Cast & Crew
In Texas, Richard Trevelyan, a prisoner on death row convicted of wife-killing, wins an acquittal during a re-trial after one woman on the jury refuses to find him guilty. Meanwhile, stage actress Shelley Carnes is enroute to the Tumble Moon Dude Ranch for a rest cure when she learns about Trevelyan from her fellow bus passengers, many of whom believe that the once prosperous rancher bought his way to freedom. As the bus ride terminates eighty miles from the dude ranch, Shelley spends the night in a hotel owned by local ranchers J. D. and Myra Nolan. After discovering Shelley's plans to hire a car to take her to the neighboring Tumble Moon, Myra offers the use of her own. A storm develops during the drive and Shelley loses her way. When the car gets mired on an unpaved road, Shelley walks to the nearest house, where she meets a sullen Trevelyan. After revealing his identity, he allows her to spend the night on the sofa, although he is unexplainably suspicious when she mentions Myra and asks her the next morning not to reveal that she saw him. Upon arriving at the dude ranch, which is run by Liza McStringer and her teenaged brother "String," Shelley finds the ranch closed and the McStringers wary. However, while playing chess later, Shelley bonds with String, a youth suffering from weak legs and emotional problems. Liza then asks her to stay and intimates that, because she was the juror who held out for Trevelyan's acquittal, the town treats them like "lepers." Soon after, Father Paul, the local priest whose testimony helped convict Trevelyan, comes to visit and Shelley asks him privately what he witnessed. He explains that one morning he dropped by the Trevelyans' ranch and found the wife, Loraine, inside the house dead from a head wound and saw Trevelyan in a field burying something. Although Trevelyan maintained throughout the trial that he had been working all night with a sick horse, the towel he buried had Loraine's blood on it. Shelley sees Trevelyan when she goes shopping in town, but he ignores her as the townspeople shun him. Later, refusing to believe that he is a murderer, she searches for him on a borrowed horse and after finding him on a hill above Moon Canyon, offers to help him catch the real killer. Although annoyed by her presence, he helps her when she becomes frightened on a steep, narrow path, and they end up in each other's arms. However, he then orders her not to meddle and insists that she leave. At the ranch, as Shelley packs her things, Liza says that she has been good for String, who was infatuated with Loraine's beauty and troubled by her death. According to Liza, Loraine was a tramp who had an affair with J. D. before she married Trevelyan. When Shelley returns the car to the Nolans' ranch, Myra asks about Trevelyan, who was like a son to them and who they believe is hiding at the McStringer ranch. The Nolans are confused about why Trevelyan has refused to speak to them since his arrest, but Shelley can only answer that he was not at the McStringers'. At their insistence, Shelley stays with the Nolans and meets their other neighbor, Harvey Turner, a womanizing charmer with old money, who describes Loraine as a wanton and vicious woman, whose clutches he feels lucky to have escaped. One evening, Harvey tries to express his feelings for Shelley, but she admits that she does not reciprocate. Obviously disappointed, he takes her for a drive and scares her with talk about "doing things he will regret." When they arrive at his house, she runs from him, and to her relief, bumps into Trevelyan, who explains that he asked Harvey to bring her there to say goodbye. Harvey, Trevelyan explains, has offered him an engineering job, for which he will soon be leaving. After admitting that they love each other, they secretly marry the next day. However, that evening, a jealous Liza shows up at the house, claiming that she was there on the night of the murder, but that she had Trevelyan acquitted because Loraine deserved to die. After Liza leaves, Shelley, unable to shake off her anxieties, admits to Trevelyan that she is frightened of him, and runs away. Meanwhile, Liza tells String that, on the night of the murder, she found Harvey and Loraine in bed together and after Harvey left, Loraine, unaware that Liza saw him, laughed at her for loving Trevelyan, so Liza killed her. Hearing the confession, String decides that they must leave, but as he packs, Shelley shows up begging Liza to tell her if Trevelyan murdered Loraine. As Liza relives her story for Shelley, Harvey and Trevelyan show up in time to stop Liza from bashing Shelley's head, as she had Loraine's. Liza and String escape in their car, but soon crash. The next morning, Father Paul says that Liza confessed to him before she died. The vindicated Trevelyan, who had believed that J. D. killed Loraine, reunites with the Nolans, confident that he and Shelley can now live together unencumbered by the past.
Lightning Strikes Twice (1951) - Lightning Strikes Twice
New York actress Shelley Carnes (Ruth Roman) travels to a Texas dude ranch for a rest cure, and meets Richard Trevelyan (Richard Todd), whose trial on charges of murdering his wife has just ended with a hung jury. Suspicion still surrounds Trevelyan, and one of his staunchest supporters, Liza McStringer (McCambridge), who served on the jury that cleared him, implies that the wife got what she deserved. Several other characters apparently also had reason to want the wife dead. In spite of what she's learned about the murder, Shelley is drawn to Trevelyan, and their mutual attraction leads to some startling revelations.
Working at Warner Bros. in 1949, director King Vidor had turned Ayn Rand's screenplay of her right-wing polemic novel The Fountainhead into a sexy, delirious melodrama, giving it great visual panache, and exploiting the very real sexual heat between co-stars Gary Cooper and Patricia Neal. The studio was happy enough with the film to offer Vidor a contract for two additional films, and the director was satisfied enough with the experience to accept. His follow-up, Beyond the Forest (1949), Bette Davis's final film in her Warner Bros. contract, was a less felicitous experience, and both Vidor and the studio were eager to burn off the final picture in his contract, Lightning Strikes Twice.
