Lightning Strikes Twice (1951): King Vidor’s Drama, Starring Ruth Roman and Richard Todd

One of King Vidor’s lesser known (and weaker) features, Lightning Strikes Twice is starring Ruth Roman and Richard Todd, fresh off of his Best Actor Oscar nomination for “The Hasty Heart.”

Grade: B- (**1/2 out of *****)

Lightning Strikes Twice
Lightning strikes twice poster.jpg

Theatrical release poster

Todd plays Richard Trevelyan, a rancher who’s now on a Texas prison’s death row.  He wins a new trial, however, and then acquittal when a lone juror holds out.

Meanwhile, actress Shelley Carnes (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 ends up borrowing their car. Lost in a storm, she encounters Trevelyan by chance.

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

Shelley bonds with the troubled String, and she learns that Loraine, the late wife of Trevelyan and murder victim, was a wicked, loathed woman.  There is reason to believe that Loraine once had an affair with J.D.

Returning the car, Shelley spends a night with the Nolans and is introduced to Harvey Turner (Zachary Scott), a neighbor who is attracted to her. Harvey, too, speaks ill of the Loraine and describes himself as lucky to have escaped her grip

When Shelley again meets Trevelyan, the two reunite with passion–until she begins fearing for her life.

In the end, it turns out that the jealous and spiteful Liza was the one who had murdered Loraine. In a confrontation between the two femmes, Liza plan to kill Shelley.

Vidor’s helming is proficient but impersonal, perhaps due to his lack of interest in and/or affinity with the text.  The whole movie is workman’s like, a B-level studio product, which doesn’t make any demands on the audience, nor does it offer special rewards. It’s a pale film, compared with the thrilling melodrama, The Fountainhead, which Vidor made two years earlier.

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
Franklin Parker as Guard


Directed by King Vidor
Produced by Henry Blanke
Screenplay by Lenore J. Coffee, based on A Man Without Friends, the 1940 novel by Margaret Echard
Mercedes McCambridge
Music by Max Steiner
Cinematography Sidney Hickox
Edited by Thomas Reilly

Production company: Warner Bros.

Release date: March 10, 1951

Running time: 91 minutes.


TCM showed the movie on September 28, 2020.