Feb 25, 2020
On Blu-ray: Connie Stevens and Dean Jones in Two on a Guillotine (1965)
I didn’t get what I expected when I watched the new Warner Archive Blu-ray of Two on a Guillotine. With the cover gruesomely displaying a disembodied head and a drop of blood dripping of the title, I anticipated a Grand Guignol-style chiller. It turns out this wasn’t to be, but I enjoyed the lighter, more William Castle-style film that it actually is.
Connie Stevens stars as Cassie Duquesne the daughter of a famous magician (played with gusto by Cesar Romero), who gave her up when she was barely out of babyhood because of his grief over the disappearance of his wife (also played by Stevens in flashbacks), who was a part of his magic act. Raised by an aunt, Cassie hasn’t heard from her father for years when she receives notice of his funeral. When she shows up at the services, those who knew her parents are stunned to see she is a dead ringer for her mother.
Cassie’s father has left a bizarre will. His house has been willed to her, but in order to get it she must stay there for seven nights. Apparently Papa has a plan to come back to her from the dead. When reporter Val Henderson (Dean Jones) hears about this unusual arrangement, he smells a great story and begins to cozy up to Cassie. Of course his ambition falters when he begins to fall in love with the charming heiress.
While there are fun chills and twisted situations to be found in Two on a Guillotine, for the most part it focuses on Cassie and Val’s relationship. There’s even an extended sequence where the pair frolic in an amusement park (director William Conrad makes a cameo appearance next to a funhouse mirror). They’re an engaging pair and much of the appeal of the movie is due to their chemistry.
The baby-voiced Stevens hasn’t won much respect for her acting chops over the years, but here she demonstrates considerable skill and reserve. While there are ample opportunities for her to become the hysterical damsel in distress, she shows great restraint in scenes of suspense and is genuine and charming in her lighter scenes with Jones. Jones is equally appealing, showing range outside of his more famous Disney live-action roles.
After tackling several television episodes, director William Conrad (most famous as a television actor in later years and as a perfect criminal heavy in films noir of earlier decades) made this film as part of a deal to produce and direct moderate budget thrillers for Warner Bros. Here the cost-cutting involved using the already existing mansion set for My Fair Lady (1964) as the haunting Duquesne abode. Conrad would helm the also entertaining My Blood Runs Cold and the underrated Brainstorm the same year.
Ultimately, Two on a Guillotine is one of those movies where you’ll have a good time if you don’t ask too many questions. Trying to envision the logistics it would require to pull off the situation it proposes is baffling. It’s even a bit disturbing that an adorable white magician’s rabbit has the run of a mansion and no one ever thinks to feed it or look where they are walking. However, if you let yourself fall in love with the leads and trust the plot to unroll its own reality, it’s a lot of fun.
Many thanks to Warner Archive for providing a copy of the film for review. To order, visit The Warner Archive Collection.