Man with Two Lives

01/20/2023 13:07

Film: Man with Two Lives

Year: 1942

Director: Phil Rosen

Writer: Joseph Hoffman

Starring: Edward Norris, Marlo Dwyer and Eleanor Lawson



This is a movie that I discovered thanks to Letterboxd when looking for horror from 1942. The title gave me an idea of what this was about so I was curious as to how they would make this work. This also marks the last horror movie for me of this specific year as well. Other than that, I came into this one blind.

Synopsis: a man is brought back from death as the same time a vicious criminal dies in the electric chair. However, the man’s soul is now taken over by the electrocuted gangster, who embarks on a vengeful crime wave.

Now we start this off in the laboratory of Dr. Richard Clark (Edward Keane). He’s doing an experiment of reviving the hearts of animals that have stopped functioning. We see that this works on a dog. Also working there is Reginald ‘Reg’ Bennett (Tom Seidel). He’s trying to get Dr. Clark to join him at a dinner with his family as it is Reg’s brother Philip’s (Edward Norris) birthday. He does agree despite not liking social functions like this.

It is at the party we get to meet Philip’s fiancée of Louise Hammond (Eleanor Lawson). It is well known that Reg is in love with her. Their father of Hobart (Frederick Burton). He gets into a debate about the experiments that Dr. Clark is conducting as Hobart finds them to be unethical or something along these lines.

As this party is winding down, there is a criminal who is going to be executed. Philip goes to leave the party and gets in a car accident. Despite the things he said earlier, Hobart asks Dr. Clark to save him. He reluctantly does. When Philip comes to, he doesn’t remember anything. He doesn’t know who his brother or father is. He doesn’t know who his fiancée is either. His personality is different as well. He is more agitated. The one thing they notice is him looking out the window. Philip leaves the house and goes to a seedy bar. His family follows him and Philip pretends not to know them.

It is at this bar that he approaches Helen Lengel (Marlo Dwyer). He seems to know her and there are things that Philip does that remind her of her boyfriend. He was the man that was just killed and was a career gangster. Philip goes into an office within the bar and takes over a gang that includes Hugo (Anthony Warde), Gimpy (Ernie Adams) and Eric (Elliott Sullivan). Philip is ruthless and reminds them of their former leader, the gangster who was executed as well.

The question then becomes is Philip still inside this body or did something supernatural happen that allowed this gangster to take over? Is there another logical explanation of the accident just changing this man’s personality?

That is where I’m going to leave my recap and introduction to characters. Now I don’t like to leave off with questions like that anymore for my review, but it felt necessary here as I think this movie explores interesting ideas. I would say that by the end of this, it does answer them, but I don’t want to spoil this movie despite it being 80+ years old.

Where I want to start then would be the character of Philip. I love that this movie establishes his character from the opening scene and through the party for his birthday. We know that he’s a good guy. He’s clean cut and has his life ahead of him. This accident causes him to change. What is interesting is that through psychology class, I know that brain damage can alter someone’s personality. That idea that could be an explanation. I don’t believe it, but at least that is there. The example I remember from class, there was a man who worked on a railroad. He was good natured and nice. After a spike went through his brain, he became ornery.

Now what I believe this really is, Philip’s body is inhabited by the soul of this gangster. This is an interesting idea. It makes me wonder if Stephen King saw this movie as we are getting a similar idea to Pet Sematary. This almost feels like a cautionary tale to not tamper with fate and allow nature to do its thing. The debate in the beginning is whether Dr. Clark should be conducting his experiment. Hobart in his grief changes his stance. We see the error of this by the end. What is interesting is that Judd’s warning is ‘sometimes dead is better’.

To go along with this, I want to go over to the acting. I think that Norris does a great job at establishing Philip and then taking on a completely different role as the gangster version. There are glimmers of the old him. He is the best performance here as he carries it. He is being pulled in multiple directions as well. There is Dwyer who is smitten by him as the flame of the gangster. The old crew mock him until they see how ruthless he is. Then they’re worried. We also have Burton, Keane, Seidel and Lawson trying to get the old Philip back as father, friend, brother and fiancée. I’d say that the acting is quite solid here if I’m going to be honest. There isn’t a bad performance. The only one might be Seidel who just goes a bit over the top. Not enough to ruin this though.

I think that the only other things to go into would be with the filmmaking. I think that the cinematography is fine. It doesn’t necessarily do anything out of the ordinary. It also doesn’t do anything to take me out of this either. There aren’t a lot in the way of effects, but it also isn’t that type of movie. What we get are fine. The only other thing would be soundtrack which didn’t stand out or hurt the movie in my opinion.

In conclusion, I think that this explores interesting ideas, especially for early into cinema. We get a dilemma here of playing God vs. allowing nature to be as it is. I think that performance of Norris is good as Philip since we see him ‘normal’ against his change once he is experimented on. The rest of the cast pushes him to where he needs to end up. I think that his is made well enough. There were no issues there that I had. This isn’t a great movie, but this is another one that I think is a hidden gem for what they’re doing.


My Rating: 7 out of 10