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Two on a Guillotine (DVD Review)

5 Jul, 2010 By: Mike Clark

Available via WBshop.com’s Warner Archive
$24.95 DVD
Not rated.
Stars Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero.

For those who like horror movies where the principal characters take a break in the action to visit an amusement park and disco (showcased in Panavision, no less), this 1965 movie is for you.

Released near the end of Connie Stevens’ Warner Bros. heyday when the studio was trying to figure out what to do with its early ’60s “youth” contract players, this surprisingly diverting nonsense occupies roughly the same place in the blond actress’s filmography as the same year’s My Blood Runs Cold does in blond actor Troy Donahue’s. Except that here, you also get Cesar Romero in the middle of his ’60s campy period, sandwiched between his portrayal of the Marquis Andre de Lage in John Ford’s Donovan’s Reef and the Joker on TV’s “Batman.”

The movie begins with a mid-1940s backstage domestic squabble between famed illusionist “Duke” Duquesne (Romero) and a wife/partner played by Stevens. Shortly thereafter, the action jumps 20 years forward in time – and the first thing we notice is that Stevens somehow looks exactly the same. One can be forgiven for initially failing to pick up on the fact that the actress is now playing the daughter conceived in the stormy ‘40s union because — to this untrained eye, at least — her eyeliner and false eyelashes look just like mom’s.

But mom, turns out, is long dead — and now dad is, too. The latter’s will and testament stipulates that for Stevens to inherit his loot, she must spend (scream if you’ve heard this one before) a week in his old digs, which look spacious enough to house the entire NBA comfortably. To spice up the exercise, the joint is stocked with fake skeletons and the sometimes perilously undependable guillotine that was part of his act. Worse, Romero has claimed he will make his presence known in some fashion during the week. Because of this, an enterprising reporter (Dean Jones, looking lean enough to appear in vintage magazine ads for Van Heusen shirts) spends a lot of time in an apparently slow news week chumming up this not yet heiress — incognito. 

Artistically, the movie isn’t the stuff of shelf lives except for in one regard: You sense pretty quickly that a superior cinematographer must have photographed it. And, indeed, it was Sam Leavitt from the Judy Garland version of A Star Is Born, the original version of Cape Fear and some good lookers for Otto Preminger including Carmen Jones and Advise and Consent. He has a lot of fun here panning in and around the dark corners and recesses of a large widescreen frame and even larger house.

For a singer/actress who scored a substantial pop hit singing Sixteen Reasons in soft, almost breathy, tones, Stevens lets out with a well-motivated ‘A’-list scream late in the movie — part and parcel of an appealing performance that’s as underrated as the rest of a career that probably deserved a little better.

And though one can argue that Guillotine’s puppy-loving (really … a roller coaster ride?) waters down the horror and inflates the 107-minute running time, it’s unexpected enough to get the movie out of the predictable ‘B’-movie rut in which director William Conrad (one and the same as the portly actor) was laboring in at Warner during this period. You can see why more people than expected who saw it this lark at the time have chimed in with fond remembrances on IMDb.com.

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