A Movie A Day: TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965) Even in death he does everything in style!
Published at: Oct. 3, 2010, 8:30 p.m. CST by quint
Ahoy, squirts! Quint here with the next installment of A Movie A Day: Halloween 2010 edition!
[For the entirety of October I will be showcasing one horror film each day. Every film is pulled from my DVD shelf or streamed via Netflix Instant and will be one I haven’t seen. Unlike my A Movie A Day or A Movie A Week columns there won’t necessarily be connectors between each film, but you’ll more than likely see patterns emerge day to day.]
Ah, Warner Archive. You’ll see a few of their titles pop up in this Halloween run of A Movie A Day. I’m a huge fan of theirs and the titles they’re putting out.
Two on a Guillotine is a movie I hadn’t even heard of before they put it out and to be honest I expected it to be a cheeseball flick since it starred Beach babe Connie Stevens and Dean Jones, best known by me for his live action Disney work like THE LOVE BUG.
And then I watched the movie.
It starts with Cesar Romero SHOVING A SWORD THROUGH CONNIE STEVENS! Bloodily! What the shit!?!
Sure, it’s a psych out, with Romero playing a famous magician with his beautiful wife (Stevens) as his assistant doing a trick on stage, but that scene sets the tone for the rest of the movie.
This film has some class, man. The black and white anamorphic photography by Sam Leavitt (CAPE FEAR, SHOCK TREATMENT, A STAR IS BORN) is flat out gorgeous and to top it off the great Max Steiner composed the score.
Two on a Guillotine is exactly the kind of find I hope to make whenever I blind buy a Warner Archive title. It’s a fun flick, better than it has any right to be and oddly charming.
Connie Stevens plays two roles, in a move that caught me by surprise. There’s a twenty year time jump from the opening scenes and Connie Stevens looked exactly the same! At first I wrote it off as starlet pride, but quickly I realized that Stevens plays both mother and daughter.
Outside of the opening we never see the mother, having disappeared at some point in young Cassie’s childhood.
Cassie returns home after years away from her family for the funeral of her father, the famous magician from the opening (Romero). He’s buried in a glass coffin, face clearly visible, that’s secured with a chain and lock, with a promise to return from the grave.
Dean Jones plays Val Henderson, a news reporter who uses his significant charm to get close to Cassie, a big story considering the fame and mystery surrounding her dead father and long-missing mother.
This is one of those “Last Will and Testament Challenge” mysteries, where a large amount of money will go to someone if they can spend 7 days in a spooky house. In this case, Cassie will gain the family fortune if she can tough it out in a spooky house. If she can’t, then it will go to her father’s long time caretaker and manager.
Naturally, the house is filled with strange goings on, but what’s the source? Greedy caretakers? The ghost of magician? Is it all in her head?
Running parallel to this main story is a romance subplot between Jones and Stevens. There’s nothing too original here. She’s unaware that he’s a reporter, he’s trying to get a story, but then falls in love and tries to hide the original intent behind the pursuit.
What elevates it is that Jones is genuinely charming and Stevens isn’t as… dare I say… annoying as I expected her to be. In fact, she has a kind of breathy Marilyn Monroe air to her that was quite cute and disarming.
Another bit of crucial casting is the location. I don’t know what the name of the house they picked is, but it’s awesome. It reminds me of pictures I’ve seen of Harlan Ellison’s house. It’s a little bit castle and a little bit mansion in the Los Angeles area.
The inside is filled with a bunch of old tricks, some just laying around (like disappearance cabinets) and some intentionally there to fuck with people. My favorite example is a light switch in a big room that, when pushed, triggers a deformed (and incredibly realistic looking) skeleton to fly on a wire down on the unsuspecting button-pusher.
That’s the kind of shit I’d do if I had crazy money… like lottery money. Hidden doors, secret passageways, fucked up skeletons flying out of hidden compartments… the works. It’s probably best I don’t have that kind of money now that I think about it. But who wouldn’t want a house filled with animatronics and gags?
The creepy never gets really creepy, but producer/director William Conrad (yeah, the fat man from Jake & The Fatman) made me care about Stevens and Jones, so I was interested to see how the story would turn out.
It’s an interesting mystery that always dances hand in hand with a supernatural explanation, but never quite crosses that line. It’s a little bit of a Scooby-Doo episode, to be fair, but I loved seeing Jones find the source of heavy breathing that seemed to come from the very house itself (hi-fi stereo) and stuff like that.
The reveal is pretty obvious for any movie fan after a certain point, but it’s still fun.
Final Thoughts: Beautiful black and white photography, likable characters and a solid, if bizarre Max Steiner score (I mean, he has a recurring theme for a little bunny rabbit that lives at the house that pops up in the oddest moments) add up to a movie that shouldn’t be as obscure as it is. Give it a shot if this sounds like your type of thing. The Warner Archive disc is remastered and as beautiful a transfer as you’d expect from a big title release.
Currently in print on DVD: YES Currently available on Netflix Instant: NO
Here are the next week’s worth of AMAD titles:
Monday, October 4th: TENTACLES (1977)
Tuesday, October 5th: BAD RONALD (1974)
Wednesday, October 6th: THE ENTITY (1983)
Thursday, October 7th: DOCTOR X (1932)
Friday, October 8th: THE RETURN OF DOCTOR X (1939)
Saturday, October 9th: THE TENANT (1976)
Sunday, October 10th: MAN IN THE ATTIC (1953)
See ya’ tomorrow for the Jaws rip-off TENTACLES, a film I’ve been meaning to see for quite a while. Great poster art for the flick. So good, in fact, that I’m sure the movie can’t possibly live up to it. But it’s gotta be somewhat fun, yeah?
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