Lightning Strikes Twice(Warner Archive, 9.1.2009)
More a melodrama than a true noir, King Vidor’s Lightning Strikes Twice (1951) has enough noir touches to maintain interest. Somewhere in the Southwest, rancher Trevelyan (Richard Todd) has been accused of murdering his wife only to be released when a jury cannot reach a verdict. Meanwhile, Shelley (Ruth Roman), a burned-out New York actress, arrives intending to rest at a dude ranch. Trevelyan is one of those charmers with whom every woman he encounters -- including neighbors Mercedes McCambridge and Kathryn Givney -- falls in love and Shelley proves to be no different.
Lightning Strikes Twice reverses the typical noir situation, with Shelley the innocent who stumbles into a web of deception and Trevelyan the homme fatale, if you will. Her uncertainties (and the viewer’s) about Trevelyan’s character supply sufficient dramatic tension, aided by a huge pile of red herrings, including Zachary Scott playing a variation of his Mildred Pierce cad.
A master of the overheated melodrama (The Fountainhead, Ruby Gentry), Vidor keeps everything rolling merrily along and gets perhaps the best performance ever from Roman. Todd, who could be a bit stiff, is appealingly suave -- in the kind of role he would repeat later that decade in Chase a Crooked Shadow -- and McCambridge offers a subdued version of the neurosis she does so well.
Cinematographer Sid Hickox (The Big Sleep, Dark Passage) is one of the masters of noir lighting, giving Lightning Strikes Twice a stylish look, whether day or night, location or set. Even the rear-projected scenes look good. The film’s best moment occurs when Shelley catches herself reflected in a mirror while staring at a moody portrait of Trevelyan and is startled by the emotion on her face. Such combinations of direction, cinematography, art direction and acting are what makes movies like this so magical. -- Michael Adams