Thursday, October 11, 2012

Then Man with One Dies!

Man With Two Lives (Monogram, 1942)

Before the Camera:

Edward Norris (I Was a Communist for the FBI)
Marlo Dwyer (Follow Me Quietly)
Edward Keane (Captain America - the serial!)
Hugh Sothern (Captain America - the serial!)
Eleanor Lawson (You'll Find Out)
Frederick Burton (The Saint in New York)
Kenne Duncan (The Astounding She-Monster)

Behind the Camera:

Directed by Phil Rosen

Produced by A.W. Hackel

Written by Joseph Hoffman

I think this flick was inspired a lot by the 1940 Karloff/Lugosi picture Black Friday, but it also manages to echo the interesting Wes Craven TV movie Chiller (1985) decades before it aired. Young Phillip Bennett (Norris) has a promising future ahead of him; the son of a prominent banker, he's engaged to Louise (Lawson) and he's a medical student studying under the brilliant-but-eccentric Dr. Clark (Keane). Clark has radical ideas about bringing the dead back to life, an experiment he has performed successfully several times on animals, and now he feels he's ready to move on to humans. If only someone close to him would die so he could convince the family to let him test out his theory on the body!


Suddenly, Phillip has a car accident! It is terrible, involving stunts and everything! He dies! Dr. Clark wastes no convincing Poppa Bennett (Burton) to let him try out the process. At midnight, natch, because that's the creepiest time he could come up with.

    Coincidentally, a vicious gang leader named Panino invents a sandwich grilled at the same time on both sides...no, wait, that's some guy named Panini, and he's not in the movie. Panino is due to pay for his crimes by taking a ride on the lightning (that's tough guy talk for being executed in the electric chair, see?) at midnight. And no, sorry, that's not a coincidence. In any case, moments after midnight, Dr. Clark finishes, and success! Phillip lives! However, the family is less than thrilled when the previously bright and sunny Phillip is now a sullen mope who spends hours staring through a window at the city outside. Good thing then, the family's not around when Phil sneaks out to the wrong side of town and busts in on a meeting of Panino's old gang using their secret knock, gets all tough guy on the gang's new leader, and shoots him dead! (Lesson #1: If a guy's first act as new head of your mob is to kill the old head of your mob it might be time for a new mob...) Phillip then takes over the outfit, including Panino's girlfriend Helen (Dwyer), and leads them into a new crime spree of epic proportions. Phillip's a great crime boss and the gang adores him...except for the weird way he does everything EXACTLY like Panino...could there be a connection? Considering the title of the movie, what do you think?
Edward Norris and Margo Dwyer get steamy, 1942 style.

This turned out to be a pretty good movie, considering it was a bit of a rip from Black Friday. A lot of Monogram movies from this period are stodgy and creaky, but this one works. It sets up an interesting story, and stays on track for almost all of its brief running time (62 minutes). The ending almost derails the whole movie, and you could turn it off at 61 minutes and have a satisfying movie experience. Or you can let that last minute unspool before your eyes and see where our cliche endings come from. Most of the credit for this one falls on the shoulders of young Norris, who does a great job playing two different men in one body. The rest of the cast is okay, but Norris should be more famous than he is from the evidence here. It also provides some weird subtext to the movie that he really looks like Jason Lee sans mustache in a lot of his scenes.There are also the expected giggles at some of the dialogue, as 70 years have changed our slang enough to completely alter the following exchanges:
(Right after Phillip busts in on Panino's old gang, he is challenged by the new leader, then one of the other criminals - Gimpy - wants to know if he's a police officer) 
Gimpy: "How do we know you're not a dick?"

About the time you fully absorb this and start to laugh, Phil suddenly shoots the gang leader in cold blood, prompting your laughter to double when you realize he actually is.


(New girlfriend Helen is chatting with one of the gang members about how tightlipped ol' Phil is) Helen: "Except when we make love, and then he says all the right stuff."
Back then people thought about the picture above when she said that, now they picture the couple nude oil wrestling.

Basically, though this is a very low budget flick, with quite a bit of talking, the talking is good, with conversations about the "transmigration of souls" and stuff like that. One word not spoken anywhere in the movie is "reincarnation" though my fast research shows it was in use certainly by the 1920's. Still in all, some good if farfetched ideas and a sterling performance from Edward Norris overcome the low budget and talky script and bring this over the finish line as a recommendation for anyone who likes a good old fashioned flick now and again. Check it out!

Let's Get Out of Here ?

At around 27:30, Edward Norris drops The Line on his new girlfriend Margo Dwyer; she's also his old girlfriend, but she doesn't know it.

Eye Candy ?

Margo Dwyer almost makes it onto the list, but is ultimately defeated by two many long skirts and feathered hats (see above).

Buddha Man's Capsule Review

Buddha Man says "Man with Two Lives is okay, but
Black Friday is better!"

When he's right, he's right. Until next post - you Can Poke Me With A Fork, Cause I Am Outta Here!


  1. I did see this on the local cable horror show here once upon a time. Sounds like I could use a new viewing. I love that plot.

    1. It's a tricky one to find - I'm not even sure where mine came from - but I'm thinking bargain DVD box set...

  2. Never heard of it, but it sounds interesting. Really Chiller-like.
    And it's available at the Archive!
    *puts in on the list* :)

    1. We're never going to reach the bottom of these lists if we keep going like this! ;)