A beautiful nightclub singer (Vera Ralston) identifies her husband's (Rod Cameron) corpse -- or thinks so. Cinematography by Jack Marta (Steven Spielberg's Duel, Paul Wendkos' Angel Baby). Screenplay by Richard Sarafian (Vanishing Point).
"I'm sorry we had to meet under such circumstances."
It's a nice thing when a simple movie doesn't overplay its hand. By not trying to be better than it is or thinks of itself as something more than the sum of its parts, a film often works better and proves to be more rewarding. That isn't to say a film shouldn't try to be something grand if the time calls for it to be. But when you have a straight-shooter of a noir yarn like The Man Who Died Twice, it's nice to see that director Joe Kane let a simple pulp thriller be a simple pulp thriller. Starring Vera Ralston, Rod Cameron, and Mike Mazurki, a lean and mean thriller is upended only because its title may be a tad too descriptive for its own good.
Nightclub singer Lynn Brennon (Vera Ralston) has had a tough couple days. First her husband T.J. is killed in a mysterious car accident. Then on her way home from work she's witness to the double murders of a pair of narco agents for the police department at the hands of a shadowy figure. After suffering a nervous breakdown, it becomes apparent that Lynn knows more about her husband's illicit dealings than she's aware of when his estranged brother Bill (Rod Cameron) and a pair of drug syndicate enforcers start asking questions. When the police led by Captain Hampton (Louis Jean Heydt) and his partner Williams (Robert Anderson) start asking similar questions, Lynn suspects her husband's death wasn't an accident. With Bill in her corner as well as her friend Rak (Mike Mzaurki), Lynn must piece together the puzzle before she becomes the shadowy figure's next victim.
I honestly wish this film had a different title. While The Man Who Died Twice is the sort of dramatic sounding bit of verbiage that would sell plenty of dime paperbacks, for a film, it's not very suitable. While I won't say who the titular "Man" is, I will admit that it doesn't take you long to figure it out. It would have been nice if the powers that be that put this film together hadn't shown their hold card so quickly. That said, even with the primary mystery figured out long before it's time, I had a hell of a lot of fun with this breezy thriller.
For a B-movie Republic picture, The Man Who Died Twice manages to pull off a lot of plot and character development in a very short amount of time At a scant 70-minutes, the film gets right down and dirty with T.J.'s explosive death and then speeds right into the assassination of a pair of narcotics officers right before the eyes of a beautiful woman. Who she is, who those people are isn't explained yet. You're merely thrown onto a roller coaster right before it dives over its first big hill and loopty-loop.
Thankfully, director Joe Kane and his writer Richard C. Sarafian take a couple moments for the audience to catch their breath and get to know the characters. By the time we get to see Lynn wake up in the hospital, we're well aware that her husband had some shady dealings with people who you don't dare double-cross. We get a couple moments to get to know Rak and why he's so protective of Lynn and at the same time we learn that Bill is nothing like his estranged brother - but maybe has a darker history than he's letting on. Even the presence of some straight-laced police officers isn't enough to make you believe that there isn't something shady going on at police headquarters as well. Who do you trust when everyone appears to have some dirt on their sleeves? While the title gives some things away, the lead up to the reveal and resolution works well enough that you don't feel cheated in the least bit.
As I've gotten to do more and more reviews for these obscure B-movie film noirs, I've grown to appreciate and enjoy their no-frills stylings. They're proof positive that you can get a lot of entertainment mileage out of simple camera setups, a committed cast, and a script that doesn't overthink its plot while not treating the audience like complete simpletons. There's enough mystery going on that while the identity of the killer quickly becomes obvious, discovering the motive and method to the madness makes the price of admission worth it. Sure, it's no The Maltese Falcon, but it doesn't need to be to be entertaining. It may not be amazing, but The Man Who Died Twice is a solid flick that made for a great evening viewing on a cold November night.
Vital Disc Stats: The Blu-ray
The Man Who Died Twice arrives on Blu-ray courtesy of Kino Lorber and their Studio Classics Label. Pressed onto a Region-A BD-25 disc, the disc is housed in a standard sturdy Blu-ray case and comes with a booklet containing cover images of other Studio Classics Releases. The disc loads directly to a static image main menu featuring traditional navigation options.
For a film that may not be all that flashy or famous, The Man Who Died Twice enjoys a robust 2.35:1 1080p transfer from a new 4K Scan. For a film that's nearing 60 years, the results are particularly impressive. Facial features, costuming, and the film's production design work - in particular, the club where she sings - are all readily apparent. Faces get a lot of close-up and middle time allowing you to appreciate lines, creases, and scars. Clothing is also impressive as patterns or knitted outfits as the one seen on an older character give away terrific detailing. Film grain is apparent and nicely cinematic without being intrusive or too noisy. Black levels are spot on with some nice deep inky blacks and a strong greyscale gives the image plenty of shadow separation and appreciable depth. In all honesty, the only thing holding back my score for this transfer is a notable amount of damage in the last act. During the bulk of the film, there is only some mild speckling, but in the final moments scratches intensify and become more pronounced. Thankfully the damage is brief and doesn't impact your ability to watch the film, just holds back the score from being as close to perfect for a film of this vintage.
The Man Who Died Twice also enjoys a robust English DTS-HD MA 2.0 audio mix. Much of the mix is very front and center giving dialogue the edge. However, when the action picks up and we're given a chase sequence, some gunfire, or an explosion to enjoy - the mix really picks up nicely. On a funny note, there's a scene with a cat meowing in distress that came through so clearly that my two cats took it upon themselves to try and rescue to the poor creature. Each of my little fur balls took turns circling my television and watching the speakers for clues to the cat's location! The score offers up plenty of jazzy pop and presence while Vera Ralston's song numbers come through just fine. Levels are also spot on. Free of any hiss or artifacts, this is a solid audio mix that serves the needs of the film perfectly.
Like a number of Kino Lorber Studio Classics releases, the bonus features package assembled for The Man Who Died Twice may not be the most impressive thing, but considering the movie in question, it's still pretty good. The audio commentary featuring film historian Toby Roan is well worth listening to.
Audio Commentary featuring film historian Toby Roan.
Shield for Murder Trailer (HD 1:45)
99 River Street Trailer (HD 2:13)
He Ran All the Way Trailer (HD 2:13)
The Spiral Staircase Trailer (SD 2:00)
Cry of the City Trailer (SD 2:33)
The Man Who Died Twice may not be the greatest film noir crime thriller ever produced, but it didn't try to be. At a breezy 70 minutes, the film gets in and gets out leaving you thoroughly entertained. A smart script, skilled direction, and some solid performances from its talented cast ensures that viewers get their money's worth with this simple, no-frills thriller. Kino Lorber Studio Classics has done a terrific job bringing this film to Blu-ray. The video transfer struck from a new 4K scan is in pretty fantastic shape while the audio mix suits the needs of the film nicely. A commentary track that's worth the listen rounds out the bonus features. If you like your thrillers gritty and to the point, you should have a great time with The Man Who Died Twice. It's a good one to recommend.