Two on a Guillotine - 1965

Two on A Guillotine - Released January 13, 1965. Directed by William Conrad

There are moments when Two on a Guillotine seems like it is going to swerve directly into AIP International or even Hammer monster movie territory, but it doesn't follow through and instead veers back toward something safer like a romantic comedy crossed with a touch of The Ghost and Mr. Chicken.

Director William Conrad is the driver here, and there are occasional camera angles and scenes which remind me of Mario Brava (briefly), Hitchcock and House on Haunted Hill, and there is a nightmare-section that is an Edgar Allan Poe style montage about premature burial that has Connie Stevens waking up sweaty and screaming. But even with this fuel, Two on a Guillotine isn't really horror movie grade (except possibly for children) and the script by John Kneubuhl and Henry Slesar doesn't commit to any one destination and ends up stranded in between them all. Not that Two on a Guillotine doesn't try to prove its bone fides as a scarey movie right away with a gory prologue in which Connie is pierced with a sword (it's only part of a magician's act) and this fakiness is a metaphor for the whole film. As the reels unspool, Two on a Guillotine will strike some viewers as straight-up camp (it never goes as far as Hillbillies in a Haunted House, though.) Inserted scenes featuring a white magician's bunny that is played for goofy cuteness and unfunny laughter adds to the dysfunctional road map.

Most of the story takes place with Dean Jones (as a reporter) and Connie in an old mansion Connie's character (as Cassie Duquesne) inherits from her dead magician father (played by Cesar Romero) who she has spent most of her life estranged from. This is painful for her, but probably a good thing, dad apparently accidentally cut off the head of Cassie's mother Melinda Duquesne while doing an act in his show using an ornate giant guillotine. The cast seems to believe Mrs. Duquesne simply vanished, but Virginia Gregg (as a longtime assistant to the magician) knows the truth. Left out of the Magician's will, she starts hanging around the mansion with a belief that Mr. Duquesne will rise from the dead.

The well done black and white cinematography (by Sam Leavitt) provides us with scenes of grim visual horror-movie familiarity, and Cesar Romero plays for real pathos when he shows up again late in the story (just as the magician's will predicted) and he is convinced the daughter (played by Connie) is in fact the mother (who was also played by Connie in other scenes). Virginia Gregg attacks her scenes with complete dedication as if we're watching a melancholy film like Whatever Happened to Baby Jane? but none of this momentum lasts as right through the middle of it all comes the brightly smiling Connie Stevens and Dean Jones, bantering with each other and untouched by the craziness surrounding them.

The individual parts of Two on a Guillotine are professionally done, but it never gels into what it is pretending to be, a horror movie about secrets, madness and a murderous guillotine. It's as if we started off headed for the Bate's Motel, but ended up at Disneyworld. Connie and Dean Jones somehow exist within two different movies at the same time, happily going off together as the credits roll, leaving the dead bodies and insanity far, far behind in the rear view mirror.

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