1 March 2003 | bmacv
Promising noir wastes its potential and its cast by pulling too many punches
If you like your film noir declawed and defanged, then Henry Levin's Two of a Kind is the movie for you. The vexing part is that it starts off strong, keeping the viewer off balance. Lizabeth Scott is scouring the continent looking for a particular man. Her quest takes her from a Chicago orphanage to the carny circuit to the Department of the Navy in Washington; she finally finds him, working in a bingo parlor, in Los Angeles where she started.
He's Edmond O'Brien, and she's after him because he fits the bill for a con job that she and her lover Alexander Knox have been hatching for a long time. A wealthy old couple has nobody to leave their fortune to, because their son vanished when he was only three years old. Knox, their attorney, and Scott are grooming O'Brien as a ringer to show up and claim the inheritance, which they'll all split. There are a couple of catches. For one, the kid lost the tip of his finger in a childhood accident, but since he can cash in his own fingertip for millions, O'Brien falls in with the scheme. The other is that Scott, to Knox's chagrin, starts to go sweet on O'Brien.
Up to the scene when Scott smashes O'Brien's finger in a car door, so he'll have reason to have the first two joints amputated, Two of a Kind promises to be low-down and unsentimental. But the movie's tone suffers an incapacitating fracture with the arrival of Terry Moore, as a niece of the old couple and the patsy through which O'Brien will secure his entry into the family's affections. (She's a vapid dilettante whose hobby is collecting `causes;' falling for no-good men and trying to reform them seems to be one of them.)
O'Brien gains admittance to the family; his candor about his raffish past puts him in good stead. But when the pot of gold seems just within reach, the patriarch drops a bombshell: He won't leave a cent to his newfound son on the grounds that it would ruin him. This prompts Knox to rachet up the swindle to the next level - arranging an early send-off for his unwitting benefactors. Scott and O'Brien demur, but by this time they're in too deep....
The dark tone of the opening returns briefly, but it's too late and doesn't last. Despite that brutal finger-smashing, there's a squeamishness to the movie that doesn't let it pursue the expectations it raises. The insipid ending opens regretful speculation: Whatever happened to the Lizabeth Scott of Too Late For Tears, the Edmond O'Brien of 711 Ocean Drive, and the Henry Levin who directed Night Editor?