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PopEntertainment.com > Reviews > Movie Reviews > Two on a Guillotine

MOVIE REVIEWS

TWO ON A GUILLOTINE (1965)

Starring Connie Stevens, Dean Jones, Cesar Romero, Parley Baer, Virginia Gregg, Connie Gilchrist, John Hoyt, Russell Thorson, William Conrad, Billy Curtis, Richard Kiel, Jon Lormer, Joseph Mell, Del Moore and George N. Neise.

Screenplay by Henry Slesar and John Kneubuhl.

Directed by William Conrad.

Distributed by Warner Brothers Archives Collection.  107 minutes.  Not Rated.

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Two on a Guillotine 

You may be wondering how an obscure mid-1960s horror comedy such as Two on a Guillotine would make it into our movie reviews section.  After all the great majority of our reviews – probably over 95% of them – are of films which have been released to theaters in the past 10 years or so.  Periodically we will do special stories about video releases of old films, but these are usually classics along the lines of Snow White & the Seven Dwarfs, True Grit, Woodstock, Mary Poppins and The Sting. 

So why exactly are we doing a story on the limited video release of a forty-five year old film which is probably barely remembered even by its own stars?  (At least the ones who are still alive…) 

In fact, the only way that Two on a Guillotine is notable at all in Hollywood history is that it was the final film composed by legendary film musician Max Steiner, whose career spanned decades and included such classic scores as Gone with the Wind, Now Voyager, Casablanca and A Summer Place.  However, we are not picking on Two on a Guillotine for that historical footnote – in fact, Steiner’s music actually feels a bit old-fashioned and overbearing in this 60s curio – particularly in one specific (and somewhat gratuitous) part where the two main characters decide to go to a swinging 60s dance club, complete with a band and frugging go-go dancers.  In the middle of a rock and roll song, the two leads kiss and the loose skiffle beat is overwhelmed by dramatic old-fashioned strings and horns.

Also, it was directed by future Cannon and Jake and the Fatman star William Conrad and featured a tiny part by 7-foot-tall actor Richard Kiel, who went on to play the James Bond super-villain Jaws (the only Bond bad guy other than nemesis Ernst Blofeld to appear in two films in the series and Blofeld was always played by different actors in each film).  However, neither of those facts were of more than casual interest to me, either.

So why review Two on a Guillotine, then? 

I’ll be completely honest; it is a perfectly 100% subjective choice.  I have a very vague memory of loving this film as a kid growing up.  I undoubtedly saw it on Dr. Shock’s Horror Theater on channel 17 in Philadelphia as a child.  Strangely, though, I only really particularly remember two titles of horror films I particularly liked from that time period – this one and an even more obscure title called The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake. 

That said, I only had two specific memories of Two on a Guillotine.  One was a skeleton which ran down a very visible wire to scare people.  The other was that a girl had to stay over in the house of her father – a mad magician named Duquesne – in order to get her inheritance.  (To give you an idea how young I was, I literally remember learning through this movie that the name Duquesne was pronounced Doo-cane rather than Doo-kwes-knee.) 

Besides, I haven’t seen this film since puberty.  What are really the chances that it will live up to my memories?  In fact, I’ve been disheartened to find that overall when I see a film or TV show I loved as a small child I am almost inevitably disappointed by them. 

Therefore, the good news is that Two on a Guillotine actually has held up pretty well.  Sure, parts of it are completely cheesy and the special effects are laughably primitive, but I’ve got to say I kind of dug seeing the movie again – even though I didn’t remember huge chunks of it. 

Two on a Guillotine starred Connie Stevens and Dean Jones.  Stevens played the adult daughter of the mad magician – played by Cesar Romero.  The Great Duquesne’s stage show featured the magician apparently killing his wife (also played by Stevens) in different dramatic ways.  Twenty years earlier while planning a Marie Antoinette trick with a guillotine for a French tour, the wife disappeared and Duquesne retired from the stage, became a hermit in his house and sent his daughter to live with an aunt. 

When he dies, he wills everything to his daughter – on the provision that she spend seven straight nights in his house, otherwise all the money goes to his former business manager and housekeeper.  The magician also makes his last vow to return from beyond the grave as his final great trick.  She goes up to stay at the old castle – bringing along Jones as an apparently nice concerned guy who is hiding the fact that he is a reporter.  As a magician, it turns out that Duquesne booby-trapped his own home with a whole group of gags and scares.  Suddenly Stevens and Jones are hearing sounds in the night, seeing all sorts of strange things and falling in love way too quickly. 

Okay, it’s not the world’s most original storyline.  And no, it doesn’t always make sense.  Still, I really enjoyed seeing this old forgotten curio – and not just because of residual good vibes from my childhood.  (In fact, from what little information I have been able to find about The Four Skulls of Jonathan Drake, the other film I mentioned remembering loving, it sounds like it would be truly unbearable to me if I were to try to watch it today.) 

Two on a Guillotine was a bit of a formula film, but it is a quaint formula that is rarely done today.  It’s not a film that will change anybody’s life, but it is a fun and charming time capsule to a time where all you really needed to scare an audience was a skeleton on a wire.  A day when films were much more innocent than they are today.

Jay S. Jacobs

Copyright ©2010 PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 16, 2010.

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Copyright ©2010  PopEntertainment.com. All rights reserved. Posted: July 16, 2010.

 

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