The people at Warner Bros recently decided to adopt a new strategy when dealing with some of their back catalog. They would propose a printing on demand option or what they would dub the “Archive Collection”. This would allow collectors to own classics of long forgotten films and keep costs at a minimal to Warner Bros. One such movie was named Lightning Strikes Twice which came out in 1951 with Ruth Roman. Hopefully this one was a gem and not something that should be long forgotten back in the vault.
Richard Trevelyan (played by Richard Todd) has been convicted for murder of his wife. He is about to be executed when the jury becomes dead-locked and no decision can be made. He is then released where he decides to hide out at a Texas ranch where nobody can find him. Everybody is convinced that he did it and nobody seems that willing to stand by his side.
Shelley Carnes (played by Ruth Roman) is an actress who has had something of a mental breakdown and ordered by her doctor to attend a dude ranch for some relaxation. She ends up at a hotel that is owned by Myra Nolan (played by Kathryn Givney) who takes a liking to Shelley. Myra gives Shelley a car and a map (one of the worst maps I’ve ever seen) and gets her going to the dude ranch.
Somehow *sarcasm*, Shelley gets lost and ends up at a Texas ranch on a dark and rainy night. It just so happens that Richard is staying there as well and lets her sleep there for the night. She is awaken the next morning by a servant named Pedro (played by Nacho Galindo) who denies that Richard ever stayed there. She leaves with accurate directions to the Tumble Moon Dude Ranch but not before she is told goodbye by Richard (further down the road) who makes her promise to tell nobody of his presence.
Shelley finally makes it to the Tumble Moon Dude Ranch and meets up with Liza McStringer (played by Mercedes McCambridge) and her younger brother String (played by Darryl Hickman). The dude ranch is actually closed but Liza lets her stay a few days anyway. We find out that Liza in addition to owning the ranch was the juror who dead-locked the hung jury at Richard’s trial.
More information comes in about Richard and the murder of his wife. Richard says that his ex-wife was evil and others said they thought he did it. Even those who are sticking up for Richard find themselves not going through with their convictions. As this information comes in, Shelley finds herself more drawn to Richard and eventually runs off to find him. A relationship forms and the two find themselves in love. But who really killed Richard’s wife? If it was Richard, is Shelley next? And if it wasn’t Richard, who is covering up for who?
Lightning Strikes Twice is one of those thrillers that can definitely be described as old school. It’s slow and plodding and doesn’t try to dazzle you with some out of this world twist. The action is minor and it is more about storytelling than any special effects. The casting was very well done with the stand out role going to Mercedes McCambridge. Richard Todd also did a fine job of keeping a very neutral role, meaning you could never quite tell whether he was a murder or not until the final scene took place. Actually the whole cast, including a bunch of uncredited extras put together a fine performance.
The problems I have with Lightning Strikes Twice are two-fold. In the actual movie, I felt that the prominent male roles (with the exception of Richard Todd) were throw-away roles for the most part and showed little depth. Heck, Zachary Scott’s portrayal of Harvey Fortescue Turner doesn’t show up until almost the end which is a shame when the role is important to the end of the story. The same could be said with Darryl Hickman’s String character.
The second problem has more to do with the Warner Archive concept. On one hand, I think it is a great concept to bring these old films back to the hands that truly want them. That should be done with more films where the cost is very high to produce them in mass quantities. However, I received this dvd on a dvd-r, not a pressed dvd and the cover of the dvd and the case looked like something from a cheap inkjet printer. Not professional looking and I would be a little hesitant to show off in my collection.
So, I feel I’m at a crossroads with my first title from the Warner Archive. I like seeing films like this again and if you capitalize on some of the deals at WBShop.com, you can get these at decent prices. But the disc and packaging you get is less than ideal and could lead to some piracy concerns down the road for Warner. As for the movie, it’s a good look into the way movies used to be that worked more with a story and less with the special effects. In an era where remakes seem all too common, I could easily see one for this picture. Maybe then, we’ll get a professional looking package where they include the original as a much needed extra. Recommended for the film, and not so much for the presentation.