The career of the late Vera Ralston was perhaps more fascinating off-screen than it was on. After escaping her native Czechoslovakia immediately before the Nazis closed the borders off during World War II, the former ice skater later became Republic Pictures head Herbert J. Yates' personal discovery, and he frequently cast her in pictures. Alas, even Ralston's thick Czech accent ‒ coupled with the fact she she didn't speak English terribly well and had to learn her lines phonetically ‒ was not enough to excuse her "unique" acting skills, and it was only a matter of time before her career as an actress was as doomed as the box office receipts of the movies she starred in.
The 1958 Republic Pictures release of Joseph Kane's The Man Who Died Twice would prove to be her final film. And tho' Ralston may indeed be one of the weakest links in this low-budget noir feature from screenwriter Richard C. Sarafian (Man in the Wilderness, Lolly-Madonna XXX), her bad acting and heavy accent actually add to the film's oddball charm.
After a nightclub owner (Don Megowan) dies in a fiery automobile explosion (Republic serial fanatics will instantly recognize the stock footage used in said scene), his lounge singer wife Lynn (the aforementioned Ms. Ralston) soon checks another unwanted life experience off of her list: a double homicide on her balcony. As Lynn attempts to process what she has seen (and as Ralston attempts to process how to attempt to process it), her widow's estranged brother (and undercover policeman), Bill Brennon (western icon Rod Cameron) comes-a-callin' with a few questions. But he's not the only new arrival: there are also a pair of deadly Chicago hitmen (Gerald Milton and Richard Karlan) who feel like low-rent versions of The Killers.
The motive behind all of these interested parties? Narcotics, of course. And everyone wants it, from Windy City mobsters to thumb-twiddling detectives to future Roger Corman actress Luana Anders (Blood Bath), who has an early small part here as a junkie. Also popping up for memorable parts here in this buffet of B-movie performers past and future are Jesslyn Fax as a snoopy alcoholic cat lady police informant (save money by combining three characters into one!) and Len (Seinfeld) Lesser as one of the hitmen's targets.
Anyway, as Bill teams up with the local police (represented by character actors Louis Jean Heydt, John Maxwell, and Robert Anderson), Lynn discovers her late hubby's faithful bartender stooge ‒ as played by the epitome of classic movie tough guys, Mike Mazurki ‒ may not be the greatest feller in the world. But what will thrill you the most? The gripping scene of two stakeout detectives discussing what kind of sandwiches to order for lunch? The numerous moments of people searching for a hidden stash of dope in an apartment the size of a Motel 6 room? The cringe-worthy terror of Vera Ralston performing two musical numbers? And do any of the on-screen shenanigans depicted in the story have to do with the film's title, The Man Who Died Twice?
But in this case, it might help if you have a true appreciation for low-budget noir knock-offs. And, in that respect, The Man Who Died Twice is quite entertaining filmfare. Ultimately, however, it's the beautiful new 4K scan Kino Lorber has given this classic flick from the studio that is best remembered today for classic Saturday Matinee Serials such as Panther Girl of the Kongo and The Invisible Monster. Presented in its original "Naturama" (Republic Pictures' labeling of 2.35:1 widescreen) aspect ratio, the MPEG-4 AVC transfer is so crisp and clear, it actually enables the viewer to see how genuinely low budget this Republic release was. In a good way, naturally. The DTS-HD MA 2.0 Mono audio track also delivers quite well, and English (SDH) subtitles are included.
Special features for The Man Who Died Twice are limited, and don't include the original theatrical trailer. But I'm more than happy with what we do get, which is an informative audio commentary by film historian Toby Roan. Wrapping up the supplemental selection of this ‒ a film which I can only describe as a "guilty pleasure B noir" ‒ are several preview of other black-and-white thrillers from yesteryear.
Somewhat schlocky, but undeniably fun to sit through for 70 minutes, The Man Who Died Twice is best viewed by noir purists and B-movie lovers. Or anyone who loves hearing a thick-accented leading actress speak her lines phonetically.