Home Video Hovel: The Man Who Died Twice, by David Bax
With its Afterschool Special depiction of jonesing heroin addicts and its generally choppy dialogue, Joseph Kane’s The Man Who Died Twice is square through and through, especially for a hip-seeming genre like noir. It does eventually reveal a bit of distinctive character from its supporting cast but, by then, it’s too late.
When T.J. Brennon (Don Megowan), a nightclub owner and suspected drug dealer, dies in a mysterious car accident, his brother Bill (Rod Cameron), a police detective, comes from out of town to investigate. Bill strikes up a cautious friendship with his brother’s widow, Lynn (Vera Ralston), and an even more cautious enmity with the nightclub’s bartender and T.J.’s second in command, Rak (Mike Mazurki). Meanwhile, two goons (Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan) have been sent to locate T.J.’s stashed supply before Bill and the cops do.
Cameron, who spent most of his career playing cowboys, is ill-suited to the role of noir hero. With his slabbish, cornfed masculinity, he’s far too boringly righteous to be believably lured toward the underworld. He’s like Ronald Reagan in a role meant for Dana Andrews. It doesn’t help that cinematographer Jack A. Marta seems unaccustomed to framing for widescreen, bunching people together unnecessarily or having heads poke up from the bottom of the frame like Whack-a-Moles.
Milton and Karlan bring the most life and dark humor to the movie of anyone on or off screen. Milton is sadistic but insecure while Kaplan seems to be a patient, caring, supportive friend to his partner, all while they go around murdering people. In a movie with very little to distinguish it, they come off almost as characters out of Elmore Leonard. It’s too bad that their story, like everything else in The Man Who Died Twice, comes to an abrupt end. Having trotted out is meager twist (already spoiled by the title), the movie seems to wrap up hastily once it’s reached the 70 minute mark, as if it were simply fulfilling a contract to meet the minimum definition of a feature film. If that actually is its only ambition–a distinct possibility–then it managed it, at least.
It’s astounding that a movie no one has thought much about for the past 60 years can look this good but Kino’s transfer, scanned at 4K, is beautiful and faithful to the filmic grain and contrast of its source. The sound is crisp and clear too.
Special features include an audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan.