Lightning Strikes Twice, 1951. 6/10

This was entertaining, but could’ve been a lot better. As plenty of reviewers have said, the plot doesn’t add up: Liza (Mercedes McCambridge) magical appearance on Richard’s (Richard Todd’s) jury, and Shelley (Ruth Roman) falling in love with Richard as though he were the last man on Earth make Texas-sized loopholes. Most of the performances are quite good, the atmosphere has a rustic-noir cast to it, and there’s a consistent tone.

Particularly interesting is Zachary Scott’s Henry, a sort of playboy foil to the stoic Richard. Liza caught him messing with Lorraine, the murdered wife in question. It might’ve been fun to have more of Henry; maybe establish him as a serious rival for Shelley. She’s a sort of substitute for Lorraine; tossed into the thick of the plot for no apparent reason. Everyone has an angle on her. It would make more sense if she were a returning local, and had some unfinished business there, but no. She becomes a ‘detective’ for Richard’s foster parents; but what’s the point? Richard’s been acquitted. Like the romance, the ‘investigation’ lacks credibility. Nothing’s at stake for Shelley, she’s on vacation. That she makes herself relevant by falling in love with Richard is merely convenient for the plot.

There ought to be a nefarious reason to use Shelley; if she had been from the town she might be usefully framed for Lorraine’s murder. Actually, the murder mystery is pretty good as is. There’s enough suspects, and Richard’s enigmatic behavior hardly lets him off the hook. In fact, the tarantula-in-the-bed looks like a ploy for a psychopathic Richard if his intent to kill Shelley backfires. At that point, he acts like a murderer. Since Liza has been chewing things up for most of the movie, it’s not surprising that she’s involved. The denouement works well. It makes us focus, as at first Henry is implicated, then, quickly Liza gives up the whole deal. Liza’s nicely twisted sense of jealous loyalty shakes its rage on Lorraine, who makes Richard look bad, thanks to Liza catching Henry with her.

But, doesn’t Lorraine’s infidelity give Liza an opening with Richard? I guess that would be too simple. In any case, a happy ending is is store. Despite both Richard and Shelley creating sympathy, they really haven’t got any more chemistry going on than high school lab partners. As a whole, though, Lightning Strikes Twice does get some things right. Shelley’s approach to the house on that first rainy night has Richard’s wonderfully creepy reflection appear behind her in the window. Plus, it’s not really his house, the dude ranch is not really open, and Richard, as a foster child, is something of a stranger-in-a-strange-land. The priest’s flashback gives us a good set-up of the murder scene.

Unfortunately, the Hispanic characters mostly function as useful ornaments, barely even two-dimensional. For example, Pedro’s daughter is introduced at the wedding reception, but she does nothing other than look cute. She could’ve been woven into the plot; maybe there’s another angle in the mystery for one of the ranch hands…in any case, Tumble Moon is an excellent name. Some desolate, but romantic place with a bit of whimsy. Sort of a borderland between film noir and a romance novel. 6/10.

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