The following review is one of several that I composed for the ClassicFlix site under the column title “Where’s That Been?” Most of those columns made the transition to CF’s new site but some of them stayed behind for reason or another…and since my writer’s ego is just big enough to where I don’t like having what I’ve penned shielded from the large number of folks who surf the Internets I have reprinted it here. Enjoy!
During a long investigation with more than its share of twists and turns (not to mention airline miles), socialite Brandy Kirby (Lizabeth Scott) has succeeded in tracking down one Michael “Lefty” Farrell (Edmond O’Brien)—a former WW2 Navy seaman now making a living in a seedy Los Angeles bingo parlor. Brandy is quite interested in Lefty because of his background: he grew up in a Chicago reformatory not knowing his real parents before embarking on his later naval and gambling careers. She also has an intriguing proposal for him, cultivated by her boyfriend—an L.A. attorney named Vincent Mailer (Alexander Knox).
The three-year-old son of a wealthy industrialist, William McIntyre (Griff Barnett), vanished during a shopping trip in the Windy City twenty-five years earlier…and McIntyre and his wife (Virginia Brissac) have been searching for him ever since. Mailer and Brandy believe that Lefty can convincingly pass himself off as that son, though it will entail his sacrificing the tip of his left pinky finger, since the McIntyre’s son lost his in a childhood accident. (To accomplish this, Brandy slams a car door on Lefty’s pinky—necessitating surgery to repair the damage—and then Lefty recuperates at a beach house, where the salt water will both heal and age his wound.) If Lefty is successful in convincing the couple he is their son…he stands to inherit a fortune worth ten million dollars.
Ingratiating himself with the McIntyres will be no easy task, so Lefty is introduced to a younger McIntyre cousin, Kathy (Terry Young), who is indifferent to him at first but gradually becomes fascinated by his criminal past…and seeing the injured finger convinces her he may be the couple’s lost son. The elder McIntyres are sold as well…but the plan to rook the retired businessman goes south when William informs Mailer that Lefty is not to receive a red cent in his will; impressed with what he has accomplished so far, he wants his “son” to pull himself up by his bootstraps. Naturally, this will require the lawyer to put “Plan B” into action…a proposal that involves the unpleasant subject of murder.
Two of a Kind (1951) spotlights two performers with solid film noir credentials. Character favorite Edmond O’Brien, an Academy Award winner for his supporting performance in The Barefoot Contessa (1954), seemed to own the dark film style with appearances in such noir classics as The Killers (1946), The Web (1947), A Double Life (1947), An Act of Murder (1948), White Heat (1949), Backfire (1950)…and perhaps his most famous turn as the doomed protagonist in D.O.A. (1950). O’Brien’s leading lady is Lizabeth Scott, whose impressive performance in her second film, The Strange Love of Martha Ivers (1946), led to multiple trips to Dark City with Dead Reckoning (1947), Desert Fury (1947), I Walk Alone (1948), Pitfall (1948), Too Late for Tears (1949)…and most fittingly, Dark City (1950).
Two of a Kind isn’t technically a noir—it’s more along the lines of a run-of-the-mill crime mellerdrammer—but it’s always interesting to see O’Brien at work, since he could always be counted upon to stir the batter in most of his motion pictures. The actor is unfortunately a bit too laid back for the role of Lefty Farrell…and also unconvincing as a twenty-eight-year-old man (O’Brien was 35 at the time). Nevertheless, he does bring a nicely needed charm to the part, and his scenes with Terry Moore (the ingenue who made quite the impression in 1949’s Mighty Joe Young) produce some light-hearted moments; Moore’s character has a pathological fixation on men with criminal pasts and O’Brien does his best to oblige.
The problem with Two of a Kind is that O’Brien and Scott don’t have a great deal of chemistry together, and that’s a major debit since they’re supposed to fall for one another throughout the course of the movie. Scott’s character is sort of a misunderstood bad girl, and she was always more effective as the femme fatale heckbent on sending a man to his doom. Scott’s character doesn’t even strike romantic sparks with her former boyfriend and the villain of the piece, Alexander Knox’s Mailer; you can’t help but think that screenwriters Lawrence Kimble and James Gunn (adapting a story by James Edward Grant, scripter of many a John Wayne film) decided that once they had a pretty face for the leading lady there was no further need for characterization.
Robert Anderson provides the muscle as Todd, a henchman in Mailer’s employ who keeps Lefty under wraps and in line, and there are always welcome character contributions from the likes of Claire Carleton (a particular fave), Louis Jean Heydt, J.M. Kerrigan, and Emory Parnell. (The woman playing bingo is Kathryn Card, whom I Love Lucy fans might recognize as Ricky Ricardo’s mother-in-law.) Directed by Columbia journeyman Henry Levin, Two of a Kind is a passable time killer but really no great shakes—it pales in comparison to The Killer That Stalked New York (1950), the film with which it’s paired as part of Bad Girls of Film Noir, Volume 1.