Lightning Strikes Twice (1951): King Vidor’s Noirish Women’s Melodrama

King Vidor directed Lightning Strikes Twice, a well-acted “women” melodrama, with some elements of a noir crime thriller.

The poster tried to lure viewers by stating that “Ruth Roman is all woman.”

Lightning Strikes Twice
Lightning strikes twice poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

It stars Ruth Roman, who gets star billing and Richard Todd, both at the peak of their respective careers. In the same year, Roman gave a strong performance in Hitchcock’s masterpiece Strangers on a Train (also made at Warner). As for Todd, the handsome Irish-born actor, fresh off his Best Actor Oscar nomination, he had starred the previous year in Hitchcock theatrical thriller, Stage Fright.

Warner had owned the rights to the book since 1945, and Virginia Mayo was originally cast in the lead.

Once a rancher, Richard Trevelyan (Richard Todd) is on a Texas prison’s death row. However, he wins a new trial, and a complete acquittal when a lone juror holds out.

Actress Shelley Carnes (Ruth Roman) is on her way to a Texas dude ranch for a rest. Along the way, she meets ranchers J.D. (Frank Conroy) and Myra Nolan (Kathryn Givney) and  borrows their car. Lost in a storm, she encounters Trevelyan by chance.

The dude ranch is closed when Shelley gets there. Liza McStringer (Mercedes McCambridge), who runs it with a younger brother nicknamed String (Darryl Hickman), is the juror who let Trevelyan go free. As a result, she’s being shunned by neighbors and friends.

Bonding with the troubled String, Shelley is invited to stay. She learns that Loraine, the late wife of Trevelyan and murder victim, was a rather loathed wicked woman.

Shelley spends a night with the Nolans and is introduced to Harvey Turner (Zachary Scott), a neighbor who is immediately smitten by her. Harvey, too, speaks ill of the late Loraine.

When Shelley again meets Trevelyan, their mutual attraction is obvious They marry, but on their wedding day Shelley begins to suspect that Trevelyan had murdered Loraine.

It turns out, however, that Liza, jealous and wanting Trevelyan, was the one who murdered Loraine., and plans to kill Shelley, but Trevelyan and the police rescue her.

Liza and String flee, but their car takes a fatal plunge over a cliff.

In the happy ending, Shelley and Trevelyan drive off together.

Though the storyline is far-fetched storyline and characters inconsistent, Vidor still manages to make the overcooked, increasingly preposterously plotted movie consistently visually dynamic and sporadically even enjoyable.

The music score echoes passage from “La valse” by Maurice Ravel.

According to Warner records, the film earned $785,000 domestically and $359,000 internationally.

Cast

Ruth Roman as Shelley Carnes
Richard Todd as Richard Trevelyan
Mercedes McCambridge as Liza McStringer
Zachary Scott as Harvey Turner
Frank Conroy as J. D. Nolan
Kathryn Givney as Myra Nolan
Rhys Williams as Father Paul
Darryl Hickman as String
Nacho Galindo as Pedro
Joaquin Garay as Johnny López (uncredited)
Franklin Parker as Guard (uncredited)
Frank Cady as Gas Station Man (uncredited)

Credits:
Directed by King Vidor
Screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee, based on A Man Without Friends, 1940 novel by Margaret Echard
Produced by Henry Blanke
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Thomas Reilly
Music by Max Steiner
Production: Warner Bros.
Release date: March 10, 1951 (US)
Running time: 91 min.
Budget $1,108,000
Box office $1,144,000

Note:

TCM showed the movie on August 4, 2022, in a whole day paying tribute to actress Ruth Roman.