Raymond Durgnat's and Scott Simmon's study, King Vidor, American calls Lightning Strikes Twice "Vidor's fullest attempt at film noir," and quotes Vidor as saying that the film "'turned out terribly' owing in part to casting problems, but primarily in part to his own temperamental ones," but does not go into details. Vidor himself did not discuss the film in his autobiography, or in his oral history for the Directors' Guild of America.
Perhaps the casting problems refer to Richard Todd and Ruth Roman, both of whom are rather bland and lack chemistry as the romantic leads, or to Zachary Scott, who has little to do as yet another sleazy playboy. The British Todd seems uncomfortable as a westerner, and is never particularly menacing. And those aren't the film's only issues--there are also glaring inconsistencies in the script (how did a close friend of the accused end up on the jury?). But there are two idiosyncratic and very good performances in Lightning Strikes Twice that make it compulsively watchable.
The film was Mercedes McCambridge's first screen appearance since winning a Best Supporting Actress Oscar® for her portrayal of a hard-bitten political aide in All the King's Men (1949). As Liza, she is edgy, secretive and moody. The Cosmopolitan critic wrote of her performance that she "commands your attention every second she is on the screen and makes you miss her every second she's off." The same critic also had praise for Kathryn Givney's sly portrayal of a manipulative businesswoman and close friend of Trevelyan: "Under King Vidor's searching, accurate direction, she plays, with the liveliest craftsmanship, a string-pulling matron who succeeds in bringing the various elements and moods of the mystery together."
Variety's review was generally favorable for Lightning Strikes Twice and its director. "Film has suspense and movement, along with good character development, to keep it always interesting....King Vidor overlooks no bets to keep suspense tight and the real culprit cloaked right up to the finale." Variety also liked the film's production values, saying the film "wears a realistic western dress. The physical values help carry the aim for thrills and chills." Parts of Lightning Strikes Twice were shot on location in Victorville, California on the edge of the Mojave Desert, and the scenes of the upscale Trevelyan ranch were shot at Vidor's own ranch in Paso Robles. His visual style emphasizes character, but can be flamboyant when he needs to highlight the drama.
The "temperamental" issues alluded to by Durgnat and Simmon may have to do with the nature of film noir itself, which is bleak and hopeless, in contrast to the optimism of many of Vidor's best films. Throughout his long and varied career, he maintained his fascination with the quirks of human nature. As film historian David Thomson wrote of Vidor, "No other American director of his time is more engaging or less easy to pin down...He could handle so many genres while retaining such a vibrant sense of the oddity of people."
Director: King Vidor
Producer: Henry Blanke
Screenplay: Lenore Coffee
Cinematography: Sid Hickox
Editor: Thomas Reilly
Costume Design: Leah Rhodes
Art Direction: Douglas Bacon
Music: Max Steiner
Principal Cast: Ruth Roman (Shelley Carnes), Richard Todd (Richard Trevelyan), Mercedes McCambridge (Liza McStringer), Zachary Scott (Harvey Turner), Frank Conroy (J.D. Nolan), Kathryn Givney (Myra Nolan), Rhys Williams (Father Paul), Darryl Hickman (String), Nacho Galindo (Pedro)
by Margarita Landazuri
Lightning Strikes Twice (1951) - Lightning Strikes Twice
Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004)
She was born Charlotte Mercedes McCambridge on March 16, 1916, in Joliet, Illinois. After graduation from Mundelein College in Chicago, she acted in local radio, doing everything from children's programs to soap operas. By the early '40s, she relocated to New York, where her powerful voice kept her busy as one of the top radio actresses of her day, including a stint with Orson Wells' radio dramas.
In the late '40s she appeared successfully in several Broadway productions, and this led a call from Hollywood. In her film debut, she was cast as Broderick Crawford's scheming mistress in All the King's Men (1949) and won an Oscar® for her fine performance.
Despite her strong start, McCambridge's film roles would be very sporadic over the years. Her strengths were her husky voice, square build, and forthright personae, not exactly qualities for an ingenue. Instead, McCambridge took interesting parts in some quirky movies: playing a self-righteous church leader opposite Joan Crawford in one of the cinema's great cult Westerns, Nicholas Ray's kinky Johnny Guitar (1954); a key role as Rock Hudson's sister in George Stevens' epic Giant (1956, a second Oscar® nomination), and as a gang leader in Orson Wells' magnificent noir thriller Touch of Evil (1958).
By the '60s, McCambridge's career was hampered by bouts of alcoholism, and apart for her voice work as the demon in William Friedkin's The Exorcist(1973, where the director cruelly omitted her from the credits before the Screen Actors Guild intervened and demanded that she receive proper recognition), the parts she found toward the end of her career were hardly highpoints. Some fairly forgettable films: Thieves (1977), The Concorde - Airport '79 (1979) and guest roles in some routine television shows such as Charlie's Angels and Cagney & Lacey were all she could find before quietly retiring from the screen.
It should be noted that McCambridge finished her career on a high note, when in the early '90s, Neil Simon asked her to play the role of the grandmother in Lost in Yonkers on Broadway. Her return to the New York stage proved to be a great success, and McCambridge would perform the play for a phenomenal 560 performances. They were no surviving family members at the time of her death.
by Michael T. Toole
Mercedes McCambridge (1916-2004)
The working title of the film was Branded Woman. Although a May 1946 Warner Bros. news release credits Catherine Turney with a screen treatment of the Margaret Echard novel, the extent of Turney's contribution to the final film has not been determined. Portions of the film were shot on location in Victorville, CA, according to February 1950 Hollywood Reporter news items and the Variety review. Scenes at the "Trevelyan" ranch were filmed at director King Vidor's ranch at Paso Robles, California, according to a modern source. On June 9, 1955, Kathryn Givney reprised her role in a Lux Radio Theatre production of Lightning Strikes Twice, co-starring Janet Blair and Dan O'Herlihy.