassie asks why and he tells her that Dolly is making all this up and if she remains she will drive Cassie nuts. They argue and Val tells her that Dolly and Buzz have everything to gain if she is frightened away. Cassie reluctantly agrees but refuses to come when Dolly is driven to the bus stop.

    When a drunken Dolly gets to the bus stop, Val tells her that her performance was impressive. She curses him and tells him Duquesne will get him. She says she will tell Buzz who is waiting at a local bar. Val drives off.

    Back at the house, Cassie wanders into the music room and turns on the tape machine. She hears her mother singing on the recording. Suddenly she hears a noise and turns the tape off. Going to the foot of the stairs, she looks up and sees the rabbit with a box at the top of the stairs. The rabbit upsets the box, which opens and a womans head falls out and rolls down the stairs. Cassie screams and Val arrives at the house in time to rush in and comfort her. She points for him to look. He comes in and finds the head, telling her it is a likeness of her mother that they used in magic tricks. Replacing the head into the box, he holds Cassie in his arms, telling her she needs to get some rest. He takes her upstairs.

    Next morning he says he will go talk to Dolly again and also Buzz. She tells him she will garden and sunbathe. Val drives away and Cassie goes inside. At the top of the stairs she picks up the head box to find it empty.

    At the bar, Val asks for Buzz Sheridan. The bartender takes him over to where Buzz is passed out at a table. They talk, and Buzz tells him Dolly explained everything from the night before. He denies that they are conspiring against Cassie and tells Val to go talk to Dolly.

    Meanwhile at the house, Cassie is sunbathing when a man walks up and starts talking to her. She remembers him as one of the reporters from the funeral. He tells her Dolly reported that Duquesne came back from the dead. She refuses to talk. About that time Val come up and is recognized by the reporter. When Cassie finds out Val is a reporter she tells him to leave. He tells her he is in love with her. She tells him if he has any decency he will leave. She locks him out of the house. The other reporter apologizes to Val, saying he didnt know. Val tries to get Cassie to let him in to explain but she listens inside the door. Val gets in his car and drives off. Cassie comes outside to try and catch him before hes gone, but is too late.

    That night Cassie has nightmares: she is running away from her father, she sees Dolly and Buzz with horrible faces trying to scare her and then she is in the glass-lined coffin, unable to get out. Dolly is shoveling dirt on her in her grave. Suddenly she awakens, believing she heard a noise. Coming outside her bedroom, she goes to the top of the stairs. The locked room is standing open. She enters, carrying a fireplace poker. Inside the room she sees the guillotine. At one side is an oblong box with a closed lid. She approaches it and lifts the lid, looking in. Horrified, she runs downstairs and calls Val. Finally he answers and she tells him she found a headless body in the box and for him to come. Val assures her it must be one of her father's props, but promises to come immediately. Locking herself in the drawing room, Cassie awaits his arrival.

    When the clock strikes twelve, she hears a scratching noise at the door. When the noise stops, she hears another nearby. Investigating, she finds the rabbit having knocked over a metal bowl. She looks up and is horrified to see Duquesne at the top of the stairs looking at her. She screams at the top of her lungs and he comes down to face her. There is a slight struggle and then she tells him that he is really alive. She accuses him of faking his own death. She tells him if she had known he wanted her she would have come. He says he wrote her but the letter came back unopened. She tells him she never got the letter. She said that she had prayed all these years, hoping he would want her. He tells her he has always loved her and opens his arms to her. She embraces him warmly until he calls her Melinda. She backs away. At that moment Dolly shows up and remarks how he is alive. He tells Dolly that Melinda has returned to him. Both Dolly and Cassie try to tell him that this is his daughter. Dolly says Melinda is dead and that she buried her in the woods behind the house. Cassie asks how her mother died and is told by Dolly that the guillotine failed. Cassie tries to run but hits her head and falls. Duquesne picks her up and carries her upstairs.. Dolly follows and tries to stop him, but he pushes her down the stairs. Dolly tries to call the police. Duquesne carries Cassie up to the guillotine room and lays her on top of the oblong box. He picks up the dress, saying that he saved everything for her return.

    Meanwhile, Dolly is seen outside as Val drives up. She tells him that Duquesne faked his death to lure Cassie home and is trying to do the guillotine trick again. Dolly says that is how Melinda died but that Duquesne would never accept it. They get into his car and approach the house. Next we see Cassie fully dressed in her Marie Antoinette costume and placed in the guillotine. Duquesne begins speaking as if to a crowd, forgetting some of the words. Val and Dolly enter the house and run upstairs, coming into the room. Duquesne tells them to take a seat. He says for Dolly to seat the gentleman, whom he thanks for coming to see this feat. He tries to continue his speech even as Val tries twice to advance on him, held back by Dolly. Duquesne tells him if he is squeamish to close his eyes, look away or even leave the auditorium. Val stops him, grasping for words to say. He tells Duquesne that the follow spotlight is not working and the audience cant see him. Duquesne comes forward, looking up. At this point Val jumps him and a fight ensues. At one point the lever is released and the blade comes down. A head rolls into the basket. Duquesne picks up the head and begins crying. Val notices Cassies hands moving and gets her out of the machine. She attempts to comfort her father, who cradles the head, saying that he had perfected the trick. Val pulls her away as a siren is heard. Val and Cassie go downstairs where the police have arrived and are told to go to the room at the top of the stairs. The rabbit is shown one last time and suddenly disappears.

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